Paying living wages is easier if companies and trade unions work together

Garment workers in Tamil Nadu courtesy of the ILO

Beverly Hall, our Industrial Relations Advisor, highlights the importance of companies and unions coming together to negotiate living wages – and the international consensus that productive employment and decent work are key elements in achieving poverty reduction.

Living wages are a matter of human rights.

Not only is paying a living wage part of the ETI Base Code of labour standards, it is also part of the responsibilities on business set out in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

But if you actually want to know what a living wage is for your factory, your company or your industry, then there’s no better way than asking your workforce AND their union.

(Asking workers who aren’t in a union, often gets you the answer they think you want to hear, rather than the one they want to give.)

And unions are key, also, to affordability.

Negotiating fair solutions

We all know that achieving a living wage isn’t just a matter of waving a corporate wand.

There are questions about productivity, about timescales, about hours of work. Those are issues that employers can negotiate with unions, ensuring a fair solution for everyone.

Whether your supply chain runs around the world, or starts and finishes in the UK, you won’t be able to avoid the living wage debate.

More than ever before, pay is on the agenda as the best way to improve people’s standards of living, reduce inequality and restore growth.

Decent work, decent life

For more on international union thinking, go to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

The ITUC champions the Decent Work, Decent Life campaign.

This long-running campaign was launched at the World Social Forum in Nairobi in January 2007 by the ITUC and four other organisations – Solidar, ETUC, Social Alert International and the Global Progressive Forum.

To quote the ITUC, the Decent Work campaign is about: 

  • Building awareness of decent work amongst citizens, decision makers and key institutions; 
  • Showing that decent work is the only sustainable way out of poverty and is fundamental to build democracy and social cohesion; and
  • Placing decent work at the core of development, economic, trade, financial and social policies at the national, European and international level.

ETI’s view?

Paying a wage that is enough to live on is good for business, good for the individual and good for society.

Further guidance for companies is available in our Living Wage FAQs

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ETI's blog covers issues at the intersection of business, news and ethical trade. We welcome a range of insights and opinions from our guest bloggers, though don't necessarily agree with everything they say.