A shared exploration - 29 March 2021 3:15-4:30pm GMT

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Within organisations, pay is a mechanism that touches all parts - it touches finances, people, emotions, power, control, (in)inequality, accountability, responsibility, liquidity and more. It cannot be isolated from the system that it sits within. It is, arguably, one of the most promising and challenging sites of change.

Join us for a deep discussion, sharing examples, questions, challenges and developing a community to take forward practical steps with mutual support.

Discussion hosted by Immy Kaur, Co-Founder and Director of Civic Square and featuring examples shared by:

Register for tickets here. The provocation below is intended to help frame the discussion and invite alternative perspectives.

The Wage as we know it

The wage as we know it has been structured as a mechanism of exchange between money, time and prescribed work. Over the last two centuries the wage has become the predominant means of income. It has been conceptualised around the idea of people following set processes over a set period of time to produce a predictable and quantified value for the company. Investment in wage labour resulted in predictable returns. Over time, safeguards have been established (such as the minimum wage and maximum working hours) to protect workers from potential exploitation within these conditions. Reliable income and safe conditions made the wage a site of possibility and stability.

The current paradigm of neoliberal economics, centres the market as the key driver in the economy and privileges money above other forms of value. Income has been conceptualised as a driver of worth, status and success - and these are increasingly concentrated unequally. The current paradigm also does not see the creation of public good and mutual care as a responsibility of all actors in the system, but a bounded responsibility of the public sector, not-for-profit organisations and voluntary care work at home. As care work is systemically undervalued and underpaid, the economic system - and those that are paid within it - is propped up by a foundation of unpaid and underpaid care work. The wage is also a site of inequality, competition, classification, extraction and emotion.

'Public Good'/social organisations and Pay

Social organisations - among those most working to try to shift that paradigm - struggle with the consequences of it more than most. These organisations that play a critical role in the funding and delivery of the public good, are also constrained by public opinion in a zero-sum system where 'more for you means less for me'. Grant bodies - accountable to this logic - seek evidence of high 'value for 'money' in its spending, contributing to a race to the bottom within social organisations to demonstrate low-as-possible expenditure. Within this context 26% of charity workers are paid below the living wage and women, young people and people from Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic and Refugee backgrounds are disproportionately affected by low pay. We are exacerbating the conditions and experiences that we are set up to change.

As social organisations, wanting to create a just and fair world for all, how do we navigate pay within these norms?

The 21st century Wage

In a growing age of automation, where wages are stagnant, structural inequality is deepening and investing in capital generates higher returns than investing in labour, the question of pay and how we distribute value as human beings is fundamental to a just world.

As machines increasingly undertake the work of processing, human creativity, care, collaboration and complex cognition - far beyond the capability of any robot - become our greatest and necessary contributions. In this work, in a complex and interconnected context, the relationship between time and outcome cannot be predetermined. Predict and control approaches are ineffective. Hierarchical stratification of responsibility, decision-making and agency are ineffective. 'The wage' as an exchange of time for hours of labour no longer makes sense.

And if we do not bound work by time - and if we distribute agency, responsibility and pay as part of this transition - we need to rethink the safeguards of exploitation in this system. The work of mutual care, self-management and boundary-setting become critical.