SOAS is set to become the next Living Wage university. It has now agreed to pay the London LW to all its outsourced contracted workers.

Elsewhere the London LW campaign is continuing to focus its efforts on the hotel and catering sector. In December 2007 the Hilton Group announced that all in house staff across 17 hotels would be paid a LW in 2008. Harrison Catering Services have since signed up to the London LW. Prior to the mayoral elections, Boris Johnson joined with the three other leading candidates in commiting themselves to promote the London LW, and all four also adopted a proposal that only hotels and restaurants who were living wage employers would be promoted by Visit London and tourist guides ahead of the Olympics.

Outside of London, LW campaigners are still celebrating the decision of Oxford city council to put its lowest paid employees on a living wage of £7 an hour from April 2009. This has raised hopes that other major employers such as Oxford University can be persuaded to follow suit.

The Scottish LW campaign has now gone public. It’s trying to get as broad as possible a range of people and organisations on board, and will be convening an event in Glasgow in the autumn.

Following the council motion reported in my last post, the Oxford LW campaign have stepped up a gear, starting to raise awareness of this among workers and students, while working with the City Council and trade unions to agree on implementation measures. Once an Oxford LW figure has been set, pressure will be directed at the university to follow the council’s lead.

The London LW campaign achieved a number of successes in 2007, thanks to which the proportion of the national cleaning workforce on the living wage increased from 4 to 9% over the past 12 months. Organiser Matthew Bolton says that “the next big sector to crack is the hotel sector. There’s a massive problem of low pay, even across the big luxury chains. Some staff are paid a piece rate of £2.50 a room, which can mean they don’t even make the minimum wage.”

Peter Kenyon of the London Labour Party reports that one of their main objectives for 2008 is a living wage for Corporation of London employees.

And finally in Scotland a broadbased coalition is coming together to campaign for a living wage, which involves the Poverty Alliance, the STUC, churches and charity organisations. 

Oxford council have voted in favour of a motion proposed by Labour Party and Green councillors which commits the council to “achieving Living Wage Employer status by April 2009″ and resolves to “work with living wage campaigners, low paid workers, trade unions and employers to make Oxford a ‘Living Wage City’ in which every worker earns a living wage”. Read the full text of the motion here.

The TUC have produced a new LW toolkit ‘the London living wage : a working guide for trade unions’. You can download it from here. It’s an excellent resource. It sets out the case for the London Living Wage; it has information about how it has been implemented and which companies have adopted it; it gives an example of best practice; and it includes an action checklist for LW campaigners.

We have just seen the first successful prosecution of an employer under the National Minimum Wage legislation. That’s one prosecution in nearly 10 years. But wait, it gets worse. The owner of Rascals Day Nursery in Walthamstow was fined just £2,500 for her deliberate non-cooperation with investigators. Miserable though this penalty may seem, the maximum fine employers can face is just £5,000. In practice, it is ludicrously easy for employers to avoid any prosection at all. 95 per cent of employers caught underpaying the minimum wage simply pay back what they owe to avoid any further penalty. If they fail to do this within a 4 week period, they can be landed with a fixed penalty notice (about £225 per worker).

If the government seems inept at flushing out those employers who pay starvation wages, it is because the resources devoted to finding them are totally inadequate. Earlier this year the government announced proudly that the budget to enforce minimum wage laws was to increase by 50%. Unfortunately this was just an increase from £6m to £9m – scarcely enough to cover the office furnishings of some government departments. I read that the government is doing a mail out to hotel employers this month, informing them about minimum wage rules and things they need to be doing. After a short ‘bedding in’ period this will be followed up by spot checks from enfocrement officers. I just have one question : isn’t ten years a long enough bedding in period for employers to comply with the law ?

My Living Wage petition has now closed with 1,272 signatures. A link to the government’s response will be published here when it appears.

I’m grateful to everyone who’s given their support. I’d like to think that a good number of you learned a little more at the same time about campaigns for a living wage (I’ve learned a hell of a lot !). This website has had 1,000 hits since it started a few months ago. I will continue to update it, but what it will look like in three years time I have no idea. This part is up to you. If new LW campaigns spring to life in other regions, and the numbers of activities – and victories – start to multiply, then the form and culture of this website could be radically reshaped.

Meanwhile, here are a few suggestions of things that you can do now :

Find out more about LW campaigns – their history, their aims, their methods of organisation.

If you live in London or another city with an active campaign, join it ! Become an organiser !

If there’s no active campaign near you, maybe it’s time to start one. Speak to other LW campaigners about what you can do, or drop me an email – I may be in contact with other people in your area.

Find out whether your trade union, political group, church or NGO has a policy on LW campaigns. Then discuss with LW campaigners about how the policy can be improved. A good policy would include a clear definition of what a living wage is, would pledge support to campaigns for a living wage, and would commit to working with other organisations to developing a set of common demands toward a national living wage.

YouGov asked 3,000 people this question in a recent poll for the Fabian Society. Here’s what the British public thought were reasonable salaries :

  • Prime minister – £135,000
  • MD of a top company – £120,000
  • A GP – £70,000
  • A leading Premiership footballer – £62,000
  • A state secondary school headteacher – £52,000
  • An experienced hospital nurse – £33,000
  • A local beat police officer – £29,500
  • A good local plumber – £28,500
  • A bus driver – £22,500
  • A supermarket check-out worker – £15,000
  • A fast-food restaurant worker – £14,000.

This shows the strength of the belief that people should be paid a fair wage for the work that they do. The recently reported massive increases in top executives pay underlines the huge inequities that exist in British society. Surely there must be more fair and reasonable ways of determining salaries than the madness of the marketplace ?

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