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Living Tzedek: Becoming a Living Wage Employer

Dvar Torah by Daniel Mackintosh, Trustee & Co-founder of Makor Hayim


Dvar – 18/12/2020 – Daniel Mackintosh, Living Wage

Who finished work in the past few days for the next few weeks???

This Shabbat is a different kind of celebration. It is a celebration of our collective action as a holy congregation and a decision that we took, through the Trustees, a few months ago, to become one of the 7000 LW accredited orgs in the UK.

The Living Wage Campaign has been described by PM Boris Johnson as not only beneficial for workers but something that ‘made economic sense’ for the whole of London’s economy. Since 2003, the Living Wage campaign has put over £1.3 billion into the pockets of working people in the UK. In London the Living Wage is £10.75 an hour, while outside London it is £9.50. The Tory Government thought it was such a good idea that they renamed the national minimum wage, the national Living Wage. The national Living Wage is £8.72 an hour, which is not to be confused with the real Living Wage of £9.50!!

At Makor Hayim, accrediting is one small way for us to live out our value of Tzedek (justice/righteousness) within our congregation. But it should also challenge us to reflect on how we are all participating in support being effective and thoughtful allies for workers beyond our congregation, in wider society too.

The Living Wage Foundation is held by Citizens UK. For almost twenty years the campaign has worked to create a standard that is calculated independently to reflect the high cost of living in the capital, giving a worker in London and their family enough to afford the essentials and to save.

As Rabbi Miriam Berger, Rabbi of Finchley Reform Synagogue, the first shul to be accredited as a Living Wage provider in the UK, said: ‘being an ethical employer is woven into Torah and at the very heart of what a synagogue should be. The Living Wage campaign gave us the chance to give Levitical pronouncements a 21st century translation. I’m so impressed that our newest kehillah has true Jewish values at its core as it builds.’

And of course, it links back to our Torah portion:

In parashat Miketz, Joseph is called out of prison upon to interpret Pharaoh’s 2 dreams. In one, 7 fat cows are devoured by 7 thin cows, and in another, 7 fat ears of corn are eaten by 7 thin corn ears. Joseph says that this means there will be 7 years of plenty followed by an extreme famine. For Joseph’s wisdom, he is made second only to Pharaoh himself. Saving is what allows us to stave off disaster.

I don’t know who here has ever lived paycheck to paycheck. When I arrived in the UK 8 years ago, I arrived with £1000 and earned just enough to pay for my monthly costs. These were all my savings in the world, and I was now a foreigner in a foreign place. If I ever went over, I knew that would result in me dipping in to my £1000 saving, which was pretty scary.

The ability to save something, to not live paycheck to paycheck, means that we can provide for unexpected costs, instead of having to turn to payday lenders, who charge 100% per annum.

So all of this makes sense as to why we should pay the LW. But why accredit as a LW provider?

For that, we can look to the chanukiah we have been lighting this week, or the mezuzah on many of our doors. Sometimes it is a little scary to be public about our values or our Judaism, because we could face all kinds of discrimination and nastiness. But, if we are to glorify the mitzvah of treating workers ethically, we need to be seen to be part of a movement promoting ethical pay.

So tonight, I wanted to congratulate each and every one of you. The investments of your dues money allows us to make a commitment to anyone we employ directly or indirectly, that we will always pay them an ethical wage.

Mazal tov Makor Hayim and Shabbat Shalom!!

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