Supermarkets and hotel groups paying below the living wage are to be targeted as part of a renewed effort to shame wealthy companies keeping communities in poverty.
The commitment to launch a war against low wages will be made today (Tuesday 1 July) by the country’s biggest union, Unite, in a speech to its conference by assistant general secretary and head of its community movement, Steve Turner.
He will call on the nation’s big supermarkets not to wait around to be shamed into action, but to pay the living wage to lift hundreds of thousands of people out of poverty pay.
And he will announce Unite’s plans to hold ‘hospitality hustings’ in the capital to provide London’s 700,000 hotel and bar workers with an opportunity to press the mayoral candidates on their plans to address low wages and exploitation in that sector.
Steve Turner will condemn the cuts that have ruined services for forcing many to the margins of society, while also directing criticism at those businesses making a ‘poverty premium’ out of the poor.
Steve Turner will say: “Poverty is not content just to take people’s dignity – it also imposes a charge, a poverty premium paid by the most vulnerable. Banks move out of communities leaving only cash machines that charge you to get access to your own money; the local shops charge more, eating away at your weekly spend; the energy companies hammer poorer customers with pre-paid keys on higher tariffs.
“We are working with US unions, learning the lessons of their fast food campaigns for a living wage. And we will apply these lessons here, mobilising our communities to demand an end to poverty pay.
“We will begin our war on low wages in London, a city that is not sharing its wealth with the army of service workers who make it rich. Before the 2012 Olympics, Boris Johnston promised to make the capital’s hotels living wage employers. He broke that promise, choosing to keep people on poverty pay rather than offend his business friends.
“So, when the next mayoral election comes round, Unite will organise ‘Hospitality Hustings’ where the candidates will have the chance to say what they will do to stop the poverty pay and exploitation rife in the city’s international hotels, fast food corporations and restaurant chains.
“Those high street names happy to spend millions avoiding their rightful taxes, but not prepared to pay hard working staff a wage they can live on will not be allowed to rest.
“So I call upon our supermarkets – employers of around one million people – to do the decent thing by the people and the nations making you so rich.
“No scams, ruses or con tricks – just get your staff off poverty pay – pay a living wage now.”
Unite is the only union to have established a community programme to bridge those in and out of work, with over 7,000 people, many never before politically active, now working around the UK on a vast array of projects. Including fighting to save mental health services, training volunteers to identify and help young people at risk of suicide and helping grandparents become `kinship carers’ looking after their grandchildren.
But, Steve Turner, will warn, cuts are bringing atrocious hardships to already struggling people:
“Over the weekend, a newspaper reported the story of a young mum left without food when her benefits were stopped. She turned to her local food bank for help and what the staff then saw astonished them.
“This young mum stood in the food bank checking the tins, lifting one after the other until she found one that suited her purposes. She then ripped back the ring pull and started eating straight from the tin. She had not eaten for four days. In our country, the sixth richest on the planet, mums and kids are starving.
“This is why people are turning their backs on politics – because politics has turned its back on them.
“But now they know that they have someone offering a helping hand – Unite.”
The living wage is £8.80 in London and £7.65 out of London. Studies repeatedly show that the living wage not only helps address poverty but reduces dependency on state benefits.
For further information please contact Unite head of media and campaigns Alex Flynn on 07967 665869.
Twitter: @unitetheunion Facebook: unitetheunion1 Web: unitetheunion.org
Notes to editors
· Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.