Comment: German discounters lead on living wage

Martin Flanagan. Picture: Fiona Hanson
Martin Flanagan. Picture: Fiona Hanson
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IT’S significant enough the German discounters are eating the lunch of our big four supermarkets as a swathe of the middle classes join poorer households by migrating, for many of their basic items, to what are now the established food retail insurgents. But if the discounters start winning the wider touchy-feely public relations war as well, Tesco, Asda, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s could be in even more trouble.

Lidl gave a good example of this yesterday by announcing it is to pay its staff above the incoming national living wage, which will see all workers aged 25 and over paid £7.20 an hour from next April, rising to £9 from 2020.

By contrast, Lidl said that from next month it will pay a minimum of £8.20 an hour across England, Scotland and Wales and £9.35 an hour in London.

It said this would benefit more than one in two of its 17,000 workforce in the UK. Lidl currently pays £7.30 outside London and £8.03 inside the English capital.

In effect, the move gives the company’s staff a pay rise worth £1,200 a year, and easily puts in the shade the £7.36 an hour paid to its employees by Sainsbury’s and the £7.39 by Tesco.

Lidl has rubbed it in by pledging that although the move will cost £9 million it will not raise prices as a result. A double‑win in the court of public relations.

Particularly as it goes against the grain of some less welcoming comments about the national living wage, introduced by George Osborne in his summer Budget, from others in the retail and hospitality industry such as JD Wetherspoon, Next and Costa Coffee and Premier Inn hotels-owning Whitbread.

In addition, and more practically, Lidl’s move will hardly hurt it when it seeks to recruit extra staff to keep the momentum going behind its charge into the embattled UK food retailing market.

Refugee storm muddies migrant waters

IT IS deeply ironic that, as David Cameron is seeking curbs on intra‑European Union borderless travel, the torrent of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Libya et al is creating a confusing prism in which to view the divisive issue.

Refugees seeking asylum from death and hardship in various theatres of war and persecution are totally different from economic migrants just seeking a better way of life in the more prosperous countries of western and northern Europe.

And from the harrowing pictures on our screens it is plain the vast majority of these people are desperate, rather than aspirational.

Compassion has been widespread. The UK business community has mixed its humanitarian concerns over the diaspora with an eye for seeing it as a valuable supply of skilled workers coming into the economy.

The truth is that from Syria to Iraq, from Afghanistan to Libya, the west through a combination of internal preoccupations and conflict-fatigue has allowed the inhabitants of those dystopian zones to just get on with it.

The latter have finally responded by using the only vote they have, the one with their feet, to bring their problems in no uncertain terms to Europe’s front door.

UK business and the wider community look as one in wanting to accept as many of the displaced as we can. But, as a longer-term ramification to the crisis, borderless travel as a founding EU shibboleth will not be taken as a given ever again.