A Lidl bit closer to a genuine Living Wage

How can premium chains continue to argue that a living wage isn’t possible when the discount chains clearly think it is?


In the five-minute walk from the station to my office in City Hall, I pass at least ten shops selling coffee. Not one is paying the living wage, all but one of them are part of major chains.

The point at which one of them pays the living wage (which may not be so far off) will be the point at which there is real consumer choice to opt in to a truly ‘decent’ cup of coffee that might allow the person serving us and their families and children to have a high enough income to do more than scrape by.

Today’s announcement that Lidl is the first of the UK’s supermarket chains to pay above the Living Wage, including the higher London Living Wage in London, takes us a step closer to having this genuine consumer choice.

How can the premium chains – and supermarkets that trade on being ‘ethical’ –  continue to argue it isn’t possible when the discount chains clearly think it is? The Co-operative, for example, has a long track record in promoting ‘fair trade’ but their shops are still not paying the living wage to their staff.

It feels like we are reaching a tipping point.

The Living Wage Foundation has done well to highlight the problem and in trying to persuade businesses of the benefits, but as activists and consumers we need to use our buying power to support their work, and the campaigns of trade unions, where we can.

The government’s cynical acquisition of the language of the living wage at the point at which they slashed tax credits suggests that they recognise that people think wages should be high enough to live on.

Many of us campaigning for higher pay for the lowest paid workers had understandable concerns that they had seriously undermined the whole concept. Announcements by companies like Costa that they would increase prices to pay the new higher rate for the statutory living wage have been unhelpful and reinforced this fear.

Some supermarkets have argued that the overall package for workers (in terms of discounts) makes up for not paying the living wage. If other supermarkets follow Lidl’s lead, as they surely must now do, we should be mindful that, while the bottom line remains that a pay packet should be enough to live on, some retailers may try to claw back higher wages through cutting back on other benefits.

The Conservatives will use any voluntary progress – on top of their own higher rate of the minimum wage – as a reason not to introduce a statutory, genuinely, living wage. However, with the loss of tax credits about to hit millions of families, a living wage has never been more necessary.

In London, for example, once the tax credits are removed the mayor’s economics team estimate that the current London Living Wage would need to be raised to £11.65 in order to make up the difference.

The Tories will try to portray our new shadow chancellor’s announcement confirming Labour policy as being committed to a £10 rate as financially irresponsible. However, the more voluntary progress we make in the four and a half years before the next General Election, the less of a leap it is towards a genuine living wage rate to replace the National Minimum Wage.

We can do more in power than in opposition and some of our Labour councils are showing the way through how they award contracts in social care and delivery of school meals, for example, and Brent council has introduced incentives to local businesses.

A Labour mayor in London would make a massive difference. Sadiq Khan has already previously announced that he would raise the London Living Wage rate to £10 when he hopefully regains City Hall for Labour next May.

The current mayor has done well in portraying himself as a living wage champion but has in practice done little to make a difference to low paid workers. There are more people paid below the living wage in London – both in numbers and as a proportion – than when Boris Johnson took office.

We all now have the opportunity to be genuine living wage champions. Most of us shop in our nearest supermarket. Those of us who can should vote with our feet and start using our local Lidl, if we don’t already, and email our local supermarket to say why we are no longer going there. Those of us who can’t should still take two minutes to email our local supermarkets to suggest they follow the lead taken by Lidl.

It should not be viewed as revolutionary to suggest that people should be paid enough to get by. However, we do need a kind of revolution to make it happen. Winning in elections next year can help make this happen but on the high street, Lidl’s adoption of rates of pay above the living wage recommended by the Living Wage Foundation can help us make this happen.

If we all push together – as activists and as consumers – we will be that little bit closer to achieving a living wage.

Fiona Twycross AM is Labour’s London Assembly Economy Spokesperson. Follow her on Twitter

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14 Responses to “A Lidl bit closer to a genuine Living Wage”

  1. Nick

    it is a good start and hopefully a league of tables should come of it as it’s only right that the public know and those studying for their degree on who to work for and to reject those companies wherever possible just playing the fool and line their own pockets

    the days of exploitation should be ruled out and only a good education can stamp it out once and for all

    this is a good start by lidl and by the public rejecting the other stores they will soon fall into line

    at the end of the day the public are responsible on what goes on in society collectively and not the government

    any slackness in a any system will always be exploited by the government the Poverty Deniers

  2. blarg1987

    It is sad when challenged about more consumer choice, the counter argument that is usually used is consumers only need to know price and nothing else.

    We should be pushing more more information, on job adverts employers should publish salaries etc, links should be sent to websites that hold such information, organisations that do and do not give their staff tips separate form salaries etc, all should be published on an app or website that way then we can truly exercise people, power.

    However expect strong resistance from those who have most to loose.

  3. Jacko

    Immigrants force down wages. Go into any chain coffee shop in London. 90% of the staff are not British. Because they are prepared to supply their labour at low rates, companies are happy to meet that supply. If this did not happen, companies would be forced to bid up market rates to attract supply.

    Immigration = lower wages. Who was responsible for increasing immigration to 500% of historical levels? The last Labour government. The Labour Party = lower wages.

  4. blarg1987

    The Conservatives in opposition did not shout too loudly about it either, both parties where in pockets of the same people however,

  5. Peem Birrell

    How can premium chains continue to argue that a living wage isn’t possible when the discount chains clearly think it is?

    Maybe because the premium chains don’t force their workers to work unpaid overtime?

  6. Ravey Davey Gravey

    Well done Lidl. German company, so they have an inkling of how piss poor it is to pay employees rubbish salaries. Wonder if Lord Sainsbury will follow?

  7. Charles Jurcich

    It’s not a done deal that the minimum wage will rise to £7.20. My guess is that the Torys are hoping that firms will put up prices hugely in advance so that they can claim that, although they tried, they now have proof that raising the minimum wage by large amounts is unworkable. They will then scrap their plan and belittle labour for thinking the up idea.

  8. Nick

    Charles the living wage is a principled matter of integrity ? should someone start a business up on the back of paying a low wage ?

    Any fool could start a business up paying the minimum wage but honorable decent people don’t do that they don’t set up to exploit another person for their own gain or for someone else to pick up the tab like the tax payer in the form of tax credits

    if i were the prime minister you would have to pay the living wage or else be banned from starting a business as i am not a believer in tax credits to give out to the low paid on the back of a shoddy business model as that is all it is by paying the minimum wage

    it’s called slave labor and is solely responsible for all of the worlds inner problems that devastate countries and it’s people where loss of life ifs rife either through health and safety or just suicide brought about by working excessive hours or with families not being able to live together owing to the slave worker having to work overseas

  9. Jacko

    “Any fool could start a business…”

    Yeah, but any fool doesn’t. That’s because any fool is not willing to put his or her money on the line in a high risk venture. And those that do, are not lying awake at night worrying about employee welfare and creating a better world, they’re lying awake worrying about the business going down the tubes and taking their money with it.

  10. Selohesra

    Had they made much comment on this that would have instantly been branded racist by Labour’s broadcasting arm at the BBC

  11. blarg1987

    No it would not.

  12. johnerskine

    As an employee (and GMB Member) in another supermarket, whilst I welcome LIDL’s commitment to the Living Wage, I think their commitment needs to be taken with a pinch of salt… Let me explain a few reasons why…

    First, neither LIDL or ALDI recognise Trade Unions for bargaining purposes. All four major supermarkets (ASDA, Morrisons, TESCO, Sainsbury) do – either my union, or USDAW. As I understand it, M&S and John Lewis don’t either. Both the German discounters work pretty hard to keep unions out.

    Second, both the German discounters require the kind of flexibility which would cause unions concern – working hours at short notice, multi-tasking across the store including heavy lifting, and meeting excessive performance targets. A checkout operator will be required to hit speeds of 35 – 40 items a minute, where the highest rate that employees in the majors are expected to achieve will be in the high 20’s, with most operators nearer 20.

    Third, next time, you’re in an Aldi or a LIDL, look out for the number of employees with visible disabilities or learning difficulties… You won’t see many, I think. The big four aren’t perfect, but from my experience I can say that the one I work for is genuinely inclusive. People, both staff and management, value others and work hard to make allowances for the special needs of individuals.

    Fourth, next time you’re in an Aldi or LIDL, look out for the number of pregnant women staff. Again, you won’t see many…

    Yes, LIDL may be able to pay higher wages, but you need to ask yourself why, and more importantly who they pay them to. The success of the German discounters is built on being very selective about who is employed, and once they’re employed, driving them extremely hard…

  13. Attila Hok

    what the article failed to mention is that Lidl only guarantees 20 hours a week of work while uses exclusivity clauses, so employees cannot work elsewhere. Taking this into consideration, your monthly income could as little as about £650, which I would not call a living wage.

    Buy the way, I am an immigrant, and I am NOT pushing the wages down.
    Immigrants are not the reason why many employers pay little. It is simply their stinginess and the law that does not require them to pay more.

  14. Attila Hok

    what the article failed to mention is that Lidl only guarantees 20 hours a week of work while uses exclusivity clauses, so employees cannot work elsewhere. Taking this into consideration, your income could be as little as about £650 a month, which I would not call a living wage.

    You live on what you make in a week, month, year and not what you make in an hour.

    Buy the way, I am an immigrant, and I am NOT pushing the wages down.
    Immigrants are not the reason why many employers pay little. It is simply their stinginess and the law that does not require them to pay more.

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