LOW pay is a real problem in remote, rural areas, according to one award-winning charity which has signed up to the living wage.

The effect of the low wages is exacerbated by high living costs, including dearer transport and food, according to Trees for Life chief executive Steve Micklewright.

“There were a couple of key reasons why we decided to become a living wage employer,” he explains. “We operate in remote, rural areas of Scotland where low pay is a real problem, exacerbated by higher than average living costs for things like transport and energy. So we thought it was really important to ensure that all employees have a fair rate of pay. We also aim to show that it is possible to thrive and grow as an organisation on that basis. And as we grow and recruit staff we want to be an attractive employer.”

Before signing up to the accreditation scheme, the management team at Trees for Life compared the UK Government’s living wage with the real living wage, which is considerably higher.

“When we looked at the basis on which the real living wage was calculated in comparison to the government living wage it was a unanimous decision by the management team to adopt the real living wage,” says Micklewright.

“It was easy to implement. It meant an increase to our ‘Band A’ salary and we contacted contractors too. When we’re recruiting we send interviewees a brochure on ‘Employee Benefits’ – top of the list is that we pay the real living wage. We’re pleased to be part of a growing network of employers doing the same.”

The organisation is a registered charity with around 20 employees split between its office in Findhorn, Moray, and its conservation estate at Dundreggan, in Invermoriston in the Highlands.

Trees for Life aims to restore the Caledonian Forest and the wildlife which is dependent upon it to the Highlands. The Caledonian Forest is a globally unique habitat found only in Scotland – home to many rare species of mammals, birds, insects and plants such as red squirrel, capercaillie, wood ants and twinflower.

Trees for Life has planted around 1.3 million trees so far, mostly at Dundreggan and in Glen Affric, and enabled the natural regeneration of countless more native trees.

The charity bought the Dundreggan Estate nearly 10 years ago and is transforming it from a traditional deer shooting estate into wild, native forest. A key part of the transformation has been the establishment of a tree nursery at Dundreggan where specialist horticultural staff grow around 60,000 trees per year, including rare and hard to grow native tree species such as aspen and willow species. A new eco-building is under construction at the tree nursery which, when completed later this year, will form the Caledonian Forest Research Centre – the first of its kind in the Highlands.

The real living wage of at least £8.45 per hour is significantly higher than the government minimum wage of £6.70 and the new minimum wage premium for over 25s of £7.50 per hour introduced last April.

The real living wage is an hourly rate, calculated annually by the Resolution Foundation and overseen by the Living Wage Commission, based on the best available evidence on living standards in the UK. It is higher than the UK Government’s so-called “living wage” which is just a rebranding of the legally binding minimum wage and only applies to those over the age of 25.