It is a sign of the present unfairness in society that the principle of paying a living wage for employees can only, it seems, be achieved through incentivising their employers – as highlighted by the Leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband. What has happened to the idea of corporate responsibility?
The evidence of the increasing cost of living is everywhere, in the US and mainland Europe as well as in the UK, and yet many companies in the public and also the private sector seem determined to keep salary levels as low as legally possible - and sometimes below, to the extent of breaking the law. While they themselves are facing their own budgetary and investor pressures, it is clear that some employers are flouting the tenets of acceptable practice by imposing not only minimum wage levels but unpredictable working terms also, through zero hour contracts, for example.
[caption id="attachment_2173" align="alignright" width="150"] Ed Miliband[/caption]
For some small businesses, minimum wages are all that can be afforded, but many larger companies have the resources to pay more: with little exception, the big supermarkets, notoriously, have abused their suppliers for years in negotiating the meanest terms possible, and it is known that they share some of their consistent profits with them and those who work for them with the greatest reluctance, and often not at all. There are exceptions, such as the John Lewis partnership and other co-operative based companies, but they are much in the minority.
It is such a pity that corporates with the wherewithal to pay what is reasonable but who refuse to do so, do not recognise that their businesses depend upon the people who make their products or who represent them to their customers, and that the more content their staff are, the more successful they themselves will be. Many of the great British firms started up with the intention not just of making money but also of seeing their staff almost as their family, and as such that they had a responsibility for their welfare and well-being, Cadbury's being one some 200 years ago. There was a strong sense of community, and a recognition of a duty of care: no worker went hungry or homeless. Now, too often, the requirements of the law rather than a moral imperative dictates "human resources" policy.
For an employee, to be paid enough to live on wherever possible is not unreasonable, and it may be that some companies will be shamed by the publicity over wage levels to introduce living wages for their workers voluntarily, and for the PR benefits too, no doubt. It is not right that people with a job have to resort to food banks in order for their family to survive. The pendulum has swung from altruistic attitudes in many workplaces to seeing staff as commodities only, and it is time to re-balance the current emphasis on profit at all cost: the well-being of those who deliver the profit is too important not to do so, and all of us, one way or another, have a responsibility in this matter too.