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Council workers’ pay ‘could fall below minimum wage’

By Richard Johnstone in Brighton | 24 September 2012

A senior Liberal Democrat in local government has warned that pay for some council workers could fall below the legal National Minimum Wage threshold next year if it is frozen for the fourth year in a row.

Speaking today at a fringe event at the LibDem conference in Brighton, Stephen Knight, the party's representative on the Local Government Association workforce board, said local government employees had been ‘badly hit’ by the three-year pay freeze.

He told delegates that until a few years ago no-one working for a council was earning below the national living wage, a non-statutory figure defined and set by the Living Wage Foundation. Described as ‘that which is sufficient to enable those who receive it and those dependent on them to lead vigorous, full human lives’, it is currently £7.20 an hour.

Knight added that some council workers’ income could now even fall below the statutory National Minimum Wage if no agreement to increase wages is reached in negotiations between unions and employers. ‘Unless we have pay rises in the next year there will be a number of people falling below the statutory minimum wage, we are that close. We do need to have a pay rise next year and I think we will, and in the Liberal Democrats, we will be arguing that that should be bottom loaded [so those on lowest pay get a higher increase],’ he said.

Talks are set to begin next month over a possible pay deal for 2013/14. The main minimum wage rate is currently £6.08 an hour.

If employees believe that they are being underpaid, they can ask Revenue & Customs to investigate their employer. The employer could then be asked by R&C to pay any back pay that is owed.

Also speaking at the fringe event, held by the One Society project of The Equality Trust campaign group, Richard Kemp, former leader of the LGA’s LibDem group, urged the LGA to reach a pay deal.

He told delegates: ‘I believe that local authority staff should get some pay increase next year. Try and get your own councils to put in an increase [in their budgets for 2013/14] and I will try to get the LGA to do the same.’

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