Wage boost pledge for thousands of lowest paid workers

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Council bosses in Leeds have promised to raise the wages of thousands of their poorest paid workers - and are urging other major employers to follow their lead.

Leeds City Council - along with five other Yorkshire authorities including Wakefield - has signed a 10-point charter to implement the Living Wage for all local Government employees.

And bosses today issued a rallying call to other public and private sector employers to follow suit and give some “dignity and respect” to their workers.

The pledge will see a £7.85 minimum hourly rate - the current Living Wage threshold - introduced across all the councils by 2016/17.

For someone working a 37.5 hour week on £6.50 an hour - the national minimum wage - it would mean a weekly increase in their gross salary of £51, equivalent to a 20 per cent pay rise.

Leeds City Council leader Keith Wakefield, who is spearheading the drive, said: “If you want to give people dignity and respect in their work, you have to pay them [fairly]

“I would urge all other employers in the city to follow our lead and take steps towards tackling low pay and in-work poverty.

“I want to be able to have a crusade on this across the city, to look people in the eye and say ‘do you treat your employees with respect’?”

He said that in Leeds, a range of cost-cutting measures across the authority’s staffing budget would help fund the rise. This included slashing the 65p higher mileage claim rate for council workers, and a number of salary sacrifice initiatives.

Leeds City Council has cut more than 2,000 jobs since 2010, but Coun Wakefield said the fair pay pledge would see 1,500 low paid council staff get a 10 per cent pay rise.

Unions today welcomed the move - but there was scepticism from political opponents who accused the partner councils, most of which are Labour controlled, of “cynical” electioneering.

Chris Jenkinson, spokesman for Unison’s Leeds branch, said: “UNISON welcomes the news that the five West Yorkshire Councils and York have agreed strategy to implement the living wage to workers they directly employ by 2016/17.

“Low pay in local Government is a real problem, many workers find it difficult to make it from one pay day to the next without borrowing money, so anything to lift their earnings has to be welcomed.

“We are also pleased to see local government acting as a community leader championing the living wage for all workers.

“But we also want to see the councils making a real commitment to end low pay in their contracted workforce.

“Many local government services are now delivered by the private sector, and in areas like homecare, there is widespread exploitation with many workers being denied even the statutory national minimum wage.

“The Government needs to properly fund our essential services and council need to ensure that fair pay is put before private sector profits.”

Jane Aitchison, president of Leeds Trades Union Council, also welcomed the announcement, but she urged civic leaders to step up their lobbying of other employers to make the changes truly fair.

“Leeds is an expensive place to live and we want to see this go further and affect more employers,” she said.

“People working in supermarkets are so badly paid that they claim £11 billion a year in income support benefits.

“We would want to see supermarkets and other public sector employers follow suit and we would like [the Living Wage rate] to go further to £10 an hour, because people struggle even on the current rate.”

Coun Andrew Carter, leader of the Conservative group on Leeds City Council, claimed his group had been calling for the Living Wage at Leeds City Council for over two years.

“It was in our budget proposals for 2013/14 and again this year,” he said.

“Clearly the council and Combined Authority should seek to lead by example. I just hope these are not more weasel words from the Labour leadership, just because it is election time. This looks very cynical to me.”

The Living Wage for cities outside London is £7.85, set using the Centre For Research in Social Policy’s Minimum Income Standard since 2011.

The rate is set in November each year, and is used by the Living Wage Foundation to accredit companies as Living Wage Employers.

A number of NHS trusts in Yorkshire have already introduced the living wage for their staff.

At York Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, 630 staff including porters, catering, domestic and healthcare assistants have benefited from the move.

Employees at Yorkshire Ambulance Service are guaranteed the minimum from this month.

Other councils to pay the living wage in Yorkshire include Barnsley, Doncaster, North East Lincolnshire, Rotherham and Scarborough.