One way you can make a real impact on poverty where you live is by persuading local employers to pay the Living Wage. Tom Skinner, coordinator of the Greater Manchester Living Wage Campaign, has prepared this simple guide to help you make it happen.
First some context…
The Living Wage Campaign was launched by members of London Citizens, part of the Citizens UK network, in 2001. In 2012 the Living Wage Foundation was established to set the Living Wage rate and to carry out accreditation for Living Wage Employers. In recent years the campaign has grown in prominence across the UK, with over 1,500 organisations now accredited as Living Wage employers. According to the Living Wage Foundation, the campaign has won over £210 million of additional wages, lifting over 40,000 families out of working poverty.
The Greater Manchester Living Wage Campaign is an independent group, set up by Church Action on Poverty and others following recommendations by the Greater Manchester Poverty Commission in 2013. We formed because we believed that the Living Wage is an idea whose time has come, but which needed a concerted push to get it really moving on a local level. We work closely with the Living Wage Foundation and signpost employers to them for accreditation, and achieved a 400% increase in the number of local Living Wage Employers in our first 20 months.
Conversations and connections
Our campaign is built upon people championing the Living Wage in their own sectors. Charities will have limited success convincing businesses or councils on their own terms, so we have made sure to start with a broad coalition. We took a long time to build our first meeting (six to eight weeks from booking the room), invited people personally from a range of sectors, and were rewarded with trade unionists, councillors, enlightened business managers, charity workers and more, all together in one room to work towards the same goal. Some key connections I’d recommend developing early on would be:
- The Living Wage Foundation themselves. They’ll have a programme manager for your region so you could invite them to your meetings.
- Local Living Wage Employers are great partners for the campaign, they show the way for others.
- Supportive councillors – if you’re lucky the council leadership may be supportive, but even if not, you may find some elected members who would like to see change. Try to stay out of the party politics though! A councillor from the same party as the council’s leadership may be the most likely to influence the council, but if you can get councillors to work together across party barriers, that could help.
- Trade unions. Respect the great work that they already do, and recognise the limitations of your own campaign – you probably won’t have the representation in workplaces that they do, and you won’t be able to offer protections to any workers who stick their heads above the parapet. But what you can do is promote the Living Wage from a neutral platform that some employers may respond to more than if it comes from unions, and you can build broad coalitions for the Living Wage that include unions and employers alike. In doing so, you can work with local unions to deliver better pay for their members.
- Business people are the best placed to convince other businesses. Also networks of businesses such as the local Chamber of Commerce (who recently hosted an event for us) or the Federation of Small Businesses (who printed an article from us in their newsletter).
- Also look for third sector networks such as CVS infrastructure organisations, and networks of faith groups.
Think about some local employers who you could influence. If you manage to introduce the Living Wage to a big employer with lots of low-paid workers, for example a local authority that carries out or contracts a lot of care work, you’ll have achieved a pay rise for hundreds or even over a thousand low-paid workers. Councils are great employers to engage, because they should be accountable to their voters as well as their workers. You could get voters writing to their local councillors asking them to become Living Wage Employers. This isn’t an exhaustive list but you could think about universities, colleges & schools, hospitals, networks of businesses and charities, and high profile employers such as sport clubs.
But there’s no harm in looking for some low-hanging fruit too, such as employers who already pay the Living Wage, or only have one or two workers just below it, for whom it’ll be a relatively small challenge to become a Living Wage Employer. These successes early on will give you encouragement and momentum.
However as well as identifying targets, keep some of your focus more general. Just make a big noise for the Living Wage in your area and you’ll make other employers aware of it who you might not have thought to target.
Finally, target times and key moments as well as employers. Living Wage Week is always in the first week of November and is a great time to raise awareness.
Always aim for accreditation
We’re never content with an employer saying they pay the Living Wage to their in-house staff, we always see accreditation as Living Wage Employers as the main aim. There are many reasons for this:
- It’s a public, long-term commitment, that means they’ll stick to the Living Wage even with annual increases.
- It means they commit to getting their contracted and subcontracted workers paid the Living Wage as well as in-house staff. Many low-paid staff are often hidden in the contracts, so a council paying the Living Wage to in-house staff doesn’t deserve much credit until they’ve solved this bigger issue.
- It helps show the effectiveness of your campaign.
- We don’t just stop at accreditation – we want Living Wage Employers to work with us and champion the Living Wage in their own sectors. Accreditation is the best platform from which to do this.
Loose coalition with a committed core
This will work differently for different groups, but here’s how we’ve done it. We’ve kept the organisation pretty loose, not yet developing a well-defined membership structure. Our meetings are open to anyone, and supportive organisations have given their staff members’ time on the basis that our aims match theirs. Those meetings happen roughly bi-monthly – we’ve focused more on doing things than discussing them! We have a coordinator paid to pull the campaign together and to represent and resource the campaign, 1.5 days a week, but beyond that there’s little central organisation. This has been funded by local charities, trade unions and housing associations, about £8,000 per year.
More carrot than stick
We’ve kept our messaging pretty positive throughout. The Living Wage is something that can benefit employers as much as it does the workers, with research indicating an increase in staff retention and quality of work. It’s common sense really, that you get what you pay for, and staff are an asset worth investing in.
Furthermore, you can support and incentivise Living Wage Employers by promoting their businesses to consumers and partners.
That said, from time to time we have been a little more critical. We have two hugely rich football clubs in our area who pay their stars a million pounds a month but have not moved to ensure their match-day catering & steward staff are paid enough to live on. We’ve made that point, in protests, open letters and in the media, and we have managed to get some movement from them.
Know your issue
This could be a model for potential campaigners and other city regions to explore. With a wide-ranging. concerted boost in each sector, a good idea like the Living Wage becomes far harder to ignore, and ultimately more attractive for employers.