South Tyneside council has announced plans to introduce the living wage in step which UNISON branch secretary Merv Butler calls “an historic day” for the union.
The council confirmed that it would adopt the recommendations of an independent living wage commission chaired by Professor Keith Shaw of Northumbria University.
The commission was set up by the council in June 2013 to examine the possibility of introducing a living wage.
If agreed by the full council in December, the plan would see the minimum council pay increase to £7.11 an hour from April next year as a first step to introducing the living wage (currently £7.65 an hour) and make South Tyneside the first council in the North East to commit itself to the living wage.
Announcing the move, councillor Ed Malcolm said: “Of course we would have liked to implement the full living wage with immediate effect. But, given the unprecedented cuts imposed on the authority, we have had to take a prudent approach.
“When we have further information on our future funding, we will sit down with our trade union colleagues to consider the affordability of implementing the full living wage from 2016 with a view to eliminating low pay aross the council’s workforce.”
The move would mean immediate pay rises of up to 67p an hour next April for around 546 people – 95% of them women – or more than 700 individual jobs, by eliminating the bottom four points of the council’s pay structure.
Many of those affected by April’s move will be cleaners and supervisers, said Mr Butler. He added that the union’s target when discussions take place with the council on next steps for 2016 will be the elimination of the next lowest pay point, where many school crossing staff and catering workers are concentrated.
That would affect around affect around 1,100 jobs, he added – though the number of people will be lower, as many work more than one job.
UNISON branch officers and stewards gave evidence to the commission, stressing the benefits of a living wage to part-time female employees such as cleaners, supervisory assistants, and kitchen assistants. Other workers who would benefit include library assistants, school crossing patrol workers and community centre support workers.
Mr Butler was among those giving evidence to the commission – alongside cleanering services acrtivist Janet Green – and he told local newspaper The Shields Gazette: “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.”
He added that the proposal will not only “make a real difference” to UNISON members, “it will put money into the local economy as well”.