Five low excuses
1. “We’re providing employment by employing people who wouldn’t otherwise have work.”
It’s true that, for many workers, getting a job is better than some of the alternatives – that is why so many depend on them. The fact that people are desperate isn’t an excuse to exploit them. Workers aren’t getting their fair share of the benefits they are creating for the big companies. We welcome the fact that millions of people are earning a wage. However, this alone is not enough to lift them from poverty if employers can hire and fire at will, deny union rights, pay low wages that drive people to work inhumane hours just to survive, avoid paying sick leave and avoid observing maternity rights. For many workers, these jobs carry devastating hidden costs, such as poor health, exhaustion and broken families, all of which are unacceptable and avoidable. Everyone wants and is entitled to a quality job that pays “just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his [or her] family an existence worthy of human dignity.” (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 23(3)).
2. “I’d have to retrench some members of staff.”
Or pay them a living wage, but for less hours? That way they are free to seek other employment or spend time with their families?
3. “Higher wages in ‘lower skilled’ jobs will cause nurses or teachers to leave their jobs, thereby ruining local education and welfare systems.”
A rise in salaries amongst in lower skilled jobs leads to higher tax income, which, in turn means teachers and nurses could be paid more.
4. “Consumers will not want to pay more.”
That may be true, but if we take the clothing industry as an example, its worth noting that a garment workers’ wage is only 1-3% of the total cost of most garments. If a consumer pays R200 for a shirt, the worker who made it receives R6 at most. To double this wage would only be another R6. The consumer would barely notice this type of increase, and if a consumer won’t notice it, a company probably won’t notice it that much either. These types of costs could be absorbed into company profit margins who make millions per annum in profits.
5. “Businesses that pay more in wages will lose competitive advantage over others.”
Wage increases have been shown to improve workforce morale and productivity, and to reduce absenteeism and employee turnover, so paying a living wage could even improve quality and flexibility, allowing enlightened suppliers to retain a competitive edge.