Workers sit at the core of all of this work. FWF’s approach is designed to integrate workers wherever possible. Examples include our worker-focused interview methodology; the inclusion of worker representatives in monitoring and remediation discussions when possible; worker complaint and training programmes; and worker surveys.
‘Ultimately, it is not up to outsiders to decide what a living wage should be,’ explains FWF’s Sophie Koers. ‘It is up to the workers and unions and local collective bargaining processes.’
Yet, even in FWF’s system, workers are missing at some of the most critical points in the effort to raise wages. In many cases this is due to limitations placed on workers’ freedom of association and/or the lack of trade union capacity on the ground. With regard to wages, one such critical juncture is pricing negotiations.
‘Historically, trade unions would have a role in pricing. They would ensure that per-unit prices covered wages, but they were also interested in keeping the enterprise in business,’ explains British scholar Doug Miller. ‘It is a model that would be good to adapt to today’s contract negotiations.’
‘Of course, workers should also be at the table in setting wages,’ adds FWF’s Margreet Vrieling. ‘Our approach at FWF focuses on supporting the development of institutions for healthy social dialogue. For us, the best way to set a living wage is through effective industrial relations.’
FWF’s work on wages continuously explores ways in which to support worker involvement in decision-making around wages. Until now, most of FWF’s efforts with workers have supported such involvement. Most notably, FWF’s Worker Education Programme has robust training programmes in development to support workers’ capacity for communication, negotiation, and grievance handling. We also hope that future work on living wages can also include technical training to enable workers to participate in price- setting discussions.
Adapted from FWF’s Climbing the Ladder to Living Wages report (2012)