Low paid demand more from work than decent pay

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​Salary not the only factor in meeting low paid workers' needs, survey finds 

9th March 2016 by Robert Armour 0 Comments

A decent salary isn’t enough to achieve job satisfaction for Scotland’s low paid workers, a new report reveals.

Research commissioned by Oxfam shows for the first time factors which low paid workers in Scotland believe are needed to deliver decent work.

Some 1,500 people were consulted as part of the research which showed that low paid workers in Scotland value a raft of other factors beyond a decent hourly wage.

Participants in the project were asked: “What makes for decent work?” A total of 26 different factors were identified. The top five, from the focus groups, were: a decent hourly rate; job security; paid holidays and paid sick leave; a safe working environment; and a supportive line manager.

While these factors appear to be basic minimum standards which should be guaranteed to all workers, participants suggested this was often not the case.

The project, undertaken by the University of the West of Scotland-Oxfam Partnership with the support of Warwick University, was notable for the remarkable consistency in people’s top priorities for decent work.

Francis Stuart, Oxfam Scotland’s research and policy adviser, said too often paid work fails to serve as a reliable route out of poverty – that should concern us all.

“While the focus placed on payment of the living wage is welcome, policymakers still tend to focus on increasing employment rates without paying enough attention to the quality of work created. This research shows the quality of employment is also critically important to people’s lives.

“Ahead of May’s Scottish Parliament elections, we hope all political parties consider the priorities identified by low paid workers, and outline what they will do using devolved powers to help make work better in Scotland.”

Low paid workers want a decent income, but they also want basic protections in their work

In October, Oxfam Scotland called on all political parties in Scotland to support the development of minimum standards of job quality and commit to promoting them.

Dr Hartwig Pautz, lecturer in Social Sciences at the University of the West of Scotland, said: “It’s not surprising that being paid enough to cover basic needs was one of the consistent things identified as important. But the UWS-Oxfam Partnership research also shows that decent work is about much more than only a living wage, as important as a real living wage is.

“Many of the people we spoke to stressed that they wanted more fairness and respect in their workplace. For them, that meant fair pay for similar jobs and fair rules and procedures applied equally without discrimination.

“Our experiences, as researchers in this project, clearly demonstrate that job quality and decent work are important topics for people in Scotland and that a public debate is needed. Our ongoing work in this project will contribute to this debate.”

The research involved focus groups, individual interviews, street stalls and an opinion poll. The project had a particular focus on the views of women and men with experience of low-paid work and an effort was made to engage groups who may face additional disadvantages in the workplace beyond low pay, including ethnic minorities and people with a disability.

Dr Sally Wright, Senior Research Fellow, from Warwick University, said: “This report is the first of its type in Scotland. It not only provides a voice for workers who want decent work, it shows what needs to change for decent work to be created in Scotland.

“Low paid workers want a decent income, but they also want basic protections in their work, including job security, paid leave, a safe working environment and a supportive line manager. Too many low-paid workers are lacking even these basic features from their work.”

"Working life was hell"

Low paid demand more from work than decent pay

Fiona is a self-employed senior book keeper based in Glasgow who works in accountancy firms. 

She does payroll and has done this for a number of firms over the past 15 years.

With no holiday or sick pay, she only gets paid the hours she works. As such she describes her job security as “absolutely none.” Because of the low pay Fiona has three jobs she goes to every week processing 10 sets of wages every week as well as three sets of VAT returns each month.

She recently left the job she had been in for 14 months because she says her boss was bullying her and shouting at her. Fiona says he had a temper and had begun to shout at her, keeping lists of all the tiny little mistakes she had made. 

She says he said to her: "If you step over the line again, you’re sacked, you’re out." Fiona said that sent her into a tailspin.

“I’ve got a child, I’m a single parent, I’ve got a mortgage, I’m up to my eyes in debt. I can’t afford to lose my job. It piled a lot more stress on me. I didn’t sleep… just was falling to pieces. 

"He used to shout at the computers, but by that stage I was getting shouted at. At least one day a week. Because the more stressed I was getting the less sleep I was getting, the more mistakes I was making.
The stress was unbelievable." 

With the manager unapproachable, Fiona didn’t feel there was any way to reason with him. She says that when one client faced a problem her manager blamed her for it despite it not being her responsibility. She explains what she says happened next.  

‘By the time I left his office I was in tears. I went back out and instead of putting on my jacket and going home, because I’m a conscientious worker – I had three sets of wages to run – I ran all my wages, cleared all the work, done the desk, piled everything away, I went back into his office and resigned. He said ‘what do you mean?’ he said ‘sit down’. 

"And I said ‘no. You’re a big bully; you’ve no right speaking to me like that. Whether I’m in the wrong or not, that’s completely out of order’. He’s bright red, the veins are sticking out in his head and I’m expecting steam to come out of his ears. I thought he was going to have a heart attack."