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17 January 2019
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Living Wage: a matter of life and death

8 April 2015

Bill Shankly, the manager of Liverpool Football Club between 1959 and 1974, was remarkably successful. 

He was also an irascible Scotsman with a reputation for making canny observations about football and life in general. Once, when told that the niceties of the off-side rule exempted those players not “interfering with play”, he responded thus: “If a player is not interfering with play, then he should be.”

Well, quite right. Because when you put aside the arcane language used in the regulations, you’re left with the obvious – what is the point of a player’s presence on the pitch if he or she is not there to try and influence proceedings?

I was reminded of Shankly’s famous aphorism when reading the welcome news recently that more big-name FM service providers have signed up as Living Wage providers. After all, what is the point of a company’s presence in a market if it’s not there to try and influence proceedings?

The Living Wage commitment that these companies are making is (in the main) to those they employ directly in their central support functions. But as well as this, and of potentially more importance, they’re including Living Wage options in their bids with prospective and current clients (alongside ‘market rate’ proposals).

This general move in the right direction should be lauded, and we shall watch with interest the moves that other service providers. The fact that we now have several big-name firms pushing this debate along can only be a good thing. It feels like the Living Wage argument has reached a point where the case in favour – as supported by all three of the largest political parties fighting this general election campaign – has suddenly become irresistible. 

As pro and anti-austerity arguments get batted back and forth, the grey area between the minimum and Living Wage might just become its own debating point in this election. If the campaign does indeed see the Living Wage getting the column inches it deserves, the nature of the debate could be just as interesting post-election.

Having the issue of low pay in facilities services receiving a much higher public profile has to be a good thing. In a perfect world, the Living Wage debate will trigger the good old value-of-FM argument, forcing organisations to evaluate exactly what they’re paying for. And once they’re really obliged to delve into the minutiae, that evaluation might just involve a recognition of the influence the facilities service has beyond the tired old ‘needs-must’ commodity stereotype - leading to far-reaching consequences for (election phrase alert) ‘corporate Britain’.

In this respect, the attention currently being lavished on the Living Wage is a huge deal. As a matter of fact, some people believe that winning the Living Wage argument is a matter of life and death. I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you, it is much more important than that.

Martin Read is managing editor at FM World