Shop workers’ union in call for £12 per hour minimum wage

Survey of low-paid retail staff has found 1-in-4 are skipping meals to be able to feed their children, while nearly half of them cannot afford to travel to work because of soaring fuel prices

Members of shop workers’ union USDAW will take to the streets of Croydon this weekend as they call on the government to take action to tackle the Tory cost of living crisis.

On the edge: a survey of USDAW members has found many of them struggling to make ends meet

USDAW will be running street stalls at London’s Olympic Park and opposite Primark in Croydon town centre, where they will be sharing the findings of a cost of living survey conducted among their members.

The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers is the country’s fifth biggest trades union, with around 360,000 members. Most members work in the retail sector, but the union also has members in transport, distribution, food manufacturing, chemical industry and other trades.

They surveyed more than 5,500 members, mainly low-paid key workers who deliver essential services, and they found:

  • Petrol prices and travel costs impact the ability to get to work for nearly 50% of respondents
  • 7-in-10 have relied on insecure borrowing and 60% of these are struggling with repayments
  • 1-in-4 is missing meals to be able to pay their bills. This has increased from 1-in-20 last year
  • Nearly three-quarters report their mental health is being impacted as a result of financial worries

Among the comments the union received when conducting the survey was this comment from a 29-year-old retail worker, “Only able to afford the most basic food and often looking at what’s reduced in supermarkets. I’ve got to the point where I look at the reduced tickets first before I even notice what food it is. It’s affecting my mental health and sometimes I don’t know how to cope.”

Others, all based in London where the cost of living pressures are felt most keenly, “I’m close to a nervous breakdown. I hate my life.”

And, “If I cannot feed myself and child what can I do? That’s why I am skipping meals to make sure my child has decent meals.”

“I feel like I’m just working to exist.”

USDAW is calling for a New Deal for Workers, which includes:

  • Minimum wage of at least £12 per hour as a step towards £15 for all workers, ending rip-off youth rates
  • Minimum contract of 16 hours per week, for everyone who wants it, that reflects normal hours worked
  • A ban on zero-hour contracts
  • Better sick pay for all workers, from day one, at average earnings
  • Protection at work, respect for shopworkers, abuse is not a part of the job
  • Proper social security system, Universal Credit does not provide an effective safety net
  • Job security, with day one employment rights for unfair dismissal and significant improvements to redundancy protections
  • Fair treatment and equality for all workers, including equal pay
  • Voice at work, stop rogue employers refusing to engage with trade unions and end “fire and rehire”

Paddy Lillis, USDAW’s general secretary, said, “It is heartbreaking to hear these testimonies from London workers who are in the main key workers that we rely on for essential services.”

According to Lillis, the recent survey revealed that, “Many respondents talked of how increased fuel prices were leading them to cut down on shifts, to ask for a transfer to a store closer to home or even to consider leaving work altogether.

“Worryingly, cutting down on food and skipping meals was also a common theme, as well as taking steps to reduce non-work related travel to save on fuel costs, such as visiting family or pursuing leisure activities.

New deal for workers: USDAW’s Paddy Lillis

“These are the very real experiences of essential workers who were clapped during the pandemic and now seem to be forgotten.

“There needs to be significant increases in minimum wage rates and fundamental reforms to end insecure work.

“USDAW is calling for a new deal for workers, with minimum wage rates of at least £12 per hour as a step towards £15 for all workers. The pandemic clearly demonstrated just how reliant the country is on the lowest paid workers, so if we are to truly ‘build back better’, surely these essential workers deserve the dignity of decent pay.”

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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2 Responses to Shop workers’ union in call for £12 per hour minimum wage

  1. Peter Underwood says:

    There is a motion going to this autumn’s conference for the Green Party to campaign for a £15 per hour minimum wage – this is on top of our existing policy to bring in a Universal Basic Income to replace most of the benefits system and ensure no-one is left without the basics they need to live.

    Everyone desrves at least a living wage in return for their labour and having food to eat and a safe, healthy place to live are basic human rights – they are not something you should have to earn.

  2. Martin Rosen says:

    I am inclined to support USDAW’s position expressed in this article, but I am confused by the references to “essential workers”. Which “low-paid retail staff” did we “clap during the pandemic”, and which are considered “essential workers”?

    As it happens, I think that Paddy Lillis does nothing but distract from his central theme by these references. I agree that the current minimum wage of £9.50 per hour is entirely inadequate, and not just in the context of our current and projected rates of inflation. Any pay rate which condemns the recipient to a life on supplementary benefits cannot be healthy for society. Perhaps £12 is right, although £15 seems extravagant … but then I have no idea of the numbers of employees involved or of the feasibility of a higher pay rate on the cost of retail products.

    I do accept that some employers evade even the current minimum wage by employing younger people at a lower pay rate … and often consequently are unwilling to spend money on training those people. I don’t know what can be done about that whilst protecting the ability of those young people to be gainfully employed.

    I wish USDAW well in the fight ahead.

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