Britain needs a pay rise


Starting this Sunday, the British trade union movement will hold its annual Congress in Liverpool and pay is going to be the key issue we discuss.

We’re told by our government that the global economic crisis is behind us and recovery is well under way. It might be back to business as usual for bankers and bosses, but it doesn’t feel like much of a recovery for the rest of us.

The pressure on public services and the people who work in them hasn’t been relieved either.

In fact, across the economy, it’s clearer than ever that the government’s claim that “we’re all in it together” is nonsense.

Pay has been squeezed. It has fallen in real terms for longer than at any time since the 1870s.

Those jobs that are being created are all too often low skill, low wage and low rights jobs; such as zero hour contracts or bogus self-employment, which has led to average self-employed wages falling below the minimum wage level.

Living wages have become just an aspiration for many working people as in-wage poverty has become the new normal.

The statutory minimum wage has raised many people’s earnings since its introduction, but it is still too low, and is hardly a solution for the vast majority of working people who badly need a pay rise.

More effective labour market regulation would prevent undercutting and exploitation at the bottom – especially of migrant workers.

A fairer share of productivity growth, a louder voice at work and a return to collective bargaining would help everyone.

On 18 October, the TUC is calling a national demonstration under the slogan "Britain needs a pay rise". We know we are not alone: leaders of global unions and sister unions in other countries will be joining our rally virtually by video.

We take inspiration from campaigners like the fast food workers in the USA demanding US$15 an hour, the Cambodian garment workers seeking US$160 a month, and South African metalworkers striking for a 12 per cent wage rise.

In Britain, we have seen the re-emergence of food banks for the hungry, a lost generation of young people expecting – for the first time in generations – to be worse off than their parents, and real wage growth lower in Britain than anywhere else in the OECD except Mexico and Greece.

But this is a global phenomenon. The European Trade Union Confederation is calling for a similar boost to workers’ living standards in Europe.

And as our Congress winds down on Wednesday, a global union delegation to the G20 employment ministers’ meeting in Melbourne will be presenting evidence that the world needs a pay rise, too.