Poll exclusive: Working people want pressure on pay avoidance

Unions 21 director Dan Whittle reports on new polling on pay and profits.

Dan Whittle is the director of Unions 21, a research and policy organisation supported by a network of 21 unions; he also edits UnionHome

As part of the Fair Work Commission, we worked with the polling company Survation to ask more than 1,000 people in full and part-time work if they would support or oppose a law that triggered an automatic consultation with all low-paid employees on the level of their pay, once any company began to make profits over a certain threshold.

The result was stunning; 9 out of 10 (87.1%) said they’d support such a law.

It’s no surprise when, despite the better headline numbers in Wednesday’s job figures, UK average weekly earnings are, year on year, at 1.8%, remaining significantly below CPI inflation (2.7%) – a real terms wages cut for millions of workers.

Union collective bargaining, rather than consultation, is the best way I know to provide the required pressure for higher wages. Unions21 isn’t advocating a ‘consultation law’ be introduced – we promote debate rather than specific policies. But this poll does show there’s potentially overwhelming support among the public for more methods that allow workers to have a greater say on pay.

It’s certainly ignited the discussion around the issue at the Fair Work Commission, because, while tax avoidance is a huge issue, so is pay avoidance.

The TUC released figures this week, which show that over the last 30 years the share of national income going to wages has fallen from 59% to 53%. Over the same period, the proportion of GDP going to profits has increased from 25% to 29%.

Some employers can afford to pay more, and research we released today shows it could directly benefit sales; three quarters of working people (74%) would be more likely to buy products or services from a company that pays its workforce the living wage rather than the minimum wage.

How we create the required pressure to rebalance wages against profits is one of the areas the Fair Work Commission will be looking at over the next two months.

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