York Labour’s spokesperson for the economy, Councillor Claire Douglas, has challenged new council administration to acknowledge and work with its partners across York on the increasing problem of low paid, insecure work.
The city’s Economic Strategy 2016-2020 has a target of bringing York wages up to and above the national average by 2025. However, rather than catching up over the past three years, it has fallen further behind. And in the national 2019 Centre for Cities report, York was shown to have experienced the largest real terms wage drop in the whole country.
Latest figures just released by the council show a drop in York’s median gross weekly pay from £519 to £512 in 2018-19 , and that since the launch of York’s Economic Strategy in 2016, median wages have increased in York by just £4 per head, in Yorkshire and the Humber by £22 and in the UK by £30 per head.
Cllr Douglas said: “Low pay and insecure work are real problems both nationally and in York. According to the Living Wage Foundation, this is affecting 5m workers across the country and this is nowhere truer than in York, with a high proportion of jobs in the tourism, retail and hospitality industries.
“That is the nature of a vibrant and popular visitor destination but we don’t have to accept jobs in these sectors will be low paid and insecure. I want city leaders across the council and the business community to come together, develop a plan and take action to reverse the downward trend. We need to see real terms wages rising in York if we have any chance of tackling in-work poverty in our city and ensuring all our residents have a decent standard of living. When you factor in York housing costs, the problem is many times worse”.
On the other hand, the picture is not all bad, and York has made some progress in recent years with the council and some other organisations paying their directly employed staff the Living Wage Foundation rate (LWF) Living Wage. The LWF are also currently promoting an extension to the Living Wage to encourage Living Wage employers to make a ‘Living Hours’ pledge. This kitemark pledge entails committing to provide details of working hours a minimum of 4 weeks in advance, with a guaranteed minimum of 16 hours a week.
York high street business Richer Sounds has committed to the Living Hours pledge, and boss Julian Richer has said in the past that providing secure, well-paid jobs with a happy workforce is key to business success over the long term. The business refuses to use zero hour contracts, has a gender pay gap favouring women and is currently transferring ownership of a majority of the business to its staff.
“It may not be possible for every organisation but I think there will be plenty of businesses that could commit to such a pledge without huge difficulty”, adds Cllr. Douglas. “In a city with low unemployment, the conditions that a business offers can be crucially important to the recruitment and retention of good staff.
“Richer Sounds is just one positive example. I want York’s low pay, insecure work problem to be recognised and a strategy developed to address it. As it stands, the Economic Strategy’s target of increasing wages to above the national average isn’t contributing to a rise in the number of secure, well paid jobs in York. If we, as a city, are really committed to reversing this damaging trend, we must come together with the council taking a leadership role and take action as a matter of urgency”.