Reflections of a Living Wage Accreditation Officer

Before moving on to a new post with Who Cares? Scotland next month, David Faith looks back on the last year and half working as a Living Wage Accreditation Officer with the Poverty Alliance.

When you leave behind a career in the law, you inevitably worry that you might be making a very serious mistake. It took me three additional years of University and another two years as a trainee to qualify as a solicitor and then a fairly intensive recruitment process to land a job. That’s a lot of work and effort to “throw away”, but less than six months in I realised the world of corporate law wasn’t for me.

I wanted a role that would allow me to make a difference and, just as importantly, one which would allow me to be there for my young son.

The role of Living Wage Accreditation Officer seemed like a perfect fit for me on both fronts. The added flexibility has been a huge boost to our family life and, at the same time, it’s been exciting to be part of this unique movement. To my knowledge, this is the first and only campaign that started with a small third sector organisation and now, not only has buy-in from across the political spectrum, but is also effectively lead by employers from all sectors, including the sort of large private sector organisations we too often assume are only interested in profits.

I’ve actually lead on our public sector engagement whilst I’ve worked on the Scottish Living Wage Accreditation Initiative. It’s been an elaborate landscape to get to grips with. Complex regulations about public procurement, the sheer number of different types of public body and the complexities of the social care sector all played their part. However, I’m delighted to see the progress we’ve made since I started in March 2015. In that time, we’ve accredited over a quarter of Local Authorities in Scotland; the Universities of Aberdeen, Glasgow and Strathclyde; numerous public bodies such as Skills Development Scotland, Scottish Water and CalMac and of course the Scottish Government itself.

It’s clear the public sector in Scotland is well and truly behind the Living Wage and I’m hopeful that the remaining Local Authorities and public bodies will soon join the movement too.

As well as leading on the public sector, I’ve also accredited a fair number of private sector companies over the past year or so. I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned from this sector is something I touched on earlier. We don’t have high enough expectations.

With public sector organisation, we all agree they have a responsibility to act in an ethical manner. With private sector organisations on the other hand, there’s a common acceptance that they will always act with profits at the forefront of their minds.

“What do you expect, they’re a big company.”

“Of course they put profits first; that’s what the private sector always does.”

I believe this kind of thinking is wrongheaded.

We have every right to expect companies to act ethically, and when we expect otherwise we do a massive disservice to all of the fantastic private sector employers striving to do the right thing.

It’s maybe ironic that I left the private sector to make a difference and now here I am championing the virtues of the private sector, but lots of employers in the private sector act ethically. We should expect such behaviour from them all.

So with a year and a half of working with a wide array of employers across Scotland behind me, and, with a bit of luck, a long career in policy and learning ahead, leaving the law was definitely the right decision for me. I can only hope the decision to move on to this new role with Who Cares? Scotland works out as well.

I will, of course, be maintaining a keen interest in the Living Wage movement and I’m sure this cross-sectoral employer-lead success story will only go from strength to strength.


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