This week I took part in a debate on the living wage alongside Labour colleagues, making clear that the use of the introduction of the national living wage to drive down conditions and take-home pay is against the spirit of the law and calling on the government to close down those loopholes which make this possible.
My friend and colleague Siobhain McDonagh MP secured the debate and I thank her for doing so. She has worked tirelessly on this issue since the government’s national living wage took effect, fighting for the rights and wages of workers and to make sure companies do not renege on their contractual commitment to the rate of statutory pay by reviewing and diminishing their staff benefit and reward structures.
Siobhain has held firms such as B&Q and Marks & Spencer to account, after they have tried to offset the cost of the national living wage by cutting Sunday pay, bank holiday pay, company pension contributions and unsocial hours.
Many people in my constituency have been affected by companies trying to subvert the rules around the living wage. This week, I received a letter from a constituent who works for Marks & Spencer and has done so for 34 years. These are her words:
“I feel I have been blackmailed and threatened to sign the form to accept the small pay-out because I was told I would not receive this. Also they would change my contract and that would mean I would have to start working Sundays and work all bank holidays. No matter what they say the loyal long service worker has been sold down the river and threatened.”
Lynn clearly feels that she has been forced into an “agreement” and that she has been blackmailed - her words, not mine. It is disappointing to hear reports like this from employees of stalwarts of our high streets, which really should be striving to be seen as exemplar employers. While all this has been going on, Marks & Spencer has reported a 4.3% increase in profits; the total is £689 million in the UK and £1.1 billion internationally this year alone.
This week is Living Wage Week - the real living wage, as determined by researchers at Loughborough University, not the government’s misnamed “national living wage”, which is a new national minimum wage, no more, no less. The real living wage is good for the individual, good for the family, good for society and good for business itself. Two thirds of employers who pay the real living wage reported a significant impact on recruitment and retention. They also saw a sharp fall in absenteeism. More than 80% reported improvements in staff performance.
I also had the pleasure this week of visiting the living wage event held in Parliament and talking with many small and medium-sized enterprises about the benefits of having living wage status and what it brings to their businesses. Large companies such as Marks & Spencer could learn a lot from them.