Trades union activists took their living wage campaign to Neston.
Claiming that ‘not a single school in the Neston area’ pays the Local Living Wage minimum of £8.45 per hour, members of the West Cheshire Trades Union Council decided the opening of the new Neston High School would be the ‘ideal opportunity’ to raise their campaign.
As the public arrived to look around the £25m new build, which opened its doors at the start of the new term, activists made their point with placards and leaflets highlighting the high school’s failure to implement the living wage for its staff.
Although the figure is said to be ‘creeping up’, activists believe only around 50 schools in the borough, about 30% of the total, have adopted the local living wage as recommended by the borough council in February last year.
The trades union council says governors at the other schools have refused to act on the recommendation with only four secondary schools signing up to the living wage.
This leaves around 600 school staff not receiving the living wage affecting caretakers, welfare assistants, midday assistants, clerical staff and technicians as well as cleaning and catering staff argue activists.
They point out many schools use contractors to undertake cleaning and catering, the main one being Edsential, the Ellesmere Port based community interest company jointly owned by Cheshire West and Chester and Wirral councils, both of which pay their own staff the local living wage.
Probably fewer than 10 schools out of 170 across the borough have agreed to also pay the local living wage to these contract staff, the trades union council believes, leaving another 600 staff based in schools earning below the living wage.
Activists also argue that not only have the borough council not required their own company to pay the living wage at a time when they urge private companies to sign up to the council’s accreditation scheme, but they have allowed the pay of many Edsential staff to be cut to below the minimum pay rate for all council workers.
“The new Labour council had a manifesto commitment to implement and spread the living wage yet most of their staff who work in schools or who work for their company Edsential are still not receiving this after more than two years”, said Ray McHale, secretary of the West Cheshire Trades Union Council.
“It is no good the council pressing other employers to implement the living wage if they are not doing it with their own staff. They need to set a clear example if wages are to be driven up across the borough and the local economy to be boosted.”
Commenting on the issue, Ellesmere Port Sutton ward councillor Paul Donovan (Lab), cabinet member for democracy and workforce, said: “The council is committed to making west Cheshire a living wage borough where workers can earn a decent living and ultimately make our borough thrive. We, as a council, have led the way by paying our staff the Local Living Wage since April 2016.
“We strongly encourage part-owned council companies, schools, council contractors, as well as other employers in the borough, to follow our lead by implementing the local living wage for their own workforce and signing up to our Cheshire West Local Living Wage Charter.
“As a local authority the council can only advise and encourage businesses within the borough to sign up, as some, both large and small, already have and show their commitment to our shared value of a thriving borough.”
A spokesperson for Neston High School said: “The governors, in line with the vast majority of schools within Cheshire West and Chester, continue to keep under review the payment of the living wage in response to Government announcements on school funding arrangements.”
The campaign says it is taking its message to secondary schools across the borough as they hold open evenings for next year’s new intake. It can be contacted via the West Cheshire Living Wage Campaign Facebook group or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.