6 in 10 believe the main priority of business should be delivering better pay for their workers

27 October 2022

New research published by the High Pay Centre, supported by arbdn Financial Fairness Trust, highlights significant gaps between the public’s priorities for businesses and their perception of company priorities. Around 6 in 10 (58%) felt the top priority for businesses should be delivering better pay and conditions for their workers, but only 18% felt this was actually a top priority for business. Instead the public believe the top priority for companies is generating higher profits for shareholders (54%) but only 10% believe this should be the top priority.

The representative poll of 1,104 people found that 60% believe that lower and middle level employees have too little say in the running of the companies they work for. The public believe workers should have a greater say and this is supported by around 8 in 10 (79%), including 77% of people who voted Conservative at the last general election in 2019.

There was strong public support for trade unions and worker representation on boards. 50% of respondents said unions stimulate the UK economy by helping workers to achieve a better standard of living, compared to 33% who said they make it harder for businesses to function. 55% of survey respondents said that businesses should be required to include elected workers’ representatives on their boards, compared to 31% who said they should be free to elect who they like. Again, this was strongly backed by Conservative voters, with 54% supporting worker representation on boards.

Respondents agreed by large majorities that worker representation on boards would benefit pay and conditions of workers (70%); the performance of the UK economy (59%) investment in training and skills (67%); business decision making (53%); and job satisfaction (73%).

The UK has one of the lowest levels of worker participation in company decision making in Europe. The High Pay Centre is calling for policy measures including:

  • Increasing the appointment of worker directors.
  • Incorporating ‘worker voice’ into consideration when considering companies’ bids for public contracts
  • Formal rights for trade unions and employee forums to be consulted on major business practice and strategic issues
  • Guaranteeing trade unions reasonable access to workplaces, to inform workers about their employment rights and the benefits of union membership
  • More detailed guidance in the corporate governance code and the wates principles that set out expectations of Britain’s biggest businesses in respect of how they involve their workforce in decision making.

Luke Hildyard, Director of the High Pay Centre, said:

" The public want businesses to act in line with the interests of wider society, and giving working people a real say in business decision-making is a way of doing that. Workers obviously have an interest in ensuring companies invest in the pay, skills and working conditions of their workforce, rather than prioritising short term profit above all else.

A more democratic, participatory business culture focused on the employee engagement and wellbeing is the way to achieve economic prosperity, not mindlessly de-regulating businesses at a time when low pay and inequality are already rampant "

Mubin Haq, CEO of abrdn Financial Fairness Trust, said:

“With living standards stagnant for over a decade and double-digit inflation rates hitting pay packets, the public believe the top priority for businesses should be improving the pay and conditions of their workforce. However, the gap between the issues the public think companies should care about, and issues they think companies actually do care about, is wide. This study serves as a timely reminder to companies that in order to grow, they should make greater efforts in involving their workforce in decision making. The public supports this approach and believe it can deliver better pay, improve business decision-making and boost the performance of the UK economy.”

Download the report.