Tens of thousands facing ‘poverty wages’ in fair work plan – Richard Leonard

The fair work strategy from the Scottish Government leaves nearly half a million Scots working for “poverty wages”, the Scottish Labour leader has said.

Richard Leonard welcomed the Government’s Fair Work Agreement but said the Fair Work Action Plan is “timid, lacking ambition and a sense of urgency”.

The plan, published last month, aims to encourage employers to adopt fair working practices.

It pledges to increase the number of people paid the Real Living Wage by 25,000 over the next three years.

It also brings in a guidance service for small employers, a benchmarking tool to enable businesses to gauge how fair their current employment practices are and creates a new learning network to support firms.

The plan also commits to a “refreshed” version of the Scottish Business Pledge, which businesses can sign up to, promising to pay the Real Living Wage among other vows such as not using zero-hours contracts.

In a Holyrood debate on the issue, Mr Leonard said he is sure workers will have “rejoiced” to hear that as a result of the action plan “a new benchmarking tool is now available, and that a refreshed business pledge is to be adopted and that a more tailored approach is the new norm”.

“I bet those workers can’t wait for the Real Living Wage to be rolled out to another 25,000 people over the next three years, still leaving 450,000 people working on poverty pay in Scotland,” he added.

He pointed out that only 601 companies had signed up so far – 0.5% of Scotland’s employers.

“This is not a mark of success, it is a 99% rate of failure,” he said.

Scottish Green MSP Alison Johnstone said her party agrees with Labour on the “need to go further and faster”.

Fair Work minister Jamie Hepburn said: “Our Fair Work Action Plan will not sit fixed in time, it will evolve to respond to changes to our economy and our society.”

He added: “Decent pay is of course fundamental to fair work. We were the first government in the UK to become an accredited living wage employer.”

He said government support has led to more than 25,000 people having a pay increase to at least the living wage, through the accreditation scheme, and that Scotland outperforms the rest of the UK on paying the Real Living Wage.

“Still, we must do more, There remains too many in our working population paid less than that level,” he added.

On the number of signatories to the Scottish Business Pledge, Mr Hepburn said: “I recognise that not enough businesses have signed up to it, that’s why we committed to refreshing the business pledge.”

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