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Cowdenbeath, Scotland: Helen Eadie's 'living wage' attack prompts angry response from council leader
The Courier

September 22, 2011
View the Original Article

Helen Eadie, Labour MSP for Cowdenbeath, criticised the SNP's track record on improving low salaries in the public sector after a freedom of information request revealed that out of Fife Council's 21,028 employees, 1,989 staff are paid less than £7.20 an hour.

But Fife Council leader Peter Grant has hit back, accusing Mrs Eadie of allowing her "well-known hatred of the SNP" to blind her to the fact that the issue of pay is a national or even UK-wide issue which previous Labour administrations did nothing to resolve.

The so-called living wage, which is currently calculated at £7.20, is an hourly rate set independently every year according to cost of living and gives the minimum pay rate required for a worker to provide their family with the essentials of life.

Mrs Eadie said: "Alex Salmond and the SNP talk a good game on the living wage but that's all it is — talk. Fife is an SNP local authority and yet nearly 2,000 staff — one in 10 of the workforce — are on less than living wage money.

"If Fife Council can't afford to pay their workers properly then they need to complain to the man at the top — Alex Salmond — and tell him that Fife deserves more.

"If SNP councillors aren't prepared to stand up for their workforce then they need to take a long, cold, hard look at themselves and remind themselves that their responsibility is to Fife, its residents and workers."

However, Mr Grant, who leads the SNP/Lib Dem administration in Fife, pointed out that a recent survey showed that only one Labour council in Scotland had implemented the changes Mrs Eadie is demanding, and most of Labour's flagship authorities refused even to say what they were doing.

"Fife Council is part of a national pay bargaining arrangement and rates of pay for all of our employees are in line with those set by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities," he said. "Moving everyone on to the hourly rate Mrs Eadie is suggesting would cost the council around £2 million per year and, as always, Mrs Eadie is strangely silent about what jobs and services she would want to cut to pay for this.

"Mrs Eadie has got her facts wrong in a number of important ways."

Mr Grant added that the FOI question submitted by Labour, along with the answer provided, were about basic rates of pay.

He continued: "Mrs Eadie chooses to ignore the fact that some employees regularly get paid more than their basic wage. She also forgot to mention that if the same FOI question had been asked of the previous Labour administration, after allowing for inflation in the last four years, the number of low-paid employees in Fife Council would have been about 1,000 more than it is now.

"She even got it wrong when she said this information came from a Labour Party FOI request — it didn't.

"In Scotland's biggest Labour council their answer was to privatise the jobs of thousands of low-paid workers and then nominate themselves for awards for getting rid of low pay.

"The SNP/Liberal Democrat administration in Fife will look for real solutions to pay inequalities rather than the sleight of hand we've seen from Labour."