Real Living Wage

– in the Scottish Parliament on 7th November 2019.

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Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

4. I hope to bring a zen quality to proceedings after this afternoon’s turmoil.

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to recent figures showing that the number of workers earning less than the real living wage has decreased by 13 per cent in the last year. (S5F-03702)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I welcome the analysis that was published by the Office for National Statistics last week, showing that the number of employees who earn less than the real living wage in Scotland has decreased by 15 per cent, from 473,000 in 2018 to 400,000 in 2019. That means that 83.1 per cent of all employees over the age of 18 in Scotland are earning the real living wage or more. Scotland, of course, remains the best performing of all four United Kingdom countries, with the highest proportion of employees paid the real living wage or more. There is work to be done, but I hope that that progress is welcomed by members across the chamber.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

Such progress is welcome. However, in Scotland, 11 per cent of women and 8 per cent of men in full-time work, and one third of women and 40 per cent of men in part-time work, still earn less than the hourly real living wage. How can the Scottish Government, with the very limited powers that it has in that area of policy, ensure that more and more paid workers earn at least the real living wage? Does the First Minister agree that it is time for Opposition members, who often express concern about the issue, to back the devolution of powers over the real living wage to this Parliament?

The First Minister:

Yes, we will continue to call for the devolution of employment law to ensure that workers receive at least the real living wage. Last year, I gave a commitment that, by the end of this parliamentary session, we will attach fair work first criteria to as many grants and funding streams as possible, and we will extend the range of public contracts to which the criteria will apply. Our fair work first approach commits employers to a number of fair work criteria, including, crucially, payment of the real living wage.

We will continue to work with the Poverty Alliance to promote the living wage. There are currently more than 16,000 accredited living wage employers in Scotland, and this Monday will see the start of living wage week, when a new living wage rate will be announced.

Although we are doing good work in the area, there is absolutely no doubt that there is more to do. We would be able to do more and to be even more effective if control over employment law lay in the hands of this Parliament, not in the hands of a Tory Government at Westminster.

Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

It is clear that the Scottish Government is still not doing enough to make Scotland a living wage nation, with one in five people, the vast majority of whom are women, still earning less than £9 an hour. In a statement to Parliament yesterday, it was made clear that Government procurement contracts are still being let without insistence that the real living wage be paid. When will the Scottish Government ensure that all its contracts embrace the real living wage?

The First Minister:

In my response to Kenny Gibson, I set out the action that we are taking through our fair work first approach, which Labour members will warmly welcome, I hope. We are doing everything that we can to extend payment of the living wage. We have to do that largely on a voluntary basis for one very important reason: we do not have power over employment law. We cannot, by statute, set the level of the living wage and mandate, by law, employers to pay it. If Labour members are now saying that they want to join us in demanding the devolution of employment law, I say, “Better late than never.” Let us get on with it and put the powers in the hands of this Parliament.