Shock figures have revealed nearly one in five employees of Leeds City Council are paid less than the living wage.
Town hall bosses pay 3,145 of their staff - 19 per cent of the total workforce - less than £7.85, the rate considered necessary to cover the basic costs of living.
....you can’t go on having this amount of people on a wage they fundamentally can’t live on.Jon Smith, of GMB union
According to figures released to the YEP, the council has been paying some staff hourly rates as low as £7.05 and £7.10 an hour - before these were scrapped nine days ago, on April 1.
Rates of £7.18, £7.29 and £7.43 an hour continue to be paid but council chiefs told the YEP they plan to also raise these within the next year.
The figures were yesterday condemned by union bosses who said they were shocked at the scale of staff affected.
Jon Smith, regional officer for GMB, said it was “unacceptable” to have so many people earning less than the living wage in 2015.
He said: “For a city the size of Leeds, you can’t go on having this amount people on a wage they fundamentally they can’t live on.
“It’s got to stop.”
Dean Harper, area organiser at Unison, said he understood the financial challenges the council were under due to budget cuts by central government, but added: “I’m shocked to hear that over 3,000 of their staff are currently below the living wage. It is pretty appalling.
“I’m encouraged by them stopping the two lowest increments but we are going to continue to press them to introduce the living wage as a matter of urgency.
“It’s still pretty poor to paying £7.18 an hour. I don’t know how people can afford to live if they have families on such a low rate.”
Leader of Leeds City Council Councillor Keith Wakefield told the YEP: “Leeds City Council is firmly committed to achieving living wage pay levels as a minimum for all directly-employed officers within a year, and we have started that process by removing the two lowest levels of pay from this April which will effectively provide more than 1500 officers with a 10 per cent pay rise in the last year.
“We also joined with councils across the region in signing up to the West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s Low Pay Charter last week. This commits us to leading by example but also doing all we can to encourage businesses to value all their staff not only in terms of pay but in personal development and career progression to realise their full potential which will help lift people out of and away from poverty and also boost the economy and the city overall.”
What is the ‘living wage’?
The living wage is the rate an individual needs to earn to cover the basic costs of living.
It is promoted by the Living Wage Foundation and is currently set at £7.85 an hour in the UK, and £9.15 an hour in London.
The wage has received widespread political support but is an informal benchmark, unlike the legally enforceable national minimum wage of £6.50 an hour (or £5.13 for those aged 18-20).