Coalition of staff, activists and union members pledges to highlight issue of ‘in-work poverty’ in run-up to Olympic Games
Activists, trade unionists and supermarket workers have launched a campaign to highlight low pay and “in-work poverty” at Sainsbury’s, one of the Paralympic sponsors.
Protesters with whistles, fog horns and a sound system gathered at the Sainsbury’s headquarters in London on Monday night to urge the company to pay a living wage to its staff. Organisers say it was the first in a series of high-profile demonstrations in the runup to the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
“We want to put the issue of low pay on the political agenda,” said Daniel Garvin from the Pay Up campaign. “Over the past 30 years those at the top have seen huge rewards, with some CEO pay rising by 4,000% at the same time, although productivity has risen, those in the bottom half of the national pay scale have seen their pay fall by 37%.”
The campaign has brought together direct action campaigners from UK Uncut with trade unionists and supermarket workers. Garvin said it was targeting Sainsbury’s, where unions had been campaigning for the introduction of a living wage for the past year, to highlight a wider problem of “wage poverty” in the UK.
“There is a real crisis of in-work poverty,” said Garvin, writing on Comment is Free. “The Joseph Rowntree Foundation puts the number of children currently living in ‘in-work’ poverty at 2 million and rising. David Cameron repeats that the government is cutting welfare ‘so it pays to have a job’, but the fact is for millions of people, work does not pay. Wages do not cover household bills let alone provide a decent standard of living.”
He added: “Sainsbury’s has seen rising profits and booming CEO pay, but real-terms pay cuts for workers on basic rates. We want the workforce to take home a greater slice of the Sainsbury’s pie. Workers at Sainsbury’s have been demanding a living wage for over a year, and Pay Up is echoing that demand.”
A spokesman for Sainsbury’s rejected the claims of the campaign group and insisted it treated its staff fairly. “We are committed to providing competitive pay and benefits to all our colleagues. In recent years we have invested significantly in our pay rates and benefits to make sure our colleagues continue to be paid fair and competitive rates. “Our last colleague pay review saw an increase in our base rate of 2.7%, which was ahead of the industry average and national minimum wage increase.”
The launch of the Pay Up campaign follows a series of increasingly radical direct action protests over the past month. Disability campaigners brought central London to a standstill in April when they chained their wheelchairs together, blocking junctions around Trafalgar Square.
Garvin said: “The country is in the global spotlight this year and undoubtedly people will use the Olympics to make sure that mass unemployment, cuts, and endemic poverty are visible. That means protest. That may mean disruption.”