The time is now: Why Compass has committed to the Real Living Wage

By Donna Catley, Chief People Officer, Compass Group UK and Ireland

The COVID-19 crisis has seen essential frontline workers move from being an invisible workforce to being identified as the nation’s “key workers”. A light has rightly been shone on the critical roles they play supporting our public services, the economy and our everyday lives. It’s been uplifting to see delivery drivers, supermarket workers, cleaners, security guards and hospital porters come to the fore as they have helped us all to manage the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Who are Compass?

Compass Group UK & Ireland is the UK’s largest food and support services provider. We employ tens of thousands of frontline employees behind the scenes at sports and leisure events, within schools, colleges and universities, hospitals and care homes. We also provide catering and cleaning in the private sector, serving food and running support services in offices and boardrooms, as well as workplaces as diverse as oil rigs and military bases. Due to the breadth and scale of our work, coronavirus has impacted our business in many different ways just as it has affected the economy at large. Some of our business units have temporarily closed or seen a significant reduction in volume, for example in sports stadia and conferences, whilst in other areas our people are taking on additional roles, such as in our healthcare, defence and education operations.

Why did we become a Living Wage employer?

Some might think that now, in the midst of a pandemic and at the start of what is likely to be a prolonged economic downturn, is a strange time to commit to raising wages. But I for one think there is no more important time for us as an organisation to make this step change in terms of our advocacy. Almost 60 per cent of people living in poverty are from working families.  The lowest paid in society have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, often while putting themselves at risk on the frontline and delivering valuable public services. Now is the time for action, for bold steps and for tangible commitments around pay.

As market leader we should lead the way in delivering solutions and best practice. Compass has the opportunity to make a positive difference to the lives of the colleagues that work with us, and in turn their families. Not everyone wants a career, not everyone wants to be promoted, but everyone deserves to have choices and we want to provide those opportunities.

On 1st October, Compass officially became a Living Wage Recognised Service Provider, as recognised by the Living Wage Foundation. This means that we have committed to paying all our direct workers (those who don’t work on client contracts) the Real Living Wage of £9.30 an hour (£10.75 in London) or above.  This significant step to become a Real Living Wage Service Provider is something I am tremendously proud of.

The value of paying the Real Living Wage

Being paid the Real Living Wage is the difference between having to worry or not worry about the very basics that many of us take for granted. It is the difference between spending more time with your children and worrying about paying the rent or the electricity bills. There is no more important time for us as an organisation to make this step change and support our people as we navigate our way out of the pandemic.

For people professionals, there is a clear business case for increasing pay on the frontline because we understand the value that comes from having happier and more motivated employees. Paying the Real Living Wage increases engagement and retention rates, resulting in improved productivity and lower recruitment costs.  In Compass, absence is around 25% lower in Living Wage Contracts. Employee turnover is also reduced with some of our RLW contracts seeing a reduction of up to 40%.

As a purpose-led organisation, we want to be a force for good in our communities. Paying a Living Wage to all our direct employees is a positive first step, but we also want to see more of our employees working on client contracts being paid the Real Living Wage too. This will require us to engage with our clients on the advantages of being a Real Living Wage payer and to emphasise the benefits for their workforce and their service provision.

When bidding for contracts, price weighted awarding mechanisms can lead to pay falling below the real cost of living. Therefore, we are also committing to including fully costed Living Wage tenders to all potential clients. By tackling low pay head on, together with our clients we can make a difference to tens of thousands of people’s lives and the lives of their families.

The size of Compass places us in a unique position to effect change at scale. In the hospitality and outsourced services industry we don’t have educational barriers to entry. We can take people with no skills, no qualifications and no previous experience and help them to build a meaningful career, developing them along the way. Whatever their background, people are able to get on the first rung of the ladder and move up. Paying the Living Wage is an important pillar in our strategy to improve social mobility.

We can make a difference for the colleagues that we stood in the street and clapped for over the last few months. We are supporting the colleagues whose dedication fills me with awe when I visit one of our 6000 sites, in sometimes incredibly difficult circumstances. For some of us it’s our brothers, our mothers, our sisters, or friends, and that’s the real ability that we have to effect change.   

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