Business

Trade unions call for living wage to reduce welfare spend

Peter Bunting, Ictu, launched the charter

TRADE unions have called on politicians to introduce legislation forcing employers to pay the so-called living wage.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) said doing so would cut welfare costs.

It wants companies to pay at least £7.85 per hour - more than the current minimum wage of £6.50 for workers over 21.

Ictu's Northern Ireland committee yesterday launched a charter calling for fair conditions at work.

The unions claim more than a quarter of workers in the north earn less that the living wage while tax credit spending had increased by almost 70 per cent in the past decade.

Peter Bunting, assistant general secretary of Ictu in the north said the charter "sets out elements required to make Northern Ireland the best place in which to work, live and raise a family. A strong economy cannot exist without a fair society".

“Quite simply, there cannot be growth in the Northern Ireland economy in the current climate of austerity, low wages and cuts to welfare and this has been clearly evidenced in other parts of the UK. Indeed, welfare reform implemented in Great Britain has only achieved 13 per cent of the savings it was expected to make. We urgently need an alternative solution," he said.

Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy supported Ictu's call saying a living wage "makes perfectly good business sense".

"There are increasing numbers of working people living in relative poverty. This is unacceptable. It must be addressed through the introduction of economic policies, which promote equality and opportunity in the workplace and respects the rights and aspirations of workers," he said.

"This can be achieved by ensuring basic employment protections and working standards such as ending the inappropriate use of zero hour contracts and the application of a proper living wage."

He said introducing the wage "would raise the living standards of thousands of workers lifting them out of poverty and removing many from dependency on social security benefits. This in turn would alleviate pressures on the welfare budget and public finances".

In addition to paying a living wage, the charter calls for and end to low and zero hour contracts; a right to representation and collective bargaining; respect, equality and ethics at work and fair public procurement.

Figures earlier this year revealed some average earnings in some areas of Northern Ireland were less than the living wage - which equates to just over £16,300 a year.

Earnings were lowest in Fermanagh and South Tyrone at just £15,853 on average - more than £7,000 less than residents in south Belfast.

Four of the north's 18 constituencies were just above the level needed to cover the basic cost of living

Average earnings in every constituency west of the Bann were below the median salary of £18,764.

The average full-time salary in Britain is £27,000 and €35,000 (£24,800) in the Republic.

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