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Does the events industry pay fairly?

To celebrate Living Wage Week, CN takes a look at the actions and attitudes taken by the industry. Do we pay a fair wage?

Since its launch in 2001, over 6000 companies have signed up to become Living Wage employers pledging to pay their staff what the movement calls the ‘real living wage’ – an hourly amount higher than the government’s set minimum wages.  As companies’ interest in sustainability and CSR increases, will paying a realistic wage be the next ethical step for venues and event suppliers? As with many of these decisions, it is being driven by the younger generation; 93% of university graduates want to work for a Living Wage employer.

Friends House certainly believes that it is essential. “As an ethical and sustainable event venue, it is important for us to pay our staff fairly. This commitment to fairness is rooted in our Quaker ethos.” The venue is part of Quiet Company, the fully owned trading subsidiary of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). “We have been a Living Wage Employer since August 2013. All the staff at Friends House are paid 13.4 percent above the London Living Wage, no matter what their age is. We also believe in a 1:4 ratio between the lowest and highest paid members of staff.” comments Paul Grey, CEO.

Margaret Reeves, managing director of registration and badging supplier RefTech believes so too: “We became a Living Wage Accredited Employer in 2015; paying the real living wage as a minimum is a very important commitment to our staff.”

Liz Zutshi, managing director of agency TTA disagrees: “As an agency within the events industry providing professional services B2B, we have not considered accreditation in this area. As an employer, it is not something that we consider to need to benchmark ourselves against as our people are valued and paid in excess of the Living Wage standard.” 

Steve Gaskin, managing director of Right Angle Events an agency offering teambuilding and leadership events and experiences hadn’t heard of the Living Wage Foundation but is keen to get involved: “When I set this company up 12 years ago, we did so with Christian values. We have a culture that puts our staff first and their pay is linked to our profitability; most of our people expect a 10 percent pay rise each year and we pay our staff and suppliers on time. I hadn’t heard of the Living Wage Foundation before this week, but it is something that I am going to apply to join.”

This week has seen the Living Wage Foundation announce an increase to its hourly rates. Reeves adds: “We only have one part-time employee that works six to seven hours per week that falls into this category and the rate will be increased accordingly. All our other staff are paid well in excess of the increase.”

Are more and more companies seeking ethical companies and venues to work with? “The fact that we are ethical and sustainable definitely attracts clients from the third sector. Many of our clients are not-for-profit organisations, associations, government bodies, and the NHS, says Grey. “We also have a fair amount of corporate clients, who are aware of our values and our stance on sustainability and CSR. With climate change and sustainability hitting the headlines, we can really see that customers want reassurance and trust in being provided services that respect the planet. They also want to know that the service provided is ethical, which is why we have a policy on purchasing and procurement.”

Is there a downside to paying the Living Wage? “We pride ourselves in offering a great service to our clients – but we may not be the cheapest because we pay our staff properly,” continues Reeves. “I believe that many event suppliers simply cannot pay the living wage to staff because they do not charge a fair price for their services. This culture of knocking down prices and buying as cheaply as possible is damaging the industry and the wider UK economy and has to stop.”

When researching this article, we were hard pressed to find many event industry companies to comment; despite the campaign, the movement has yet to make a huge dent in our industry. Whilst Reeves is keen to promote the initiative, she believes that the need should be driven by clients; “I don’t believe we have ever been questioned as to whether we are an ethical supplier. In an ideal world more questions would be asked, but in reality, most event organisers don't care as they just want the best price regardless.”

But Zutshi thinks differently: “We have accreditations across a broad range of initiatives often relating to client requests or requirements that reflect our business values and to match theirs in order to build connections and relationships with our corporate client base. Across a broad industry with many contractors and extensive supply chains, it is almost impossible for us to demand an accreditation from our diverse range of suppliers.”

Grey continues: “We spread the word about The Living Wage Foundation and encourage others to join. As part of our procurement process, we make sure that potential and existing companies are Living Wage Employers. This approach has led to existing suppliers making a commitment to becoming a Living Wage Employer. Being an accredited Living Wage Employer shows that we value our people, in an industry where too many workers earn the Minimum Wage.”

“Business can often be in phases – not long ago being an Investor in People was all the rage. We have achieved the Carbon Charter Mark and that is very important to us,” said Gaskin. “Being a Living Wage Employer will also be an important way to show the ethics of our business. I believe that using their ‘stamp of approval’ on our website will help us to demonstrate our values and attract more applicants. I do believe that like attracts like.”

“I urge agencies, associations and corporates not to simply buy on price alone, but to look at the ethics and ethos of their suppliers, continues Reeves. “If a quote is extremely cheap or a client knocks it down to an unworkable amount then it is the staff who will suffer. This then impacts on the UK economy too in the form of increased reliance on state provided ‘top ups’”.

For more information about the Living Wage Foundation go to: https://www.livingwage.org.uk/