ONE thousand low-paid council workers in South Tyneside are today a step closer to receiving a ‘living wage’.
The move – recommended by an independent commission – leaves South Tyneside Council needing to find £700,000 to cover its wage bill if it presses ahead with the plan next year.
The commission has recommended South Tyneside pays its lowest paid workers a minimum of £7.65 an hour – £1.34 above the national minimum wage of £6.31 an hour.
This would help about 1,000 cleaners, school lunch supervisors and catering assistants in schools, residential homes and leisure facilities – 95 per cent of whom are women.
It would mean those workers, who are paid £6.54 an hour, would see their hourly rate rise by £1.11.
It is highly unlikely any change will come into force before April next year – because the council’s budget for the financial year has already been set.
The decision was labelled “historic” today by Merv Butler, the branch secretary of Unison South Tyneside, which has long campaigned for the introduction of the living wage.
Mr Butler would favour an immediate introduction of the increase but, if that’s not possible, he will be pushing for a “stepped approach” – with phased rises in the rate paid per hour over the next few months.
He said: “This is an historic day for Unison. We have campaigned long and hard for the council to introduce the living wage. The recommendations of the commission bring that a massive step closer.
“Our task now is to get the council to bring in the living wage as soon as possible, and we have a clear plan on how they can do this.
“The report shows that 1,195 job holders are paid below the living wage and nearly 95 per cent of these are women.”
He added: “This proposal will make a real difference to our members. It will put money into the local economy as well.”
Coun Ed Malcolm, the council’s lead member for resources and innovation, will now work over the coming months with finance officers to look to identify funding for the change.
He said: “As a council, we are committed to social justice and trying to bring real change to the lives of people in South Tyneside.
“This is why we welcome the commission’s report into the impact of introducing the living wage in the borough.
“There is a compelling case to introduce a living wage because it brings dignity and pays families enough to enjoy a basic but acceptable standard of living. However, it is important that we consider this very carefully in the context of ever decreasing budgets and our commitment to protecting vital services in South Tyneside.”
Coun Joan Atkinson, the council’s lead member for children, young people and families, described the living wage as a “priority” and a chance to take struggling families out of poverty,
She said: “It is going to be hard.We don’t have a hidden pot of money but, through innovative measures savings are being made. This is a priority and we need to find a way of funding it.”
Coun Malcolm added: “We would like to thank Professor Keith Shaw and his commission members for the wealth of work they have done on this issue.
“They have produced a very comprehensive report exploring what we can do as an employer to lift more people out of low pay and support local families.”