The Living Wage revolution and the businesses blazing a trail

As we approach national Living Wage Week (November 1 – 7), we take a look at the Living Wage revolution and how it’s benefiting businesses, their employees and the communities in which they operate…

A Kirkcaldy cleaning firm started the ball rolling for many businesses in Fife after becoming one of only six UK service providers to adopt The Living Wage in 2014.
Since Get It Done Cleaning became an early adopter of the scheme, founder-director Derek Cowan went on to inspire others to follow suit by speaking out at local events and being shortlisted for the Scotland 2014 Living Wage Champion Award.
Although Cowan and his team were pipped at the post by big names such as SSE, which went on to become the 2014 winner, the Fife firm was instrumental in raising awareness at a local level and now many other businesses have followed in its footsteps.
After leaving his Living Wage legacy, Cowan has now gone on to travel the world helping others and has recently released a book.
But while he may have been a maverick back in 2014, Cowan certainly isn’t alone now in being a Living Wage ambassador.
Derek Cowan of Get It Done Cleaning Services
Derek Cowan of Get It Done Cleaning Services
Scottish telecoms firm TenTel, which recently announced plans to create 40 new jobs in and around Edinburgh, is one of a growing number of east of Scotland employers to recognise that paying the Living Wage is good for business.
In fact, TenTel has gone a cut above and now pays all its employees an hourly rate set ABOVE the Living Wage.
Now managing director Robert McKechnie is calling on other businesses to follow suit and explains why, if you want to attract and retain staff, it’s a good call.
“There’s a big difference between the hourly rate of the living wage – currently set at £7.85 – and the national minimum wage of £6.50,” he says.
“At TenTel, we pay above the London rate Living Wage to attract the right staff and reward them for providing a world-class customer service.
“We do not offer zero hours contracts as we believe they have a negative impact on performance and job satisfaction. Instead we focus on training and retaining excellent individuals who will help us to give our customers the best possible experience when dealing with TenTel.
“The telecoms industry gets bad press for the way it deals with its customers but we want to change that. Our vision is to hear all our customers say ‘wow’ and by building an enviable staff culture and workplace environment, we are confident that every member of staff will help us to achieve this.”
A recent report by Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) revealed that Scotland’s workforce is caught in a cruel trap of low incomes and poor working conditions, to which McKechnie responded: “Employers who treat their staff badly may make a short term gain but an unhappy workforce means under-productive people, angry customers and reputational damage to the business.”
According to the CAS report, which was submitted to the Scottish Parliament’s Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, the numbers of employment cases seen by Scottish Citizens Advice Bureaus has risen by 12% in the last four years and is now at its highest ever level – with the most common cases involving low pay and with-held wages.
Other common issues include unfair dismissal, bullying, exploitation, racism and discrimination.
CAS says that while workers rights are being ignored, new fees for Employment Tribunals are causing problems for many people on low incomes who feel unable to challenge unfair wage small image
Standard Life is another company which is no stranger to paying the Living Wage after introducing the scheme to its workforce in April 2012.
The long-term investment savings specialist, which was established in Edinburgh in 1824, recognised that paying The Living Wage would bring real benefit to its business, employees and the communities in which it operates.
It wanted to demonstrate its commitment and approach to being a sustainable business.
The firm, which now employs around 5,000 people in the UK, received formal accreditation as a Living Wage employer in 2014.
This is in line with Standard Life’s dedication to helping to build a more prosperous world and enabling people to have confidence in their own future.
To that end, the business has developed a sustainable business agenda which focuses on four core building blocks:
  • Being a responsible business: Doing the right thing through our supply chain, environmental management, tax management, behaving ethically, managing our key risks and contributing to local communities
  • Employment: Creating inclusive, meaningful jobs which pay a living wage, allowing people to save
  • Helping people to save: Enabling participation in saving, supporting customers and clients, providing the information and tools
  • Investment: Investing money in a responsible manner and using its influence as an asset manager and owner positively
Standard Life says it’s proud to be listed as a leader for corporate sustainability in its industry in the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices (DJSI World and DJSI Europe).
In becoming a Living Wage employer, the firm has also worked to ensure that all people providing contracted services on its premises, such as catering, cleaning and security, were paid at least the UK Living wage.
Standard Life also extended its UK Living Wage policy to include all school leavers and graduates on its intern programmes, which include:
  • Edinburgh Guarantee – six-month programme to help school leavers gain a foothold in the workplace that Standard Life has now extended to its Glasgow and London offices
  • Graduate Internships – summer programmes designed for those going into their final year of study to provide both practical experience and insight into Standard Life
  • Career Ready – four week work experience and insight programme, supported by ongoing mentoring for two years.
But it doesn’t end there. In August this year, Standard Life went a step further and became the first Living Wage Friendly Funder in the private sector, committing to help those charities it has funding relationships with, so any grant-funded posts are funded at the Living Wage as a minimum.
This approach applies to grants made through both Standard Life plc and the Standard Life Charitable Trust and supports the wider communities the company works with.
“By making a commitment to pay the UK Living Wage and to have no zero-hours contracts, we are actively helping our business, our people and our wider communities,” says chief operations officer Sandy Begbie.
“Being a UK Living Wage employer helps us attract high quality candidates who want to stay and we are seeing a positive impact on our employee engagement and the overall quality of the work we do. All of this is an important part of our strategy to be a sustainable business.
“Our approach to Living Wage is to be fully inclusive, to make as big an impact as possible.  We’ve made sure that all our interns and everyone based on our premises providing a contracted service – such as catering – is paid the Living Wage, as well as our own employees.
“In August we also became the first Living Wage Friendly Funder in the private sector. That means that we have made a commitment to ensure that any positions we fund through grants to the charities we work with in our communities will also earn the Living Wage.
“We’ve seen first-hand the difference Living Wage can make and we would encourage all companies to adopt the Living Wage and for more in the private sector become Living Wage Friendly Funders too. The benefits for business and people are clear.”
School leaver Lewis Mitchell joined Standard Life as part of the Edinburgh Guarantee internship scheme in 2014 which aims to help young people get a foot on the career ladder.
He completed his six month internship with the procurement team and his contract was then extended before he went on to secure a permanent positon within Standard Life’s customer operations team.
Lewis lives in Dunfermline with his parents and when he joined Standard Life under the scheme it was the first paid work he has done.
He says: “Since I started work with Standard Life as an intern with the Edinburgh Guarantee Scheme, I’ve been earning the Living Wage.
“This is the first paid work I’ve done and it’s meant I’ve been able to cover the cost of my commute, which is a large chunk of my outgoings, and afford to pay for driving lessons too. Earning more than the minimum wage is also helping me to save.
“At the moment I’m saving up for a car and I think I’m on track. I try to make sure I save enough each month for the car, if I save more, it’s a bit of a bonus.
“I’ve also joined the company pension scheme and I don’t think I would have done that if I was earning the minimum wage. I still live at home, but I’m contributing towards the bills and buying my own food now and other necessities.
“The good thing about earning the living wage rather than the minimum wage is that it allows me to make decisions about my money and feel I’m achieving something, rather than every penny being accounted for just to get by.”
Hardies Property & Construction Consultants is another local business to embrace the Living Wage and invest in young people.
Having kept student and graduate training schemes in operation right through the recession and beyond, Hardies recently revealed the latest two young people to benefit from its student support scheme.
Kirsten O’Connor and Laura Falconer, who are both from Dalkeith, are being supported by Hardies while they study at Napier University to become building and quantity surveyors respectively.
Both could now gain vital work experience working on Hardies latest schools projects in Midlothian which will see new Primary Schools built at Gorebridge North and Bilston.
Hardies managing partner Derek Ferrier says: “We usually only take one student a year in our sponsorship and employment scheme but we couldn’t decide between Laura and Kirsten, as they are both excellent candidates, and so we decided to take them both on.
“They are both local girls – both ex pupils of Newbattle High School – and it would be fantastic for them to get involved in the work to bring more new schools to this area. We have already helped to build new schools at Woodburn and Burnbrae.
Ferrier outlined that the girls will get £1,000 a year to help them with their studies, plus they will be paid a ‘Living Wage’ rate to work with Hardies in its Dalkeith office when they are not at university, during the Christmas and summer holidays for example.
When they graduate, Hardies will also guarantee each of them a full time post for two years.
Hardies, which has fourteen offices throughout Scotland and is the country’s largest multi discipline surveying firm, has always put the support of young people in the industry at its heart.
It also operates an approved RICS APC (Assessment of Professional Competence) programme which employs recent graduates and allocates them a supervisor, mentor and counsellor who supports them throughout their two year APC training period.
Many graduates who originally came to Hardies through this scheme are still with the firm.
“Our support of student and graduates brings enormous benefit to the firm as a whole and we are quite clearly investing in the future of Hardies,” says Ferrier.
Falconer said: “We are very grateful to Hardies. This scheme will give us a fantastic step up in the industry, making the years of study more than worthwhile.”
O’Connor spoke of her excitement of potentially working on the new school projects: “We can’t wait to get started. Hardies are very active in this area and it will be the very best experience for us both.”IMG_0666
Local councils are now slowly embracing Living Wage accreditation too.
Fife Council, for example, has today (Wednesday, October 28) announced its plans to become Scotland’s third Living Wage accredited local authority employer from April 1, 2016.
The authority has paid the Scottish Local Government Living Wage (SLGLW) of £7.97 an hour as set out by COSLA (the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) since April 2013 and says it’s committed to protecting low paid employees by continuing to pay this.
It’s now set to pursue the official accreditation and will join just two other Living Wage Scottish council employers – Falkirk and Dumfries & Galloway.
Fife Council leader David Ross said: “We are committed to treating employees fairly and driving out any inequalities in the workplace. We want all our employees to be satisfied with their pay and working conditions, both for their own welfare and for the benefit of the customers we serve.
“The Council is committed to addressing low pay issues and improving opportunities and support for our workforce through changing and challenging times.
“We now need to go forward for formal accreditation to recognise the Council as a Living Wage employer.”

About The Scottish Living Wage Accreditation Scheme

The Scottish Living Wage Accreditation Scheme is an initiative from the Poverty Alliance, operating in partnership with the Living Wage Foundation and is funded by the Scottish Government.
Accreditation gives an ongoing commitment to continue to pay the Living Wage.
Find out how to become accredited.

Which Living Wage?

There are a number of Living Wage rates currently in operation:
Scottish Local Government Living Wage
£7.97 per hour
Living Wage Foundation
£7.85 per hour (until November 2015)
National Living Wage – UK Government rate
£7.20 per hour (to be introduced in April 2016 for all employees over 25)
National Minimum Wage
Over 21 £6.70 per hour
18 – 20 £5.30 per hour
Under 18 £3.87 per hour
Apprentice 16 – 18 £3.30 per hour
Apprentice 19+ £3.30 per hour (in first year)

Living Wage Week events near you

What: Good Business & Fair Work: Retail & Hospitality Business Breakfast
Where: The Huxley, Edinburgh
When: November 6, 8.15am – 9.30am
Who: Studio One & Paper Tiger
Book: Via Eventbrite 
Find out more about Living Wage Week. 
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