ALEX Salmond yesterday demanded a shake-up of European Union law to scrap regulations that he claims prevent the Scottish Government from forcing its contractors to pay workers the “living wage”.
The First Minister used a visit to Belgium to press officials over EU rules that he said restricted Holyrood’s ability to ensure all employees who carry out work for the public sector are paid a living wage of £7.65 an hour.
However, Mr Salmond’s claim was last night rejected by an EU spokesman, who said that there is no European law in place which prevents the Scottish Government going ahead with its proposal.
Mr Salmond had delivered a speech in Bruges, where he stated that the Scottish Government had introduced the living wage for all those employed directly by it as well as those working for councils.
He declared EU rules “prevent both us and Scottish local authorities” from insisting that all firms benefiting from public sector contracts pay the living wage as well.
Scottish ministers have repeatedly resisted calls from unions and opposition MSPs to have a compulsory living wage of £7.65 for workers who carry out work for the government but are employed in the private sector.
The minimum wage of £6.31 is compulsory under UK law for all workers aged over 21.
Mr Salmond stressed that an independent Scotland would bring a “positive, co-operative voice” in the EU as he delivered his speech to academics yesterday before holding talks with EU officials in Brussels.
Mr Salmond said: “The Scottish Government has introduced a living wage in the public sector across our country.
“A living wage gives individuals and families enough income to meaningfully participate in society, rather than merely afford the basic necessities.
“But EU law prevents both us and local authorities from making that living wage a requirement in public sector contracts.”
Mr Salmond’s claims were thrown into confusion when an EU spokesman told The Scotsman that European law was “not preventing it, but it was possible it could be challenged by companies at a later stage”.
Mr Salmond previously told the STUC that a law forcing firms in receipt of public sector contracts to pay the living wage could be “struck down” by the EU.
However, a Labour MSP insisted that EU regulations would not prevent the SNP government from making firms doing work for the government pay the living wage.
Labour’s infrastructure spokesman James Kelly said last night: “EU law is clear on this – the living wage can be delivered to workers on public contracts as part of a contract performance clause.
“This is a cynical attempt from the SNP to tie the living wage to independence, completely ignoring that it is being delivered in the UK now.”
John Park, assistant general-secretary of the Community trade union, said the SNP was not committed to the living wage.
He said: “If the living wage was a political project Alex Salmond was interested in, his MSPs would vote it through at Holyrood, but he’s not prepared to do it as the issue allows him to pursue a grievance with Westminster.”
Meanwhile, Mr Salmond used his speech in Bruges to claim that being part of the UK had harmed Scotland’s interests in the EU as he stated that “sullen” and “disengaged voices” from Westminster had failed to speak on its behalf.
He suggested that an independent Scotland would be a powerful member of the EU and “would contribute as equals” to it alongside the remainder of the UK and other nations.
The claims came after
Foreign Secretary William Hague warned that the SNP’s assertion that Scotland would automatically be admitted to the EU after a Yes vote was “at odds” with the body’s rules of membership.
However, Mr Salmond attacked the UK government’s contributions to the EU, suggesting they were influenced by the anti-European approach of Margaret Thatcher and the “free market ideologies of the 1980s”.