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A New Living Wage!

What about having any wage at all?

The introduction of a living wage on 1 April seems to be exercising the minds of the media almost to the point of hysteria. Apparently, jobs are going to be slashed, people's livelihoods endangered, companies going into liquidation, and shortly the end of the world may be announced too.

I don't doubt that there will be effects – companies may think harder about hiring, some rationalisation of roles may occur, efficiency will be addressed… not to mention that it will be "HR's big opportunity" according to the Chief Executive of the CIPD. This latter comment relates to an opportunity for HR professionals to push for discussions about the nature of their company's workforce, their productivity, talent management and redesigning work. No small initiatives these!

On pondering this issue, in connection with companies in the creative and built environment sectors, it is unclear what the level of impact will be. I would like to think that the level of professionalism and value of employees means that most, if not all, companies already pay more than the Living Wage. Whilst perhaps not the most highly paid of professions, nevertheless, there is generally a recognition that these companies rely upon their people and what is contained within the brains and talent of those people that differentiates them from their competitors and enables them to provide innovative solutions for their clients.

However, following through the thought process of applying the principle of a fair "living" wage to all aspects of working in companies within the built environment or the creative sector, I'm reminded that there is something of a dark shadow that exists which is of equal or even more concern.

There are, of course, sound principles in the attempts to enforce a living wage so that everyone can afford to eat, have a roof over the head, clothe themselves, travel to and from work, and indeed have some level of enjoyment in life. But this does presuppose one basic fact: that individuals are actually paid for the work that they carry out.

Where does this leave those carrying out unpaid work experience? There are many who deem it necessary for the future of their careers to tie themselves into unpaid work experience simply to gain some kind of experience on their CV. I'm not talking about a couple of weeks during the last few years at school. I'm talking about graduates with a professional degree who cannot otherwise gain appropriate experience to enable them to pursue their careers.

And there are two sides to this story. Small niche companies whose cash flow is erratic may rely on unpaid graduates simply to balance the books. Imagine the impact on them if the Living Wage is implemented. Alternatively, attractive established creative companies sometimes make use of keen graduates who will provide months of unpaid work simply to have a prestigious name on their CV. This latter is akin to exploitation. I am not sure how such companies can reconcile the fact that an unpaid graduate has to work evenings/nights doing bar work, waiting at tables or cleaning to make ends meet because they do not get paid for the hours that they work for a "professional" organisation during the day.

Whilst we may not be directly affected by the Living Wage legislation that comes into force this coming Friday, we do need to consider whether the principle it is espousing affects other practices within our organisation. If someone is carrying out work for us, they should be paid for it.