Pay heed

The Conservative Party’s victory at the ballot box last month may have settled the argument over who runs the country for the next five years, but it’s not done a lot to settle nerves in the catering world on several important issues.

We now know, for example, that there will be a referendum on whether the UK remains part of the European Union. The uncertainty over the result of this vote may be of limited interest within schools, hospitals and prisons, but it will definitely be exercising the minds inside the boardrooms of French-owned global services companies like Sodexo and Elior.

And even UK-based Compass Group will be considering its options because it has significant operations across the Channel.

What public sector caterers will be watching carefully is where the axe falls in the new round of spending cuts the government has pledged to enact as it tries to trim the budget deficit and cut its borrowing requirement.

However, there is another issue that surfaced in the recent pre-election debate that is also important to the catering sector – the living wage.

Higher than the national minimum wage at £7.85 an hour against £6.50, it is an attempt to better reflect the cost of living facing workers, including, crucially, accommodation.

London Mayor Boris Johnson is a fan, so it’s not an issue that divides neatly along party political lines.
In answer to the inevitable question, ‘Would an employer voluntarily pay more than its has to?’, Sodexo recently announced it will do just that for all staff working at its regional head offices.

The reason the issue has particular resonance within catering hospitality is that low rates of pay are endemic. Low Pay Commission figures show 1.4 million jobs in the UK are paid just the national minimum wage, with hospitality, retail and cleaning accounting for 53% of these.

The living wage is voluntary – clearly it’s not possible for every employer to provide it – but as the UK economic recovery begins to look sustainable and thoughts turn to pay rises, it’s surely worth serious consideration.

We canvassed opinion among contract caterers on the issue, and you can read the results on page 23.

Pay heed

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