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The Bevan Foundation has published its strategy to increase the number of people earning the voluntary Living Wage in Merthyr Tydfil. Their research has found that approximately a quarter of the borough’s workforce are not paid the voluntary Living Wage – enough for a basic but acceptable standard of living.
Thanks to generous funding from the Coalfields Regeneration Trust and Oxfam Cymru, the Bevan Foundation has been speaking to local employers and organisations who work with people on low incomes, to find out more about the impact of low pay on households and the local economy. They have also been highlighting the benefits of paying the Living Wage to employers.
Their research found that those in part-time employment were at much greater risk of being paid less than the Living Wage in Merthyr, and that the borough has a greater proportion of workers in low paid sectors and industries such as retail, caring and leisure occupations, and process plant workers.
Merthyr Tydfil only has a small number of accredited Living Wage employers such as Barclays, Miller Argent, Wales & West Housing and Welsh Government, who have committed to paying the Living Wage to all directly employed and sub-contracted workers, but several other employers including Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council, Merthyr College and Cwm Taf Health Board have publicly committed to paying it to directly-employed staff.
The project’s research officer, Nisreen Mansour, said: “Having spent the last few months speaking to employers and employees across the borough, it’s been clear that there is widespread support for the Living Wage and many employers already pay it to all their workers. I was most inspired by how many employers thought they should pay it because they have a responsibility to pay their workers a decent wage and not contribute to the problem of low pay in Merthyr, rather than because of the benefits it brings them.
“However, for those employers that don’t pay the Living Wage to all their workers, many mentioned the same obstacles which prevented them from committing to it. Several employers referred to the funding they receive as a reason why they do not pay it, and others said that bidding for contracts meant that they were pushed to offer the lowest price, which meant that workers ended up being paid less than the Living Wage.
“While we understand that not all employers are in a position to pay it, we think that much more can be done to ensure that there is a step-change in the number of people earning at least the Living Wage in Merthyr ”
Matt Hemsley from Oxfam Cymru, which part-funded the research on the Living Wage in Merthyr Tydfil, said: “Paying staff the Living Wage has benefits for both employer and employee – and can make a big contribution to reducing economic inequality in Wales and the UK.
“This research sets out a clear plan to work with both private and public sector to overcome some of the challenges to introducing the Living Wage – this provides a great opportunity to move to a Living Wage economy in Merthyr.”
Alun Taylor from the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, which also funded the research on the Living Wage in the borough, said: “The Trust is committed to combating low pay and promoting the benefits of adopting the living wage to employers. It is important that those living and working in former coalfield communities in Wales receive the living wage to ensure that they have the resources to have a basic standard of living. Like so many former coalfield communities in Wales, Merthyr has experienced many years of poor living and working conditions so we fully support the Bevan Foundation’s five point action plan to tackle this issue.”
Looking specifically at the sort of obstacles employers in Merthyr Tydfil face to paying all their employees the Living Wage, the think tank has published a six point plan to boost the number of Living Wage workers in the borough:
- Establishing the Merthyr Living Wage
At the same rate as the Living Wage Foundation rate, local branding will raise the awareness, interest and drive take-up.
- Setting an achievable target
Aim for Merthyr to have the same proportion of workers on the Living Wage as the UK by 2021 and to secure 12 more Living Wage-accredited employers by Living Wage week in November 2017
- Targeting natural sympathisers
Public, third sector and responsible private sector businesses should be encouraged to take the crucial step to committing to the Merthyr Living Wage.
- Working Together
A local strategy group should provide leadership, offer incentives and support and oversee progress.
- Harness the power of the local supply chain
Using local purchasing power, especially when goods and services are procured locally, is critical.
- A fresh approach to funding
Public sector and charitable funders should specify and fund payment of the voluntary Living Wage to all organisations they grant-aid.
The Bevan Foundation’s research on the Living Wage in Merthyr Tydfil has been generously funded by the Coalfields Regeneration Trust and Oxfam Cymru. To download the action plan and research, click here.