Skip to main content

Can we afford a living wage in the public sector?

The leader of Britain's largest public sector workers union, Dave Prentis, has said the Labour manifesto should contain a commitment to pay all public sector workers at least the living wage. This would be a bold step for Labour and would determine much else in their strategy on pay. But if Labour made this commitment what would be the quid pro quo from the public sector unions?

For a living wage to be meaningful for the poorest workers the unions would have to agree not to seek to maintain  pay differentials, else pay would ratchet up. A key question would then be whether this was sustainable. It would involve a self-imposed pay restraint for workers up the pay order. Is Dave Prentis willing to persuade his members of such a restraint? Some might doubt it as he is already threatening future industrial action on pay. It is difficult to see how he can square this circle.

He might argue that increased pay for public sector workers would not be inflationary and would not therefore affect the living wage. This would be most unlikely. Public sector pay increases have major impact on costs of providing services; somehow these costs would have to be met by either increased government subsidy, further cuts in services or increased taxes or charges. There is, however, one seed of an argument that might just hold.


Whilst private sector labour costs have increased recently,  public sector labour costs have fallen. The ONS statistics show the growth in labour costs per hour in the private sector was 1.4 per cent in the third quarter of 2012, compared with -1.0 per cent in the public sector. This in part reflects an increase in hours worked per employee in the public sector, compared with a year earlier.

This increased productivity in the public sector may provide a little wriggle room for modest increases in pay that would enable a living wage in the sector without a ratchet effect. But Prentis would still need to prioritise the living wage for the lowest paid public sector workers. If he is willing  to do this, would his members be also in accord?

The problem of outsourcing low paid jobs

It is scandalous that a living wage is not paid in the public sector - it is equally scandalous that anyone should be expected to work for less than a living wage in any sector. We must move to fairness in pay and this means in both public and private sectors. This is particularly so because most low paid jobs are outsourced to the private sector. Thus the private sector has a higher proportion or workers at or around the minimum wage and in particular women.

There must therefore be a commitment that no contracts can be awarded unless at least the living wage is paid. There should also be commitments to training and promotion. In this way a living wage can also be part of a programme of developing better services through a more productive workforce.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Bad trade kills the planet.

One problem with the financial crisis of 2008/9 is that it focused attention on the banking system as if it could be separated from global economics.  It fostered the notion that all that was needed was to reform the banks and all would be well.  The underlying assumption was and is that global economics didn't and doesn't need fixing.  Everything works well but for the financial system.  Let's all keep calm and carry on.

Yet, the focus on a bad banking system hides an underlying economic malaise,  The economy depended on banks lending, and growth was predicated on debt, debt and more debt.  This was not simply a problem of the banking system.  It was, and remains a problem arising from the mythology of economic growth.

Politicians have long fostered the mythology of growth.  Growth became a  mantra.  Growth is good.  Good is growth.  Let's grow! Growth as and is presented as a miraculous cure.

Let's call this the first neoliberal myth.  The second neoliberal myth…

Brexit won't save the planet

Brexit isn't an ideal. It might break the cosy economic and political illusion that all growth and trade is good. But there is little thinking behind it. It won't lead to better trade. It won't save our planet.



No plan for Brexit The UK is  now just months away from leaving the European Union, yet still the government has no plan for Brexit. Sector after sector of British society are registering their concerns about the consequences of a 'no deal' Brexit.  The country is in the dark about what the future might hold.  Key issues remain unresolved, yet it is as if it doesn't matter.   Brexit, remember, means Brexit!  
Whether we are for or against Brexit we should be concerned that the government can't agree on what kind of deal they want with our biggest trading partner - the European Union.  
There is no idealism behind Brexit, and no vision for the future.  Instead, there is a blind hope that it will be 'alright on the night'.  That somehow a…

Hummingbird exposure to pesticides

Many have responded to the campaigns to stop the use of pesticides killing bees.  Bees are not the only animals affected.

Hummingbirds are noted as a species of conservation concern by Partners in Flight, and their populations are estimated to have declined by 60% between 1970 and 2014.



New research reveals that hummingbirds and bumble bees are being exposed to neonicotinoid and other pesticides through routes that are widespread and complex. The findings are published in Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry.

To measure exposure to pesticides in these avian pollinators, investigators made novel use of cloacal fluid and fecal pellets from hummingbirds living near blueberry fields in British Columbia. They also collected bumble bees native to Canada, and their pollen, and blueberry leaves and flowers from within conventionally sprayed and organic blueberry farms.

The researchers detected pesticides and related compounds in cloacal fluid and fecal pellets of hummingbirds revealing…