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

Ian Duncan-Smith says he wants to make those on benefits 'better people'!

By any account, the government's austerity strategy is utilitarian. It justifies its approach by the presumed potential ends. It's objective is to cut the deficit, but it has also adopted another objective which is specifically targeted. It seeks to drive people off benefits and 'back to work'.  The two together are toxic to the poorest in society. Those least able to cope are the most affected by the cuts in benefits and the loss of services. It is the coupling of these two strategic aims that make their policies ethically questionable. For, by combining the two, slashing the value of benefits to make budget savings while also changing the benefits system, the highest burden falls on a specific group, those dependent on benefits. For the greater good of the majority, a minority group, those on benefits, are being sacrificed; sacrificed on the altar of austerity. And they are being sacrificed in part so that others may be spared. Utilitarian ethics considers the ba

Mr Duncan-Smith offers a disingenuous and divisive comparison

Some time ago, actually it was a long time ago when I was in my early teens, someone close to me bought a table. It was an early flat pack variety. It came with a top and four legs. He followed the instructions to the letter screwing the legs into the top. But when he had completed it the table wobbled. One leg he explained was shorter than the other three; so he sawed a bit from each of the other legs. The table wobbled. One leg, he explained, was longer than the other three. So, he sawed a bit off. The table wobbled. He went on cutting the legs, but the table continued to wobble. Cut, cut, cut! By this time he had convinced himself there was no alternative to it.  He ended up with a very low table indeed, supported by four very stumpy legs and a bit of cardboard placed under one of them to stop it wobbling on the uneven floor.  Mr Duncan-Smith argues that we need a 1% cap on benefits to be 'fair to average earners'. Average  earners have seen their incomes rise by less tha

His way or none? Why I can't vote for Jeremy

There is an assumption that all would be well with the Labour Party if people hadn't expressed their genuine concern with what they consider the inadequacies of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership. If only, it is said, the Parliamentary Labour Party and his Shadow Cabinet had supported him, instead of undermining him, all would have been fine. If they had been quiet and towed the line, then the party would not have been in the mess it is in. So, should they have stayed silent, or speak of their concerns? There comes a point when the cost of staying silent outweighs the cost of speaking out. This is a judgment. Many call it a coup by the PLP. They paint a picture of a right-wing PLP out of touch with the membership.  This is the narrative of the Corbyn camp. But Jeremy Corbyn, over the decades he has been in politics, showed the way.  It was Jeremy Corbyn who opposed almost all Labour leaders and rarely held back from speaking out, or voting time and again against the party line. As