HUNDREDS of people in South Tyneside signed up to support a nationwide bid to win a fairer deal for workers.
Campaigners arrived in force in King Street, South Shields, yesterday, to combat low wages as part of the Trade Union Congress’s (TUC) Fair Pay Fortnight.
The initiative kicked off with the South Tyneside branch of the Northern Public Services Alliance – part of the TUC – setting up a stall in the busy town centre throroughfare to raise awareness of a slump in workers’ pay across the public and private sector.
People were invited to sign a petition calling for the three main political party leaders, Prime Minister David Cameron, Labour’s Ed Miliband and the Liberal Democrats’ Nick Clegg, to boost the nation’s pay packets.
Fair Pay Fortnight is part of the TUC’s Britain Needs a Pay Rise campaign, which is urging the Government to introduce a ‘living wage’ of £7.65.
The living wage is an hourly rate of pay set independently and updated every year and calculated according to the basic cost of living in the UK.
Employers can choose to pay the living wage – estimated at £7.65 in the UK – on a voluntary basis.
It is separate from the national minimum wage – that will increase by 19p to £6.50 an hour in October – which is a compulsory amount which must be met by employers. Union members were on hand to discuss the campaign with passers-by taking time off from their lunch breaks and shopping to share a word and put pen to paper.
Julie Armstrong, co-ordinator for the South Tyneside branch of the Northern Public Services Alliance, said: “We have had a really good response to the petition.
“We had one pensioner who told us that, when he was younger, he had 10 offers for apprenticeships. Now he says he despairs for his own grandchildren.
“A lot of people are having to take the first low-paid job they can get. Another lady who stopped has three jobs just to get by.
“Another huge issue is zero hour contracts, where the flexibility is entirely on the side of the employer. It is becoming more and more prevalant.”
The Northern Public Services Alliance says that one in four people working in South Tyneside are paid below the living wage rate.
It says that, on average, workers in the North East have lost more than £1,321 in wages since 2010.
They are calling for a Government and employer commitment to a £7.65 per hour pay rate, as well as tough fines for employers who don’t meet mimimum wage regulations and a crackdown on bankers’ bonuses to help narrow the gap between the richest and the rest.