Mohammed Nazir. ‘A hand brake turn at speed’
The Labour Party have welcomed Walsall Council Conservative leader’s sudden conversion to its policy of paying council staff the Living Wage; after he condemned the proposal as too costly only two days earlier .
Labour councillor, Mohammed Nazir, said Cllr Mike Bird had pulled off the quickest U-turn in the authority’s history; only hours earlier he had attacked the party’s idea of £1.34 an hour increase for the lowest paid staff by claiming it would cost the authority £2 million a year.
The living wage is a central plank of Walsall Labour Party’s manifesto and is part of its programme to tackle the massive imbalance in wages in the borough where people earn £3432 less a year than the national average.
Presently, low paid authority workers, many who work in schools as cleaners and catering staff, have to rely on council tax relief and housing benefit.
In a front page article on Friday, Cllr Bird firmly ruled out the proposal saying giving the rise to council staff would lead to contractors having to pay their workers the same amount. But by Sunday Cllr Bird issued a statement saying: “I believe it’s the right thing to do.”
Welcoming the sudden about turn the Deputy leader of the labour Group, Cllr Nazir, said: “This isn’t a road to Damascus conversion, more a hand brake turn at speed. I’ve never seen the council leader change his mind so suddenly!”
Speculating Labour’s recent by-election win in Birchills-Leamore , giving the party 30 seats in the 60 seat council chamber, may have influenced Cllr’s Bird’s decision, he added: “Mike Bird knows full well that Walsall Labour Party promised to bring in the living wage so as all our staff have a decent standard of living. He also knows the cost of paying all council staff a minimum of £7.65 an hour is approximately £340,000 a year. That cost would be shared between the council and schools. The Labour Party does want to encourage council contractors to match this reasonable amount when paying their workers but not, as Cllr Bird had implied, by imposing it as a condition of any contract.
Mike Bird; On Friday it was ‘No’. By Sunday it was ‘Yes.’
“By misleadingly tying council and contractors’ staff together he claimed it would cost the authority £2 million a year. That was simply not true and he has now had to admit it.”
Cllr Nazir went on to explain that, according to the Office of National Statistics, the average weekly wage in Walsall is £351 per week compared to the national average of £416; an average loss of nearly £3500 a year to each household.
He added: “We can’t go on accepting that people in Walsall are worth less than the rest of the country and we can’t ask employers to pay more if, as the council, we leave our own staff to struggle on low pay.”