“Did you know that the Chief Executive of Warwickshire County Council gets paid £173,000 per year, which is over 14 times the least well paid person in the Council who get by on £12,145?”
Over the last month, I’ve been knocking on peoples’ doors asking them if they want to sign the local Green Party‘s Fair Pay campaign for Warwickshire. We want to raise the bottom earners to a living wage of £7.20 ph (benefiting well over 1.5 million people) and have a ratio between highest and lowest earner in an organisation of no more than 10:1.
Every time I repeat the figures the injustice hits home harder and harder. The incredulity in my voice as I say one hundred and seventy three thousand pounds is not put on – it becomes more and more pronounced.
People say that the top earners are rightly rewarded for doing a stressful, difficult job – true. Others point that we need pay ‘ladders’ to recognise and motivate – absolutely. And in a market place some accurately argue, the best, most sought after people can command the highest salaries.
The trouble is that for all the truth in these arguments they are selectively used to justify the status quo of exorbitant executive pay. Apply the same principles of hard work, value of contribution and supply and demand to every job across the piste and the result is very different.
Calls Centres and Care homes
We all know the frustration and ever increasing desperation of ringing a call centre. You’re stuck on hold for 45 minutes before the first person fobs you off, the second person doesn’t know what they’re talking about and the third hangs up on you.
But do you know that other feeling – when you happen to come across the person who actually sorts things out for you? The feeling of relief, of satisfaction, yes even of joyful exaltation when someone listens to you and advocates on your behalf, is efficient, competent and prepared to go the extra mile to make the system work for you.
And do you know the person who works as an assistant in a care home for people with dementia?
Working 50-60 hours a week at unsociable times, juggling the needs of sometimes unpredictable, aggressive people but that still remembers that your nan/mum/other relative prefers cranberry sauce with her chicken rather than gravy on a Sunday evening because that’s what she’s always had it; and then goes out of his/her way to make sure your relative gets it, with the caring question and dollop of dignity.
These are the people that make an organisation tick, that give it a good name, that keep the profits coming in.
They’re like gold dust.
If these people were treated like executives they would be head hunted and fought over and extolled. Their pay rise and bonus would come in each year, recognising their phenomenal contribution. Instead they’re probably paid no more than an average salary alongside their other less exceptional colleagues.
In contrast executives get a salary ten, fifteen, twenty times more. Is their contribution to the organisation really that much greater?
There are other reasons why executives get paid so much, especially in the private sector. Yes, we should talk about entrepreneurial risk and reward, who sets pay levels and the exercise of power and the belief that ‘things can never change’.
But let’s not pretend that pay levels are because executives work harder or have a more stressful job. Let’s not buy the lie that organisations actually financially reward people in proportion to the value they offer the company or that supply and demand is the sole driver of pay across society.
We need to reward people for the contribution they make. We need fairer pay.