Setting pay levels for fairness, dignity and productivity

Rhys Handley
Monday, April 1, 2019

By the time you read this, the UK’s National Living Wage will have risen from £7.83 per hour to £8.21 per hour, honouring a pledge made by chancellor Philip Hammond in his Autumn Budget.

As a result, the campaign to get the payment practice into businesses has begun gathering momentum once again. According to figures from the Living Wage Foundation, around 6 million people are currently paid below ‘real living wage’ levels (a distinct metric from the National Living Wage, which is ostensibly the statutory minimum wage for over-25s introduced by Hammond’s predecessor George Osborne in 2016).

Calculated independently based on real living costs, a person must earn £9 per hour to truly earn a ‘living wage’, or £10.55 in London. Although the concept of a living wage is continually gaining traction nationwide, there is clearly still work to be done.

“The living wage has put more than £800m back into the pockets of over 180,000 workers,” says Living Wage Foundation media and communications manager John Hood. “The real living wage is the only independently calculated wage rate based on what workers and their families need to live.

“It is therefore the only wage that accurately accounts for rising living costs and ensures that workers always earn a decent living.

“We welcome any measures to narrow the gap between the government minimum and real living wage. Thankfully, more businesses continue to sign up, and we have seen a doubling of living wage accredited employers even since the introduction of the national living wage.”

More than 5,000 UK businesses are currently signed up to the Foundation’s official accreditation scheme, and Hood says 93% of accredited businesses reported benefits including increased staff motivation and retention – “a healthy and happy workforce is a productive one,” he observes.

Dundee can do it

Boosted awareness of the living wage has become a local concern in Dundee, where more than 50 employers have committed to paying their staff and subcontractors – amounting to 25% of all workers in the city – the voluntary living wage.

Now officially supported by the Living Wage Foundation’s ‘Making Living Wage Places’ campaign, the initiative is being driven collaboratively by policymakers at both Dundee City Council and the Scottish government.

“In 2014, there were less than 20 employers signed up for living wage accreditation in Scotland,” says a Scottish government spokesperson. “Today there are more than 1,400 in Scotland. We expect to see more businesses follow those that have already committed.

“Employment law is currently reserved to the UK government; as such, Scottish ministers have no control over the levers required to improve workers’ rights.

“However, the Scottish government is fully committed to promoting fair work practices throughout Scotland and will continue to press the UK government for the full set of powers around employment law in order to allow us to fully deliver our fair work ambitions.”

Also throwing its weight behind the campaign is DC Thomson Media, the print and publishing giant based in the heart of Dundee. With £191.4m in sales and around 1,700 total employees, its commitment to pay staff a minimum of £9 per hour, a decision taken five years ago, carries significant clout not only in the Scottish city, but equally nationwide.

Executive chair Ellis Watson says: “In these times of economic uncertainty across the UK, it is heartening to see Dundee taking the lead in tackling low pay, and the inequality it creates, by becoming the UK’s first city formally recognised for its living wage ambition. 

“Being part of this initiative allows us to work with other like-minded employers to help transform the city and ensure local people benefit from and have a stake in the local community. The publishing and print sectors are no different to any other sectors in that having a successful business depends on having a healthy, happy workforce, resulting in employees that will go the extra mile for your company.

“We rely on having people working, and earning the living wage, to ensure our communities are developing, learning new skills, increasing in confidence, self-belief and sense of pride. To know they are working hard to provide for their families. Local businesses paying the living wage can change communities and the lives of children who are raised in these communities.”

Other benefits

Campaigners are working hard to make clear the business benefits of paying a living wage: motivated staff and moral integrity being high on the list. The message is starting to be heard across the print industry, too. 

PrintWeek has previously reported on three print companies officially accredited by the Living Wage Foundation: Leicester-based Opus Trust Communications and Bradford-based Watermill Press were approved in 2015, with Glasgow outfit Clyde Print & Paper following in 2017. Other companies listed by the Foundation include London’s Blueprint & Design and Impact Signs in Aylesbury. 

As recently as February this year, Crystal Press, based in Hoddesdon, joined the growing ranks of companies that have now collectively given a pay rise to more than 180,000 people across the UK.

“We felt it important that as a company that values its people, we pay them in excess of the National Wage,” directors Mark and Simon Kempster said at the time. “It demonstrates our ethics, is good for business and, coupled with other initiatives, it helps Crystal retain the great people we currently have and also helps attract the best people in the future to join us.”


Living wage brings benefits for workers and employers

andersonLynn Anderson, Living Wage Places national coordinator, Living Wage Scotland

The living wage has transformed the lives of thousands of workers. For many it’s the difference between struggling to keep your head above water and being able to plan for a rainy day. It’s not having to choose between heating your home or putting food on the table. 

It’s being able to live a life with dignity.

But there are also big benefits for business too, as 93% of accredited businesses reported benefits from paying the living wage, including greater staff retention and morale. It’s not rocket science; a healthy and happy workforce is a productive one. Beyond that, we know that paying the living wage can also have a significant positive impact on the local community, not only through its effect on workers, but also as a result of the economic boost to local economies through increased spending.

Often, it’s a simple lack of awareness that causes roadblocks. Most businesses want to do the right thing by their workers, and many are horrified on hearing of the effects of paying below the living wage on those who work for them and their families, so raising awareness is always a key priority.

National ambitions

The new ‘Making Living Wage Places’ scheme was recently launched as a way to encourage and recognise Living Wage Place ambitions. This approach will accelerate the growth of the Living Wage employer movement in towns and cities across the UK. 

We encourage local authorities, anchor institutions and major local employers to contact us, to begin the journey of making their own Living Wage Places too.

Since the introduction of the national living wage in 2016, the number of accredited businesses has doubled. We expect to see more businesses follow the more than 5,000 that have already committed to pay a fair day’s pay for a hard day’s work.


Have you engaged w ith the Living Wage Places campaign?

douglasCharlene Douglas, managing director, Tradeprint

“Right now, we are not currently involved. We have recently been focusing on enhancing our benefits package, learning and development and implementing plans for career progression and empowerment, but we currently pay the National Living Wage for all members of staff regardless of whether or not they are over 25. We don’t see any roadblocks. As the business grows, we certainly want to continue rewarding the invaluable contributions our employees make – we’re proud to be a Dundee employer.”

mcnaughtonScott McNaughton, director, Kolorkey

“We had heard something about the campaign on the grapevine, but it does not really concern us because we already pay more than that. We are quite a small company, there are now only three of us. Even before that though, when it comes to an old-fashioned craft like litho printing, where people are specially trained, it is unfair not to pay them a proper wage. It never caused any problems for our business. I would say print in general is going through a period of downsizing anyway and we are one of the last litho printers still in Dundee.”

smythRichard Smyth, managing director, Creative Graffix

“I did see something in the press about the living wage campaign recently but that is about it. All my staff are paid over the living wage. I think it has a positive impact for staff – you need to be able to live and you want to enjoy your work. When you come into work you do not want to feel like you are being taken advantage of. When we take on juniors, they are paid the minimum wage, but after their probation I am always more than happy to review the wage structure and give them the appropriate rise.”


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