Campaigners say hundreds of low paid workers in West Cheshire schools face a ‘Living Wage Lottery’ because back-room staff across the borough won’t necessarily receive the same basic level of pay.
The council rate, set by the UK Living Wage Foundation, is above the National Living Wage of £7.20 per hour for the over 25s brought in by the Conservative government from this April.
But CWaC acknowledged just 64 staff would initially benefit from its own policy as most council services have been out-sourced to council-owned or private companies and schools are managed independently.
Now West Cheshire Trades Union Council (TUC) is calling on the council to do more than pay lip service to its stated ambition for everyone to receive a decent minimum rate of pay.
And the TUC is heaping pressure on the authority to insist its community schools adopt the Local Living Wage for around 600 low paid cleaning, catering, clerical and care-taking staff, school technicians and midday assistants.
CWaC says just 19 of the borough’s 150 schools have so far agreed to adopt the policy.
Ray McHale, vice chair of West Cheshire TUC, said: “This summer low paid staff in schools across Cheshire West and Chester will be playing the ‘Living Wage Lottery’. That is where staff wait to see if their school governors or the company they work for – usually Edsential – decide to pay them the Living Wage.
He added: “This lottery mainly arises because the council has told community schools and companies part-owned by the council that it is down to them whether they decide to follow the council in implementing the £8.25 minimum."
“Having promised to implement the Living Wage, and to press other employers to do the same, the local TUC feels this approach from the Labour council is inadequate. "
Council could face equal pay claims
Stressing the council could face equal pay claims at an employment tribunal if its wage policy is discriminatory, Mr McHale warned: "They also believe that written guidance from the council seriously understates the legal obligation on community schools – where staff are actually council employees – to pay rates equal to the council.”
Cllr Paul Donovan, cabinet member for democracy and workforce, accepts the borough is ‘at the start a local living wage journey’.
He said: “Cheshire West and Chester Council is committed to making West Cheshire a Living Wage Borough where workers can earn a decent living and ultimately make our borough thrive.
“The council is now strongly encouraging council-owned companies, schools within the borough, contractors of the council and other employers in the borough to implement a Local Living Wage of their own.
“In the case of schools in our borough, the council has been working closely with schools to help them understand the benefits and process of becoming living wage employers.
“This work began in March and, although it is early days, we have already seen 19 schools implement the Local Living Wage and are encouraged that more schools will follow suit as they review budgets for the start of the new academic year.
“As a local authority the council can only advise and encourage schools and the governing body of each individual school will make the final decision for their respective school.
“We believe this is the start of a local living wage journey for West Cheshire and that the number of schools and other organisation adopting the Local Living Wage will increase year on year.”