At the second reading of the Procurement Reform Bill in May 2014, SNP members blocked a Labour amendment to deliver the Living Wage for workers employed by private companies on public contracts. Let’s be clear, this Labour amendment would have meant that firms bidding for public sector contracts would have been expected to pay employees the living wage.
At the time Kezia Dugdale MSP said: “The introduction of this measure would not only have boosted earnings for minimum wage workers by over £2000 a year, it would have shown a real commitment to equality.”
James Kelly MSP added that the amendment would have given: “a rise to many of £2,600 a year. 64% of these people are women, so this is an opportunity not only to help women but an opportunity to tackle low pay in public contracts.”
So why didn’t the SNP agree to this Labour amendment which would have cut inequality and sent a strong message to employers right across Scotland? Rather than taking responsibility for their own decision, they blamed the EU. Alex Salmond, the then First Minister, said: “EU law prevents both us and local authorities from making the living wage a requirement in public sector contracts.”
Nicola Sturgeon also blamed the EU: “I want to ensure we abide by the [EU] law and that we don’t put our public bodies at that risk of being taken to court.”
The awkward thing for the SNP was that the EU was listening and made it clear that EU law was “not preventing it”. They did say that employers could contest Holyrood on the issue, but “what firm worth their salt would want to run up a massive bill going to court to demand the right to pay workers less?”.
Yesterday in Perth at around 2pm Kezia Dugdale gave the speech of a lifetime. Its focus was how Scottish Labour would make Scotland a fairer and more prosperous country. It was packed with progressive policies and is a clear challenge to anyone in Scotland who thinks Holyrood does not have the power to make Scotland fairer, or who talks left, but walks right.
At midnight yesterday the SNP responded. They did not respond by attacking the speech, but by adopting a key labour policy which they had voted against last year. You guessed it, they said that firms bidding for public sector contracts will be expected to pay employees the living wage.
So well over a year after they blocked Labour’s amendment and blamed the EU, they have backtracked and decided that workers in Scotland delivering public sector contracts do deserve a fair wage after all. What took them so long?