Barclays Considers Raising Wages For Lowest-Paid Workers Around The World

Barclays' bank logo is seen above a billboard displaying art photography in New York, June 11, 2013. AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel Dunan
Barclays' bank logo is seen above a billboard displaying art photography in New York, June 11, 2013. AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel Dunand (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)

Barclays is considering guaranteeing a living wage to workers worldwide, as it already does for its employees and contract workers in the U.K., where the bank is headquartered.

At a shareholder meeting in London last week, Barclays CEO Antony Jenkins said he would work with the international labor union UNI Global to consider raising pay for the bank’s lowest-level workers around the world. Barclays has about 132,000 employees operating in 50 countries, but declined to say how many workers would get a raise if such a proposal were enacted.

“We are very proud of our certification as a living wage employer in the U.K.,” Jenkins said at the meeting. “We are willing to get started and to discuss this global initiative with UNI Global Union.”

Barclays started moving toward paying a living wage to workers and contractors in the U.K. as early as 2003, and officially received accreditation from the Living Wage Foundation, a U.K. group that has been pushing companies on the issue, in 2013.

The living wage measure would most directly affect bank tellers, mailroom workers and contract workers who provide the bank with cleaning and security services. In the U.K., the bank pays the thousands of workers it employs in these capacities 9.15 pounds ($14.10) an hour in London and 7.85 pounds ($12.09) an hour in the rest of the country.

The bank has not said yet how it will determine what exactly constitutes a "living wage" in different countries. In the U.K., these amounts are determined annually by a London government agency, which looks at the basic cost of living. Companies are only required to pay the U.K.’s minimum wage of 6.50 pounds an hour, and paying the living wage is voluntary.

“Paying people that work for us a wage that supports a decent standard of living makes good business sense and is in line with our values,” Barclays said in an email statement to The Huffington Post. “Currently, this is a UK-specific commitment but Barclays is aware of international efforts to combat wage inequality in other countries, and we are gathering information on how this can be implemented.”

Barclays' effort to expand its living wage commitment is just the latest sign of an emerging movement to raise pay for low-income workers globally.

“We’re in crisis in the globe with wages being too low,” said Christy Hoffman, the deputy general secretary at UNI Global, which is based in Switzerland. Hoffman cautioned that its discussions with Barclays on the issue are still in their very early days.

Hoffman compared her group’s efforts on a global living wage to the movement in the U.S. for a wage of $15 per hour for fast food employees and other workers. There are currently 10,000 Barclays employees in the U.S., Hoffman said, but it isn’t clear how many would be affected by a possible commitment to a living wage.

UNI Global is not active in the U.S. movement for $15 an hour, but it represents more than 20 million workers worldwide in Africa, Central and South America, Asia and Europe.

Jenkins' comments stand in sharp contrast to last year’s shareholder meeting, when Barclays executives came under fire for what shareholders called excessive pay packages for executives, particularly in light of the bank’s involvement in rate-fixing and other scandals over the past few years.

The higher wages in the U.K. have meant that fewer contractors leave the bank, according to a report sponsored by the company and released in January. Contractors also reported higher levels of “engagement” with their job -- i.e., they’re happier, the report stated.

“Having supported the Living Wage for over 10 years, we know that it can improve productivity, morale and retention rates,” Dominic Johnson, the employee relations director for Barclays, said in the January report. "This is not just an expression of our corporate values or an issue of social impact, but good business sense.”

Other employers that have committed to paying a living wage in the U.K. include KPMG, Burberry, HSBC and Nestle.

In the U.S., the average bank teller makes $12.81 an hour, according to the Labor Department. Pay for bank tellers in the U.S. is so low that nearly one-third of them receive some kind of public assistance, according to a 2014 UNI Global report.

UNI Global's Hoffman said that she hopes Barclays inspires other global financial institutions. "We hope this is a first step with banks," she said.