New Worker Banner

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Shock horror: millions of workers get low pay

by New Worker correspondent

MONDAY saw the release of a report by the Living Wage Foundation (LWF) and the New Economic Foundation (NEF) showing that over five million workers in Britain are employed in insecure and low-paid work, of which 1.3 million are key workers. These figures were compiled before the COVID-19 crisis which, the report said, will only make things worse. Northern Ireland had the highest proportion of low-paid, insecure workers at 19 per cent, with Scotland the lowest at 13 per cent.

As might be expected, the sectors with the largest number of low-paid, insecure workers were wholesale, retail, repair of vehicles (830,000), and health and social work (640,000). BAME [Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic] workers and women were disproportionately represented – 18 per cent compared with 15 per cent of white workers, the male to female gap was smaller at 16 to 15 per cent.

Commenting on the findings, GMB’s acting Secretary John Phillips said: “It’s a travesty that millions of the UK’s COVID-19 heroes are struggling to survive on less than a living wage. The very people we rely on to keep us alive, keep the economy moving and people fed during this pandemic are some of the worst paid in the country.

“It’s great we applaud our key workers, but after the applause has ended there are still bills to pay for millions of workers who deserve much better than to be struggling by on the breadline – things have to change.”

Neither the LWF nor the NEF are revolutionary bodies. The LWF supports the Real Living Wage, which presently is £9.30 and £10.75 in London. These figures are calculated on what people need simply to get by. It is not to be confused with the Government’s statutory National Minimum Wage, which is presently £8.21 per hour for 16–24-year-olds or the National Living Wage of £8.72 per hour for the over 25s.

This was established in the early days of the Blair Government. At the time, the NCP was a forlorn voice warning that it would soon become the maximum wage. The LWF’s figures merely confirms this warning. It likes to persuade the bosses it is in their interests to pay it and hands out gold stars when they do so.

It claims that “180,000 employees have received a pay rise as a result of the Living Wage campaign” and boasts of having “a broad range of employers accredited with the Foundation including a third of the FTSE 100 and big household names including ITV, Google, IKEA, Everton FC and Chelsea FC”. That is why the LWF does not advocate militant trade union action to achieve decent wages, because this would frighten the bosses and perhaps put the LWF out of business.

It notes that after the 2008 financial crisis the number of low-paid, insecure jobs only peaked in 2013 at nearly 1.5 million more than in 2008, which means that many of those returning to work, or entering work for the first time, were in insecure, poorly paid forms of employment.

The LWF also wants bosses to commit to “Living Hours”, with workers getting the right to a contract that reflects accurately the hours worked, a guaranteed minimum of 16 hours per week and at least four weeks’ notice of shift patterns.

Katherine Chapman, Director of LWF, said: “Even before the crisis hit millions of people found themselves trapped in low paid, insecure work and struggling to make ends meet. Many are in roles now recognised as essential for our economy and society to function, like care homes and supermarkets. The last recession saw a substantial rise in insecure, low paid jobs, and there’s a danger that insecure work now explodes alongside unemployment. But there’s also a real opportunity to build back better from this crisis. That’s why we created the Living Hours programme, to provide guaranteed, secure hours for workers alongside a Living Wage. Employers are facing huge challenges at the moment, but those businesses that can commit to provide fair pay and secure hours will be best placed to emerge from this crisis stronger.” So long as you ask them nicely of course.

The aims of the NEF are vaguer and broader. It wants: “A new social settlement to ensure people are paid well, have more time off to spend with their families, and have access to the things we all need for a decent life”; and a Green New Deal and a Democratic Economy: “To give us all an equal stake in the places where we live and work.” It is supported by the TUC, the Cadbury Foundation and the National Lottery, which means it clearly presents no serious challenge to the capitalist order. Whilst such do-gooding organisations can provide some useful research (when it is not of the Pope’s a Catholic type), there is of course no substitute for trade unionism.