From the TUC

How can trade unions end low pay?

15 Sep 2010, by in Labour market, Society & Welfare

I was reminded by the Congress debate about child poverty yesterday exactly why we have to find ways to re-invigorate the fight against low pay and in-work poverty.  This must be a moral imperative for our movement as we enter the cold economic climate of government spending cuts.

Perhaps we could use collective bargaining more effectively in tandem with the National Minimum Wage and Living Wages.  This will be the subject of a fringe event at Congress today led by TUC Deputy General Secretary Frances O’Grady. Eliminating low pay has always been a high priority for our movement and we will need to find strategies that will work in hard times.

New TUC analysis of OECD data on low pay shows that the UK still has a lot of work to do.

Table: Incidence of low pay 2008

Country Per cent low paid Country Per cent low paid
Belgium 5.6% (2007 figs) Iceland 16.7%
Finland 8.5% Australia 17.5%
Italy 11.4% Ireland 20.6%
New Zealand 12.7% UK 21.1%
Denmark 13.1% Germany 21.5%
Greece 13.5% Hungary 21.8%
Portugal 14.2% Poland 21.9%
Japan 14.9% Canada 22.8%
Austria 15.9% USA 24.9%
Spain 15.9% Korea 25.4%
Czech Republic 16.2%

Source: Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) “Statistical Extracts: Decile ratios of gross earnings”, published 2010. OECD defines low pay as “Less than two-thirds of median earnings of all workers.”

Average pay increases are currently running at 2%, but inflation is higher, so the credit crunch has been joined by a wages crunch, with many of us suffering real-terms pay cuts this year.

The questions that we need to discuss are many:

  • What are the prospects for collective bargaining, the minimum wage and living wage campaigns in the next few years?
  • What role should the minimum wage and living wage campaigns have in supporting and developing our core collective bargaining agenda?
  • Do we need different strategies in the public and private sectors?
  • What can be done in the public sector in a situation where the lowest paid are exempt from the government’s pay freeze – but some public sector employers are arguing that it does not apply to them?
  • What can we do for hard-to-recruit workers in the private sector?
  • Can we strengthen alliances with campaigning groups like London Citizens and the Fair Pay Network?

Manchester has recently adopted its own living wage. There is strong potential for other cities to follow. This event also marks the launch of the joint TUC/ Fair Pay Network report “Unfinished business: the quest for a living wage”, which contains a toolkit for living wage campaigners.

Today’s congress fringe seminar “How can trade unions end low pay? The National Minimum Wage, living wages and collective bargaining” will mark another step in our journey towards decent pay. It brings together a mini think-tank to discuss these issues, including anti-poverty campaigner Eileen Devaney, USDAW General Secretary John Hannett, UNISON Head of Local Government Heather Wakefield; and senior Manchester City Councillor Bernard Priest.

One Response to How can trade unions end low pay?

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