Living wage in the water industry

Even on the proper living wage, it would take nearly 130 years for the lowest paid employees in the water industry to earn the same as the highest paid director in the sector does in 12 months, according to new research published by UNISON today (Wednesday).

This analysis of pay at the UK’s 19 water companies reveals a worrying gulf between those at the top and those at the bottom of the wages league, says UNISON.

Tonight the union’s campaign for a living wage across the whole of the UK’s water industry – Making Waves for the Living Wage – will be highlighted at an event in parliament.

The campaign aims to improve the pay of thousands of water company employees currently struggling to make ends meet on less than the living wage of £8.25 per hour (£9.40 in London).

The research shows that it would still take 128 years for the lowest-paid staff at United Utilities to take home the equivalent of the £2.2m wages of the company’s highest paid director, even if they were paid the living wage.

Launching the campaign, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “The water companies are making huge profits, and are paying their top executives huge salaries. They could easily afford to start paying their lowest-paid employees a proper living wage. And even if they did there would still be an ocean between those at the top and those at the bottom.

“While some water companies like Yorkshire Water, Northumbrian Water and Scottish Water have done the decent thing and now pay the living wage, many – including Thames Water, Anglian Water and Wessex Water – still don’t.

“Five of the UK’s water companies award their highest paid directors more than £1m a year, but haven’t yet been able to come up with the cash to pay their workers a decent wage. Three of these five are at least talking about paying their staff a living wage, but two seem quite happy to keep things as they are. Our campaign is an attempt to put a stop to this stingy approach to pay and see at least a living wage paid throughout the industry.”

UNISON wrote to the boards of the UK’s water companies to ask them whether they were planning to become living wage employers. As a result of the union’s approach, some are now talking to the Living Wage Foundation about becoming accredited living wage employers. UNISON intends to keep up the pressure on those companies who have yet to make any move towards paying the living wage.

Notes to editors:

  • Early day motion 1185 Living wage and workers in the water industry is sponsored by Angela Smith MP
  • UNISON’s ‘Making waves for the living wage’ campaign will be launched in the houses of parliament between 6 pm and 7 pm in the MacMillan Room, Portcullis House.
  • UNISON’s campaign is for the real living wage, as set by the Living Wage Foundation, not the Chancellor’s rebranded national minimum wage. Crucially, companies need to include contracted out workers- who are often the lowest paid- to become an accredited living wage employer.
  • Six water companies have already signed up for the living wage accreditation: South East Water, Yorkshire Water, Northumbria Water, Scottish Water, Dee Valley Water, and Sutton and East Surrey Water.
  • The table (below) shows the current position of each water company towards the living wage, and the total remuneration of the highest paid director as reported by MarketIQ, which draws its data from Annual Accounts submitted to Companies House. Someone on the living wage outside London earns £17,206 a year, and someone working in the capital (for Thames Water), £19,605.
Water Company Annual pay of highest paid director * Years to earn one years salary for highest paid director Current living wage position
United Utilities £2,200,000 128 Talking to Living Wage Foundation
Severn Trent £2,097,700 122 Talking to Living Wage Foundation
Southern Water £1,913,000 111 Talking to Living Wage Foundation
Thames Water £1,357,000 69 Given no indication they will seek accreditation
Anglian Water £1,115,000 65 Given no indication they will seek accreditation
Yorkshire Water £920,000 53 Accredited living wage employer
Northumbrian Water £836,000 49 Accredited living wage employer
Affinity Water £755,000 44 Talking to Living Wage Foundation
Dwr Cymru/Welsh Water £690,020 40 Talking to Living Wage Foundation
South West Water £666,000 39 Talking to Living Wage Foundation
Wessex Water £638,000 37 Given no indication they will seek accreditation
Bristol Water £454,000 26 Talking to Living Wage Foundation
Scottish Water £394,000 23 Accredited living wage employer
South East Water £334,000 19 Accredited living wage employer
Sutton and East Surrey Water £315,000 18 Accredited living wage employer
South Staffs Water £246,000 14 Given no indication they will seek accreditation
Portsmouth Water £223,000 13 Talks continuing with UNISON
Bournemouth Water £219,000 13 Talking to Living Wage Foundation
Dee Valley Water plc £135,000 8 Accredited living wage employer


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