Labour leader has serious questions to answer over poverty pay conditions

Labour are under growing pressure over their refusal to back a £15 minimum wage for all workers over 16, or to commit to abolishing zero hour contracts.

Following the publication of the latest analysis of deprivation and insecurity by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Scottish Socialist Party’s Trade Union Organiser and former USDAW NEC member Richie Venton has submitted the following letter to The National:

“‘Teetering on the edge of poverty’, ‘living in poverty’, ‘in deep poverty’, ‘in very deep poverty’; the multiple categories of severe deprivation and insecurity described in the latest analysis from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation [The National, 4 June 2024] cannot begin to convey the cruel conditions of life imposed on millions by all the political parties of the millionaires.

“People working 40, 50, even 60 hours a week simply to pay the most urgent bills, delaying payment of others, only then to find themselves in need of a foodbank.

“The pain and indignity of working parents being unable to properly feed and clothe their children. My own barber, now working six days a week instead of five, because his mortgage has literally doubled, and unable to take his wife and two kids on a holiday – anywhere – since 2019.

“In the same edition of your paper, pollsters predict a record Labour majority. But what will that mean for the hungry and deprived? For those on basement level benefits, or the lowest state pensions in Europe, or the working poor (who comprise the majority of people in poverty)? What will change?

“Absolutely nothing! It will be a changing of the guard, not a change of system; a respray of Toryism in palest Labour pink.

“One of the many things Sir Keir Starmer and millionaire Anas Sarwar’s Labour refuse to do with their likely majority is tackle poverty pay. They point blank refuse to implement the demand of the entire trade union movement – a demand pioneered by the Scottish Socialist Party – for a guaranteed £15-an-hour national minimum wage.

“Or abolition of the age wage discrimination of the multiple lower youth rates of minimum wages. This one measure, £15ph minimum for all workers aged 16 and over, would lift millions out of poverty, deep poverty, or the perilous state of 280,000 Scots who are a mere £40-a-week away from being in poverty.

“I make this challenge to Anas Sarwar: would he be prepared to introduce this decent level of guaranteed minimum wage and compel his own family firm to pay it to their workers, given that up until at least a few weeks ago they didn’t even pay all of them the misnamed ‘real living wage’ of £12-an-hour?

“Furthermore, is Anas Sarwar prepared to admit, publicly, that ALL zero hours contracts are exploitative, and should therefore all be abolished?

“Is he willing to commit Labour to implementing the policy I devised, proposed and won unanimous support for at the 2018 annual conference of my own union, USDAW, for an outright ban on all zero hours contracts and their replacement by a guaranteed minimum 16-hour contract for every worker who wants one? Will he and Labour implement the policy I subsequently proposed, and was agreed unopposed, at the 2019 STUC congress?

“Is he going to drop his use of the weasel words about Labour scrapping “exploitative zero hours contracts”, when they are all exploitative, with his verbal deception trying to camouflage Labour’s intention of keeping many workers chained in this modern form of slavery?

“I await Anas Sarwar’s response with little hope of a reassuring reply from a man who handed his company shares to his young children in 2017 after I and others in USDAW called him out for not even allowing our union to recruit workers in his warehouse, or pay them the voluntary ‘real living wage’, let alone recognise the union and negotiate decent wages at the time.”