Home Opinion The Living Wage: Stepping in the Right Direction

The Living Wage: Stepping in the Right Direction

by Brian Sims
Peter Webster

Peter Webster

Much attention is now being paid to the excellent Living Wage campaign orchestrated in the UK by the Living Wage Foundation. Why is it of such great importance for businesses and their employees operating in the private security sector? Peter Webster offers his considered opinions on the matter.

The level of wage rates in the UK’s security guarding sector has been a significant cause for concern over many years now. The advent of the TUPE Regulations has prevented wages from going backwards at the time of contract change but has done little or nothing to help improve many wage rates in the real world.

In the South East of England, it’s not uncommon to see examples of security solutions customers insisting on wage levels of £10.00 – or more – per hour. That said, we’re still witnessing far more examples of security officers who are receiving the National Minimum Wage, and particularly so the further north you travel.

When bidding for a security contract, in order to comply with the TUPE Regulations private sector security companies have to maintain the wage levels currently paid, even if they do happen to be at the level of the National Minimum Wage. It’s a sad fact, but it’s true.

What’s more, as you can imagine this situation isn’t helping our ongoing cause to improve the image of the security sector. Ultimately, it must be said that wage rates are driven by what the customer base is willing to pay for the security service provided, either directly or indirectly.

In recent times, great attention has been paid to the Living Wage Foundation and its campaign that was launched by members of London Citizens back in 2001. The founders were parents in the East End of London who wanted to remain in work but discovered that, despite working two or more National Minimum Wage rate jobs, they were struggling to make ends meet and continually left with no time for family and/or community life.

The Living Wage Foundation

The Living Wage Foundation focuses on three key areas: accreditation, intelligence and influence. The organisation offers accreditation to employers that pay the Living Wage – or those committed to an agreed timetable of implementation – by awarding the Living Wage Employer Mark. There’s also a Service Provider Recognition Scheme designed for third party contractors who pay their own staff the Living Wage and always offer a Living Wage option when submitting tenders.

In terms of intelligence, the Living Wage Foundation provides advice and support to employers and service providers implementing the Living Wage. This takes the form of Best Practice Guides, Case Studies from leading employers, model procurement frameworks and access to specialist legal and Human Resources advice. Importantly, the Living Wage Foundation also co-ordinates the announcement of the new Living Wage rates each November.

When it comes to influence, the Living Wage Foundation provides a forum for leading employers and service providers to publicly back the Living Wage, working diligently with Principal Partners who bring financial and strategic support to the table.

At £7.85 per hour, the current Living Wage – itself calculated according to the basic cost of living in the UK – is 21% higher than the National Minimum Wage. The Living Wage figure rises to £9.15 per hour in London. With a great deal of publicity being given to it – including endorsements from high profile figures such as Prime Minister David Cameron, the former Labour Party leader Ed Miliband and Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London – it’s an idea that’s growing in popularity. So much so, in fact, that during 2014 the number of accredited Living Wage employers more than doubled, with over 1,000 employers across the UK having now signed up to the scheme.

In many ways this isn’t surprising. An independent study examining the business benefits of implementing a Living Wage policy in London found that more than 80% of employers questioned believe the Living Wage has enhanced the quality of the work completed by their staff, while absenteeism has subsequently fallen by approximately 25%.

Two thirds of employers reported a significant impact on recruitment and retention within their organisation while 70% of them felt that the Living Wage had actively increased consumer awareness of their commitment to be an ethical employer.

Another poll, this time commissioned by the Nationwide Building Society, suggests that people feel employers should pay the Living Wage if they can afford to do so. 75% of those questioned in the survey believe that employers should be required to reveal whether they are Living Wage payers with an indication that more than half of the population are more likely to use the goods and services realised by Living Wage employers.

From our own point of view, we’re certainly beginning to see more and more customers looking at ways in which to pay the Living Wage and so improve the incomes of their contract security guarding personnel.

Companies are now increasingly beginning to view their participation in the Living Wage campaign as something of a ‘Badge of Honour’. That campaign has – and very cleverly, in my opinion – drawn on companies’ ongoing and increasing desires to demonstrate high levels of Corporate Social Responsibility.

Issues affecting security providers

Companies aren’t always signing up for purely altruistic reasons, either. They realise that there are negative connotations in paying the National Minimum Wage, particularly so if their profits are high. This is the case in sectors like the financial world where there are some very high earners. How would the public feel if such blue chip companies were paying security officers the National Minimum Wage to protect their people and property while affording other personnel directly on the books hundreds of thousands of pounds in bonuses?

As stated, increased staff motivation and retention rates, reduced absenteeism and lower recruitment costs are some of the common benefits reported following implementation of the Living Wage. These are all issues that directly affect the security sector. On that basis, it’s my firm belief that we all need to look at the long-term benefits of buying into this idea.

Sceptics might suggest that moving to the Living Wage from the National Minimum Wage simply means paying the same people more money for doing the same job. Although in the short term that’s perfectly true, it would also mean that those same people take greater pride in their work, feel more valued, are better engaged with their employment and increasingly committed to their roles.

For employers, it realises reduced staff churn – another problem that has been around for some time – and the ability to make a more worthwhile investment in training as personnel are less likely to leave the host company.

Looking towards the longer term, better pay also means that the security business sector becomes far more attractive as a career option and, as a direct result, higher calibre people will want to join our ranks.

Peter Webster is CEO of Corps Security

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