The head of Scotland’s biggest trade union has called on Nicola Sturgeon to use Brexit talks as an opportunity to “force” more Scots firms to pay workers a living wage.
Pat Rafferty, Scottish general secretary of Unite, says the Scottish Government has previously claimed EU rules stood in the way of a fair pay drive. Ministers could not demand that firms pay a living wage if they want lucrative Government contracts as it would breach EU procurement directives, it was claimed.
Union leaders now believe that the Brexit vote presents an opportunity to push for a better deal for workers.
“More than 400,000 Scottish workers are being paid poverty wages,” Mr Rafferty said.
“That is a national scandal and is contributing to an inequality crisis, with the richest households now 273 times wealthier than the poorest households. We need our government to act now.
“The Scottish Government was prepared to challenge the EU on alcohol minimum unit pricing and we always believed it should have been prepared to push for change on the living wage too.
“Now is the time to tell companies who get public money from government contracts that they must pay their workers a living wage. We should make sure that happens whether Scotland is inside or outside the EU or the single market – and it should be raised by the Scottish Government with the UK government, and in any formal or informal talks with other EU governments and the European Commission.”
It emerged this week that just 0.2 per cent of firms in Scotland have signed up to the Scottish Government’s flagship ‘Business Pledge’ scheme, which includes a commitment to the living wage. Only 2.4 per cent of Scottish jobs are in companies that have signed the Business Pledge.
The Scottish Government and local councils have agreed to pay their employees at least the Scottish Living Wage of £8.25 an hour, following negations with Unite and the trade unions.
But about 418,000 workers in Scotland are being paid less than the living wage - 93 per cent of them work in the private sector. Some 64 per cent of them are women.
“We want the Scottish Government to take a stand for low-paid workers in these talks. We can no longer afford to have public money supporting poverty pay,” Mr Rafferty added.
“It should be raised by the Scottish Government with the UK government, and in any formal or informal talks with other EU governments.”