The UK living wage. A trade union perspective

Publication Date02 Oct 2017
AuthorPaul John Sellers
SubjectHR & organizational behaviour,Industrial/labour relations,Employment law
The UK living wage
A trade union perspective
Paul John Sellers
Economic and Social Affairs Department, Trades Union Congress, London, UK
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to explore the value that UK trade unions now place on the
living wage.
Design/methodology/approach The author is the TUCs Pay Policy Officer and examines the issue from
a practitioners perspective.
Findings The living wage now has a well-established place within the hierarchy of pay demands adopted
by UK trade unions. This continues a tradition of unions supporting norms and regulations as an adjunct to
collective bargaining. However, support had to be achieved through a process of negotiation with the broader
UK living wage campaign.
Practical implications The paper concludes that there are good prospects for the living wage, and thus
for the continued trade union support.
Social implications The living wage standard is seen as having a strong moral basis, which often helps to
win agreement with good employers. This results in a steady stream of workers out of in-work poverty.
The credit for such pay increases is often shared between employers and trade unions.
Originality/value The paper is written by a practitioner with inside knowledge and experience
of the entire course of the living wage campaign in the UK and how it has been adopted and integrated by
trade unions.
Keywords Collective bargaining, Trade union bargaining strategy, Trade unions and pay regulation,
Trade unions and the living wage, UK living wage campaign and trade unions
Paper type Viewpoint
The need for workers to earn a living wage has long been argued, both within the trade
union movement and much wider. The concept is said to have been coined by Adam Smith
and has been able to generate broad enough appeal to include Pope Leo XIII, Winston
Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt as its advocates. It is now embedded in respected
standards like the UN Declaration of Human Rights, whilst the European Social Charter
expresses the concept as all workers have the right to a fair remuneration sufficient for a
decent standard of living for themselves and their families(Council of Europe, 1996).
It is widely understood as being the minimum income necessary for a worker to meet their
basic needs. It would be hard for anybody to argue that such an aspiration should not
be met, but there has been plenty of room to debate how the living wage should be
This paper examines how the living wage has developed trade union support in the UK,
set in the context of their pragmatic view of the interplay between free collective bargaining
and state support for workers. It is argued that the TUC view of the living wage is
analogous to the way in which UK unions have supported a number of statutory measures
over the years. Second, the main focus is the development of the UK campaign during the
last 16 years, which has arguably established a normative voluntary accredited standard for
Employee Relations
Vol. 39 No. 6, 2017
pp. 790-799
Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/ER-04-2017-0095
Received 24 April 2017
Revised 17 July 2017
Accepted 17 July 2017
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
© Paul Sellers. Published by Emerald Publishing Limited. This article is published under the Creative
Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) licence. Anyone may reproduce, distribute, translate and create
derivative works of this article ( for both commercial and non-commercial purposes), subject to full
attribution to the original publication and authors. The full terms of this licence may be seen at

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