Calling for £10 an hour

Calling for £10 an hour   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Living wage lie: end low pay with £10 an hour now!

Cuts to premiums and below inflation pay rises: organise and fight back!

A Tesco worker and Usdaw rep

In February, my Usdaw (shop workers’ union) area organiser came to see me with the long overdue Tesco pay deal. Having been previously informed that there was unlikely to be any pay rise, I was surprised when he started by saying that Usdaw had successfully negotiated with Tesco for one.

With a smile, he told me that our pay will increase by the amount of 12p. But then he told us that our overtime, weekend and night premiums will be cut.

This means that most workers, who rely on overtime and bonus payments to pay ever increasing bills, will be worse off as a result. On the other hand, Tesco CEO Dave Lewis enjoyed pay of £4.1 million in his first six months in the job in 2015!

As one of my colleagues said in despair: “A 12 pence pay rise, great! Now tell that to my landlord who is increasing my rent by £100.”

This is the reality for the majority of workers; wages are not keeping up with rises in rent, bills, transport, childcare, etc. It is almost impossible to be able to have a normal, stress free life without worrying about running out of your pennies.

We work very hard but are constantly denied the right to have a decent standard of living. In London where I live 57% of people in poverty are in working families.


The numbers of low-paid jobs in London has increased substantially. The current official living wage in London stands at £9.20 an hour and at £8.25 in the rest of the UK. The number of jobs paying less than the living wage has jumped by 54% since 2008 – one in every five job fails to pay it.

George Osborne’s announcement of a £9 hourly rate, which will not be introduced until 2020 and only for workers aged 25 and above, is seen by many workers as a joke.

By 2020 the so called National Living Wage of £9 will be completely useless. There are more than 5.2 million low paid workers in Britain. These workers, including many retail and public sector workers, will remain trapped in low paid, insecure work.

But we don’t have to remain trapped. There is enough money to increase the minimum wage now!

The Socialist Party, alongside the bakers’ union, has been campaigning for a £10 an hour minimum wage now! As a result of a bakers’ union motion, the TUC adopted the £10 an hour demand at its conference. But this is not enough. Usdaw, along with other trade unions and campaigners, has to organise to win the demand.

Smash the public sector pay freeze and campaign for a real living wage

Dave Semple, PCS union rep (personal capacity)

Low pay is something normally associated with call centres, care work or retail jobs. Yet last year, a PCS civil servants’ union survey among Scottish government workers indicated significant numbers relying on pay day loan companies and even using foodbanks, with 20% in debt by £5,000 or more.


The Scottish government has adhered to the 1% pay cap imposed by the Tories – which is a real-terms cut of at least 2% a year, for the next four years. Following years of austerity, the overall cut to wage bills since 2008 has already been 20%.

On top of this, there is a range of hidden attacks, like the planned increase in employee National Insurance contributions from April. The cost to workers will be an average 1.4% of their wages – instantly wiping out the 1% pay rise. The cost will be disproportionate for those on lower salaries.

This rise in National Insurance contributions is to fund the government’s flagship new State Pension, which will raise the basic pension amount, but wipe out a lot of the extra components that millions of workers will be counting on in retirement.

Meanwhile, the shockingly low civil servants’ pay is subsidised by the benefits system. When Universal Credit replaces Working Tax Credit, 40% of those administering the scheme will be eligible to claim it. Wages for lower civil service grades are only a few pence above the national minimum wage.

Low pay in the civil service also disproportionately impacts women. 70% of staff are women in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), one of the lowest paid areas of the public sector.

Socialist-led union PCS has fought hard against all of this. Museum workers have been on strike over pay, along with staff in other departments such as the Driving and Vehicle Licensing Agency and the Natural Environment Research Council.

Concessions won from employers show that a fighting, democratic union can get results, like the 23% won for cleaners and caterers at the Department for Education, or the 15% won from outsourcing firm Maximus. In DWP, a magnificent campaign to put pressure on the employer has resulted in talks about breaking the 1% pay cap.

Workers are defiantly opposed to Tory pay austerity. Their constant willingness to organise and fight back against low pay is an embarrassment to ‘leaders’ like Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trade Union Congress, who recently said that our rights at work depend on membership of the EU.


Some working class people fear that this is true – but only because of the passivity of the leaders of the bigger unions, despite all their fine words in October 2014 when half a million workers joined the ‘Britain Needs a Pay Rise’ demonstration. If called upon to fight against low pay in a determined, national campaign, millions of workers would respond.

Frustrated by the inertia of union leaders, workers have cast around for other means to fight back. The huge vote for the Scottish National Party in May 2015, because they hinted at anti-austerity policies, reflects this, and secured – after pressure from the unions – a declaration that the Scottish government would be the first living wage government.

This shows the explosive potential for a serious campaign by trade unions, especially if combined with the offer of a real political alternative at the ballot box.

Zero-hour contracts and hand to mouth misery

Dan Smart

Life on low pay and precarious contracts is a hand-to-mouth existence. You are forced to live from week to week with little ability to plan for the future.

When you aren’t told the hours you will be working that week until the day before, it can feel like walking a tightrope. It might be 60 hours, or just six.

Questions are always on your mind – will the rent get paid this month? Will I be able to afford to pay the bills and do the food shop?

Not being able to plan in advance also makes having a social life difficult. Living for the moment becomes a necessity.

The sort of job I previously saw as a temporary interlude, before moving onto something more secure and rewarding, has become the long-term prospect. As bosses look for more ways of cutting costs and maximising profits, workers’ pay and conditions are driven into the dirt. The options are becoming more limited, with insecure and zero-hour contracts becoming the norm.

I have experienced many jobs working under these conditions. At Tesco’s cafe, I was told I would get no more hours for a fortnight and that I could expect a call to let me know when I would be working again.

The call never came, and it turned out I had unofficially been sacked. The contract made it impossible for me to dispute the decision, and made it more convenient and less embarrassing for management.

The working atmosphere is often very competitive. Even for such low-paid work, we are required to battle fiercely for shifts.

This is highly beneficial to employers, as it makes people work harder and keep their heads down. It makes unionisation particularly difficult, as workers struggle to hold on to the little they have, not wanting to take any risks. With these divide and rule tactics, workers compete with their colleagues rather than organising collectively.


You often end up with the contradictory situation of some scraping by on barely any hours, while others work an exhausting amount. I have known workers to take 17 hour shifts (these were split shifts, which nevertheless have the added annoyance of leaving you waiting around for hours unpaid).

And at an agency I was with, they ask people to meet at 4.30am, to travel for hours unpaid, and work a 12 hour shift. Then do the same again the next day!

There are numerous other examples of poor working conditions I have witnessed. Friends turning up for shifts in the morning just to be sent home. Managers refusing to use people’s names, instead referring to them as ‘agency one’ and so on. And impossible targets resulting in an incredibly high turnover of staff.

Many young workers’ expectations of the working environment are far too low. We need to start getting organised now to demand decent pay, at least £10 an hour, and a quality standard of living.

The struggles in the US for $15 an hour and the fast food workers strikes are fantastic examples of how we can get organised, struggle and win!

The Socialist Party calls for:

  • A minimum wage of £10 an hour as a step towards a real living wage
  • No exemptions – a living wage for all, regardless of age
  • For an annual increase in the minimum wage linked to the real cost of living
  • End the pay freeze now
  • End zero-hour contracts and all forced under-employment
  • Investment in a massive programme to create socially useful jobs
  • All workers, including part-timers, temps, casual and migrant workers to have trade union rates of pay, employment protection, and sickness and holiday rights from day one of employment