Why do we accept low pay for key workers as the norm?

Steve Bridger

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Community Manager

14 Jul, 2021 16:25

Key workers tend to earn less and suffer poorer job quality than others: why do we accept this as the norm for so many roles that play such an important part in our society?

Melanie Green poses this and others questions in a new post here:


I'd be particularly keen to hear from those community members who work in care settings.

  • In reply to Keith:

    Appreciate that Keith, and I'm perhaps being flippant but also trying to think about what we are rewarding. I totally accept that responsibility is key to increased pay - and the burden that falls on those at the top of an organisation in terms of constant monitoring and worry will be very different from those who are its lowest paid, combined with the impact that a very strong CEO can add.
  • Steve Bridger

    | 0 Posts

    Community Manager

    16 Jul, 2021 09:53

    Very interesting debare. Thank you and keep 'em coming.
  • In reply to Nina Waters:

    It goes much beyond the level of operational responsibilities for me Nina. A CEO of a listed company have little or no job security and can be removed by the Board with little or no notice - the days when big payouts were made in these situations are long over for the majority of CEOs.

    They also carry the personal and civil criminal responsibility for many of the wrongdoings that their employees can undertake - believe me with 200,000 people in 70+ countries it's unealistic to think that they can have day to day control over everthing that happens, in every country in the world.

    In the last 30 years of my life my CEOs have typically worked 70+ hour weeks, taking 1-2 weeks "break" a year (no right to disconnect from the shareholders and investors) - when you have global activities, phone exchanges/meetings can be necessary at any time of the day or night, and require immediate decisions. I'm not complaining for them, They have chosen this lifestyle because it suits them and because the rewards go a long way to compensating for minor inconveniencies like no family life. They also command these salaries because it' a seller's market with very few exceptional people who can function well at this level.

    Personally I find it more shocking that footballers and top cinema actors receive salaries much higher than those of our CEOs who by and large are seeking to add value to society by adding value to their company and to its employees through sustainable growth.

  • Thanks for all the responses to this thread- an important and interesting debate about wider inequalities in society, and how we value and reward different job roles.

    I wonder what your views are on the role of employers in challenging the status quo here- including pay, but beyond that too. For example in this year’s CIPD Good Work Index we’ve noted inequalities in workload and availability for flexible workers for key workers too (as others have noted in this thread, ‘key worker’ is a broad definition so this won’t be true of all key worker roles but certainly some- and of course some of these are issues for those that fall out of this definition too).  What action can employers and people professionals take?

  • What an interesting debate. It's not an easy one to approach or resolve as many have made comments about the historical basis to why we are here and the range of views of what we can do about it.

    I feel it's hard to make comparisons between pay, roles, risk, sectors and unpick things.

    I'm always cautious about the comparators as value and therefore compensation is often not as pegged to real risk or worth as people would have us think. It can be very arbitrary or based on historical worth.

    Caring for an older person is often seen as low skilled and the pay would deem it low value yet that presumption is probably more likely connected with the value placed on the work by others and the cost model of 'businesses' or services operating in this area so it's linked to the ability to run these businesses as profitable entities rather than the skill and value of the job..

    Take football, up until relatively recent times the money in the game was a lot less and still is below the premier league. Footballers still have a relatively short careers at the top flight. Their pay is pegged to the market, what clubs are willing to pay and how clubs are run. To the best of my knowledge, so many clubs are debt ladden entities.

    If we take a CEOs. Yes they are responsible for a lot of risk, they might not all get 6 figure payouts when they exit roles but they are also highly unlikely, in the scheme of things, to go to prison or be personally made liable - despite the legislation in place -white collar crime is hard to prosecute and many large scale scandals result in very few actual convictions.

    Personally, I believe HR could do a lot in their roles to consider the landscape and context of their businesses, push for mapping of and actively closing pay gaps, push for better ethical and fair pay arrangements for suppliers, the lowest paid in their organisations and be more vocal on ethical good practice beyond the ESG branding piece. I rarely see HR in this space. Perhaps we fear managers and leaders thinking we are not on 'their side', of losing our own jobs or of being seen as non-commercial or we think it's an area that's too full of mindfields or a lost cause. Until we step into and grasp the nettle on some of the thornier challenges of modern day working life I fear we will be tinkering rather than make any progressive changes that come come about to a make good work profitable and better for all of our people.
  • In reply to Sharon:

    Hi Sharon,
    I like your thoughts on what HR could do and agree that the fear of being seen as not on the managers side can be a barrier. Indeed, I have experienced this in practice whereby senior leaders were horrified when I started to push for closing the pay gap for our core workers. In previous roles I have seen the HR function develop into nothing more than an administrative function that does the will of the company without pushing the ethical practice and fair pay agendas. Happily I am now with an organisation that sees the HR function as one of strategic importance and a key contributor to business decisions.
  • In reply to Sharon Lesley:

    Hi Sharon

    I am really pleased to know this. We have had posts in these forums from HR professionals in the care sector grappling with sickness absence when staff are deployed on contracts that do not provide for the cost of sickness cover. This has not happened recently, but I can remember more than once posting that if a contract has been won on terms which only work when all the staff are healthy all the time, you don't have a viable business model. It's been a while since I've seen a post like that, so if contracts are now being won by care providers offering their staff more generous terms, i.e. covering their legal responsibility to pay SSP, that is a really good thing. If the care commissioner is looking at bids from an ethical perspective, a bid that doesn't allow an employer to meet legal minimum payments shouldn't be accepted.

    Again, it is a while ago, but I got to see a care company up close when a member of my own family needed domiciliary care to live. The carers themselves were fantastic but the organisation behind them was shambolic. The whole structure seemed to depend on the good nature of the staff to go above and beyond the minimum, often working in their own time to complete work. I brought safeguarding issues to the attention of Social Services and the CQC in writing every time they occurred, but nothing ever happened as a result. Not once. If I sounded cynical, it was based on my experience.

    We actually had two family members who were terminally ill at the same time. One was in the West country and one in London. It was the London care provider that seemed barely able to cope. The carers supporting my other family member seemed much better trained and administered.