Sunderland Council workers ‘denied living wage’

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MORE than a thousand public sector staff are being paid under the living wage.

The Echo can reveal that hundreds of Sunderland City Council employees earn less than £7.20 an hour – the amount calculated as the minimum a family of four with one adult working needs to earn.

And women workers are more likely to be worse off, with five times as many earning under that figure, which is set independently and updated annually.

The Living Wage Foundation calculate the living wage as £7.20 an hour outside London, compared to the national minimum wage’s £6.19 in November 2011.

This was updated to £7.45 an hour in November last year.

Figures obtained by the Echo under the Freedom of Information Act reveal 1,834 council staff earned under £7.20 an hour.

A snapshot of the authority’s wage bill from November 2011 shows 242 men and 1,592 women were paid less than £7.20 an hour. This fell to 211 men and 1,371 women in November last year.

Unions are calling on the public and private sectors to pay a living wage, claiming workers are forced to claim tax credits and free school meals to make ends meet. The GMB said it represented 280,000 low-paid local authority workers in England and Wales, adding that it wanted to secure a wage of £7.45 an hour outside London and £8.55 in the capital, which is well above the national minimum wage of £6.11.

Unions are pressing for a “substantial” pay increase in the coming year to especially help low-paid workers such as home helps, school dinner staff, cleaners and teaching assistants.

GMB regional political organiser, Chris Jukes, said: “We are imploring councils to take that step and move o nto the living wage. We are aware of current circumstances with budgets and we are aware who has the whip hand on the budgets, which is the Coalition Government.”

Sunderland City Council bosses agreed to audit their staff to see how many earn less than the living wage figure November. In the same month, workers in Newcastle saw their pay packets grow after the city council agreed to pay them the living wage.

Council leader Paul Watson said: “Following September’s notice of motion the city council has, along with many local authorities, been evaluating the living wage and the aim of a living income.

“We all know people at the lower end of the scale have been badly hit in the downturn and no public sector employee has had a pay increase since 2009.”

Twitter: @janethejourno