At the beginning of the month the Parliament debated a report from the Local Government Committee regarding introduction of a living wage.
The campaign for a living wage aims to raise the minimum hourly rate workers receive in order to allow them to support their families and to lift them out of poverty. Work on the Living Wage Campaign for Scotland calculated that this figure should be set at £7.20 an hour.
During the debate I welcomed the work undertaken by the committee in particular because of the evidence gathered in about how to take forward the implementation of the living wage. I highlighted the fact that during these tough economic times, it is the lowest paid in society who are suffering most, the vast majority of whom are women workers. A living wage should therefore be a priority for the Scottish Government.
Just before the first Scottish Parliament elections I was proud to campaign for the introduction of the national minimum wage as a progressive step to help low-paid households. I was equally proud to support plans for a living wage which were included as part of Labour’s manifesto ahead of last year’s Scottish elections and am pleased to see my colleague John Park MSP taking forward a Living Wage Bill in the Parliament. Glasgow City Council led the way in Scotland and I’m pleased to say they have been followed by a growing number of councils.
As well as seeing all public sector workers paid a living wage, I would like to see proactive work to see this rolled out across all sectors. One practical idea being taken forward by John Park in his bill is the idea of creating clauses in contracts for major infrastructure projects to ensure that people working for private contractors receive the living wage.
In the voluntary sector, too, there is a need to address the issue so that staff providing services to local authorities are treated on an equal basis to their council working counterparts.
The introduction of a living wage would prove particularly beneficial to low paid women. Almost half of all workers earning less than £7 an hour are women in part time jobs. Meanwhile two thirds of all low-paid workers are women.
I believe that the Scottish Government has a crucial role to play in taking the lead, setting an example and making it easy for people to address the issue. In the public sector, there is clearly an appetite and an opportunity for change, but there are concerns about navigating through EU law. A lead therefore from the Scottish Government could make a real difference and is urgently needed.