A council finance chief will not “write a blank cheque” to pay outside workers the “real” living wage without knowing the full costs involved.
Bath and North East Somerset Council already pays its staff at least £9 per hour but Councillor Richard Samuel said requiring the same of contractors would have major implications for the authority’s budget.
The real living wage is based on the cost of living but unlike the lower national living wage is not a legal requirement.
Leading the real living wage motion at the October 10 council meeting, Labour’s Councillor Chris Dando said: “The Government has set up a pseudo living wage, a national living wage which doesn’t relate to anything and isn’t enough for anybody to live on.
“The real living wage is an appropriate amount for people to live on, it’s a basic subsistence income. They aren’t going off to buy Caribbean islands or houses in the Bahamas.
“It’s appropriate that people should be able to live and that we as a council should declare, proudly and openly, that we want to be a living wage employer, and we should take on all the responsibilities that come from it.
“I’ve been advised that we can’t do that, so the motion is a watered-down version of our aspirations.
“If you can’t afford to pay staff the living wage, you don’t have a viable business.”
The minimum wage currently stands at £7.70 per hour for under 25s. Those over 25 have to be paid at least the national living wage, an hourly rate of £8.21. Both are legal requirements.
In contrast, the real living wage is voluntary and based on the cost of living. Workers are paid £9 per hour, or £10.55 in London.
Labour group leader Cllr Robin Moss said: “We have a whole series of contracts this council dishes out. It’s no accident that within those contracted services it’s primarily women who have to deal with not only low pay but without decent pension rights as well.
“I think this is a step in the right direction to say people should be paid a decent wage so they can be a contributor and take part in society in its wider sense.”
The Conservatives took a different view on the proposals, arguing the real living wage should be weighted so higher sums are paid in more expensive areas, not just London.
Cllr Karen Warrington said: “I wasn’t that long ago on very close to minimum wage. I earned enough to pay my rent and there wasn’t a lot left over.
“There are many roles that are vital for keeping our communities going and they are very often on the minimum wage, or close to it.
“We live in an area that’s incredibly expensive. We believe the living wage should have a location weighting so those who live in areas of the country with high rents are not struggling to afford to live.”
Both proposals were rejected by Liberal Democrat cabinet member for resources Cllr Samuel, who said: “I’m proud to say that this council pays all its employees above the real living wage level.
“However, that is to some extent dependent on the council receiving proper levels of funding from the Government to enable us to do our job properly.
“We would also like to see employees working for organisations we procure services from also receive fair wages.
“However, the problem with this motion is it commits the council to join the Living Wage Foundation and creates an obligation to procure real living wage rates from our outsourced services.
“This is likely to see rises in costs, particularly in areas where care is provided, and possibly in some where manual labour is a feature.
“I can’t agree to write a blank cheque without understanding the downstream financial implications. My amendment seeks a pause while a more considered look is taken at this issue.
“We can assess whether this is something we actually want to do.”
Councillors will scrutinise proposals for the council to sign up with the Living Wage Foundation and become a living wage employer.
Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporter