Eight years ago (I think!), I stood up in the Council Chamber of Edinburgh City Council and called on the Council to pay all of its staff a Living Wage: a wage that is enough to live on, based on the real cost of living. The then LibDem/SNP coalition administration seemed to find this idea not only unrealistic, but ridiculous: ridiculous to pay our workers a wage that would mean they could live with dignity and comfort.
I am proud to be the first Scottish politician to have called for the payment of a Living Wage for workers. And I am proud that the Scottish Greens have led the way on so many important issues relating to workers’ rights (calling for the implementation of a 20:1 pay ratio and to plan towards a 10:1 ratio, seeking to repeal anti-trade union legislation, refusing to grant tenders to companies that blacklist union-active employees, and so much more).
This week, as we celebrate those employers who pay the real Living Wage and promote the concept of fair pay, it is worth noting how far we have come in less than a decade. The Scottish Government and many Local Authorities pay the Living Wage. Scotland is home to nearly 20% of the UK’s accredited Living Wage employers.
The Living Wage, now £8.45 in Scotland, gives so much more than just extra pennies to employees: it is about more than just fair pay. It is about employee self-worth. It is about valuing employees as more than just cogs in the economic machine.
Last night I was privileged to attend the reception for Living Wage week at the Scottish Parliament. We heard from two young women whose lives have been transformed by the Living Wage: two young women who now feel more confident, more equal in their work and their personal lives, more valued as human beings.
Fair pay is a fundamental part of securing a fair economy, where no one experiences in-work poverty. And this is crucial to securing a more equal society that creates and sustains social justice. We still have a long way to go: many companies, businesses and organisations do not pay the Living Wage; many workers are still deprived of the National Minimum Wage; precarious jobs with poor conditions are still a feature of too many people’s lives.
But for a moment, let us celebrate all who have chosen to make work pay by signing up to the Living Wage. Let us applaud those, such as the Poverty Alliance and many others, who have made it their business to promote the Living Wage.
Thank you all, and please let us all continue to spread the word!