In December 2016, Sheffield played host to a demonstration and ongoing campaign called Sheffield Needs A Pay Rise. The aim is to promote a £10 minimum wage, abolish zero-hours contracts, and protect and promote rights in the workplace.
From the perspective of employees, a £10 minimum wage, enabling people to live a comfortable life and plan for the future, is a no-brainer and should be a priority for any business that genuinely values its workforce. But like many things, the devil is in the detail. Immediately imposing a legal pay rise for millions of workers would put many companies out of business overnight. Opus, the small company that publishes this magazine, pays all of its employees the ‘actual’ living wage of £8.45 per hour, but it took us over eight years to get there. A structured, staged approach to raising pay across the board is urgently needed, and would go a long way to addressing the widespread ‘in work poverty’ we are facing in the UK, but there is also so much more to tackle.
Last month, it was reported that the Government’s online apprenticeship portal was promoting the position of ‘apprenticeship sandwich artist’ at Subway in Gateshead, offering £119 for a 35-hour working week and a level 2 diploma after 14 months. This equates to £3.40 an hour, less than the £4 minimum wage for under 18s. Apprenticeships are hugely important for many young people, helping them dip their toe into the world of work, but it’s hard not to see this as outright exploitation.
According to the State of Sheffield 2017 report, there was a 10% rise in self-employment in Sheffield between 2015 and 2016, but this may not be a positive picture of people striking out on their own. More and more workers are being pressured into ‘self employment’ through zero-hours agreements with employers, in the process losing rights many of us take for granted, including the right to paid parental leave.
Yes, Sheffield needs a pay rise – along with Gateshead, the rest of the UK and most of the world – but clearly there is so much more we need to do to make work fairer. The conversation needs to be broadened to cover more than just pay. Working conditions, for example, are incredibly important, not only to the success and sustainability of jobs, but also to preventing common work-related illnesses.
All of the above doesn’t even start to address the future of work. Many jobs could be under threat due of automation in the next 10-20 years, with one author recently noting that automation is “blind to the colour of your collar”.
If we want to ensure the world of work becomes fairer and more equitable, we need to be prepared for tomorrow’s problems as well as today’s.
‘Does Sheffield Just Need A Pay Rise?’ will take place on Monday 24 April at Millennium Gallery as part of Festival of Debate 2017, with a variety of panellists addressing the barriers to fairer work in Sheffield and beyond.
Our Fair City welcomes all local businesses, large and small, to sign up to its Fair Employers Charter and demonstrate their commitment to fairer working conditions and pay.
The campaign is also looking for Fairness Champions – anyone who is doing good work in Sheffield to address inequality and make the city a fairer place to live.