ON his first visit to the Western Isles, Unison union General Secretary Dave Prentis has urged Comhairle nan Eilean to become a “real” Living Wage employer.
Calculated by the Centre for Research in Social policy according to the basic cost of living in the UK, employers can choose to pay the Living Wage – £7.45 per hour – on a voluntary basis.
Speaking to the Gazette following an AGM with local union members last week, Mr Prentis said: “Here, although the council say it is a living wage employer, they do so as the islands allowance workers are entitled to adds up to the Living Wage.
“And it’s not a lot to correct either, it would probably cost the council only around £10,000 to become a real Living Wage employer. It would also be a very possible way for the council to replace some faith and help raise moral, which is most important.”
The Comhairle argue the fact detailing that the lowest paid employee earns an hourly rate of £7.55 – 10p more than the Living Wage minimum suggests.
A spokesman for the local authority stated: “The Comhairle’s position on the Living Wage is that it should be calculated using the simplest method possible, which is the amount employees are actually paid, and receive each month.
“The source of that amount is less relevant, provided that employees receive the minimum, Living Wage figure from their local authority employers. The lowest rate currently paid to any Comhairle employee is £7.55 per hour and the current Living Wage rate is £7.45 per hour.”
Mr Prentis also added his voice to opposition of spending cuts and job losses being imposed by the council – and assured island union members that Unison was there for them.
He said: “We’re dealing with some very difficult issues – 200 [council] jobs have gone over the last two years with 70 jobs to go in the future. Local community workers have also had a pay freeze for the past five years so these are very difficult times.
“The effects of the austerity programme handed down by Westminster is visible throughout the UK, yet it’s far tougher in the Islands. Nearly five jobs in 10 – 44per cent – are in public services; and we know that if public sector workers lose their jobs then they are not spending in the local economy.
“We know that for every £1 a public sector worker is paid, 70p goes to the local economy. When public service jobs go, the local economy suffers; and for every public service job which is lost, we know that one private sector job also goes.
Mr Prentis continued: “These cuts effect on services for the vulnerable, but also effects on the community and lifeblood of the Islands. The Islands are far more vulnerable.
“My visit here today is to let members know that we are here with them through the turbulent times. We will help them to help maintain these community services, and help keep moral up.
“All the questions from members centred on the fact that the one thing which keeps them awake at night is if they are going to lose their job, or if their family members are going to lose their jobs and it’s our job to argue against that.”
He added: “As General Secretary I really am impressed with the work of the local branch of the executive here – they are doing a sterling job. I’ve got no doubt that they are not only an asset to the council but to the Union also.”
Stressing that Unison has a “good working partnership” with the Comhairle and that “both sides are trying to grapple with the issues”, Mr Prentis said of the way forward: “There has got to be a vision of a way forward, there has to be light at the end of the tunnel, otherwise moral will collapse.
“We’re looking to work with the good will towards a compromise with the council. The way forward is to get away from this austerity programme – it’s been shown not to work and is causing more problems. We have to get people into work, not cut jobs, and aim and go for economic growth.”
Pictured is Dave Prentis.