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The Bookseller – Commentary – Salary increase? What is the Dickens?

“An annual income of twenty pounds, an annual expenditure of nineteen pounds, nineteen and six, result from happiness. The annual income twenty pounds, the annual expenditure should twenty pounds and six, result misery. Micawber, of David Copperfield by Charles Dickens.

Times are tough and getting tougher. Pockets are emptying and many are empty. The forecast is bleak and growing bleak. Is it any wonder that Mick Lynch convinces the skeptical British public that the strikes are justified? For Heep’s sake, even people in the publishing industry are joining unions. Things must be going wrong.

Yet, despite all the evidence, many still oppose wage increases, saying they will cause inflation and bankrupt businesses. I’m no economist, but even I see that the first argument is patently ridiculous: we’re in the longest period of wage stagnation since Napoleonic times and inflation is already skyrocketing. The second point is more complicated. Wage increases may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for some small businesses, but there have been many prior bigger blows that have brought those businesses to their knees. (And, perhaps more relevant to the immediate arguments, it’s not the small businesses that are being spurred, it’s the huge corporations that are posting record profits.)

We are a small business. In theory, we are the ones who will go bankrupt if we propose salary increases. Especially when our cash is being eaten up by our current expansion (bigger store, new store), an expansion that will create new jobs. We have every reason a Conservative leadership candidate could want for not raising wages. But we will. Partly because I’m a self-righteous asshole who talks about it in articles like this, but mostly because it’s good for business.

The living wage is a recommended base rate of pay followed by 10,000 companies, half of them the FTSE 100. You know, those metropolitan, leftist, liberal woke Marxists, like Google and Chelsea FC. In Bristol it currently equates to £9.90 per hour and will increase in September. The minimum wage, as set by the government, is just £6.81 an hour for 18 year olds, £9.18 for 21 and 22 year olds and £9.50 for 23 year olds and more. Seventy-five percent of accredited companies say that paying their staff a living wage has increased motivation and retention. Which, when two of the biggest challenges facing our economy are productivity and recruitment, seems like a pretty good reason to pay staff a little more. But, for the cynics among you, let’s look at the numbers.

What other entry-level job requires you to be able to chat with 5, 15, 25 and 75 year olds about their personal tastes, before finding them the perfect product from thousands of options?

If we paid our staff £9.18 per hour for 37.5 hours per week, it would cost us £17,901 per year. If someone left after a year to find a job that pays living wages, their replacement would cost an average of £3,000. That’s a total of £20,901.50. But by paying that same person £9.90 an hour, so they don’t have to go looking for more money, we’re only spending £19,305. We paid our staff better and saved £1,595.

Ok, that’s simplistic and recruitment costs vary wildly, but it’s a rough illustration of the benefits of paying staff a salary they can actually live off of. So why is Britain’s biggest bookstore chain refusing to do just that? In January 2020, Waterstones reported its fourth consecutive year of rising profits. Yet James Daunt defended paying entry-level booksellers minimum wage, saying, “What we offer is that if you stick with us – and we promote fast enough – the vast, vast majority of people will get promoted higher. or less on an annual basis. birthday and the best sooner than that. Obviously then you start earning more.

I am not anti-Waterstones. They are vital for industry and many shopping streets. Without them, many towns wouldn’t have a bookstore. And their staff is awesome. But that’s the problem, without this brilliant staff every Waterstones might as well be a warehouse. So to say that entry-level bookseller roles are the least worthy you can legally afford to pay for them is rich enough, especially when you look at what the job requires.

What other retail sector expects its entry-level staff to have product knowledge established from years of research? What other entry-level job requires you to be able to chat with 5, 15, 25 and 75 year olds about their personal tastes, before finding them the perfect product from thousands of options? What other entry-level role is expecting MI5 to decipher questions like “It’s blue, or maybe green, with a picture of a horse, or maybe a car, and it’s was on Radio 4, or maybe in the Telegraph?”

The bookstore is brilliant work, but perks shouldn’t replace a living wage. Yes, you are surrounded by some of civilization’s greatest works of art and “Love Island” biographies. Yes, you spend your time talking to people who are as passionate about the subject as you are. And yes, you can soar into the sunset with a Hollywood star stumbling through your dusty bookshelves in search of anonymity. But none of that pays the rent.

If we, booksellers, succeed, it is thanks to our staff. It’s because they make people feel at home when they walk through the door. It is because of the knowledge they are able to share. It is because of their attentiveness and intelligence to respond to an encrypted request. It’s because they give us everything. Shouldn’t we at least give them enough to live on without fear of expulsion, hunger or cold? Or would you rather be Edward Murdstone?

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