If someone asked me about the proudest moment in my career to date – I know exactly what it is, and it’s not one of the usual achievements that normally come to mind. It was the result of a few simple interactions between myself and a cleaner here at our office in Plough Place. Through these gradual exchanges I slowly built up a sense of who he was, heard him tell stories of his children, overheard them calling to ask for money for project materials for their school. And it was when our conversation veered in that direction that everyone knows it shouldn’t: the matter of pay, that I learned something that saddened me. Behind a veil of subcontractor and supplier arrangements, some of our office building staff were sadly missing out on a key benefit given to Nesta employees.
Since April 2nd 2012, when Nesta first launched its intern programme, the charity has paid all interns the Living Wage and has been public in its support of paying all staff this as a minimum. I knew this because I had been on the receiving end of the Living Wage when I started my own internship here in October 2013. Being paid the Living Wage meant I had a decent standard of living, could pay my bills and felt respected and valued by my employer. And my own experience doesn’t stand in isolation. Research into the ‘business benefits’ of organisations paying a living wage found evidence of reduced staff turnover, reduced absenteeism, reputational benefits, recruitment and retention of staff, worker morale, and productivity benefits.
Now what I did when I learned this sad truth probably flies in the face of conventional career advice, particularly for someone at the start of their career. I made it my mission to harass senior management about this matter until something was done about it. My badgering paid off; in fact it gave way to a newfound consensus within the organisation. It got people thinking about what we stood for, and what our values are.
As of January 2015, Nesta has become an accredited Living Wage Employer. And while this announcement is a positive one in Nesta’s history– reflecting the combined efforts of staff across a number of teams, it also offers a moment for pause, and a call to action for everyone working in third sector organisations, and not, to take the time to get to know the very people keeping our workplaces safe and clean.
Need for more transparency with suppliers and subcontractors
According to the Living Wage Foundation, of the 1,200 or so accredited Living Wage Employers, 425 (35.65%), operate in the third sector (this includes charities and social enterprises). There is of course room for improvement, but this is a definite increase from figures cited last year that only 0.1% of all UK charities were accredited. However, of the many charities already working hard to align their objects and values with their work relation practices, the complexities of a supply chain in a shared office building bear consideration. Ethical Living Wage office hubs specifically geared towards the voluntary sector, such as Resource for London, have likely been set up for this reason and ensure all suppliers and contractors are paid Living Wage.
In Nesta’s case we were lucky to have support from our contractor who increased wages for all subcontractors from the National Minimum Wage (currently £6.50 per hour), to the far more reasonable Living Wage (£9.15 London rate, £7.85 UK rate). As my own experience demonstrates, it’s a significant difference, and one we’ve written about elsewhere. Particularly as “…the fall in the real value of the National Minimum Wage since 2010 is now costing the taxpayer £270 million a year in additional benefits and tax credits’ and effectively means that the tax credit system is subsidising employers to pay wages that keep people in working poverty.” Whilst arguments abound as to whether or not charities, particularly smaller organisations, can afford to pay it, we believe pay equality must apply to charities as it does with every other sector.
As an accredited Living Wage Employer, Nesta has formally made a commitment to ensure all new contracts are renewed at the Living Wage rate as a minimum. A guarantee that all our staff, whether employed by Nesta directly or indirectly, are afforded this same benefit. A fact we’re proud of.