Over a quarter of Northern Ireland workers paid less than the Living Wage
Northern Ireland has the highest proportion of underpaid workers in the UK, with one-in-four earning a salary that fails to support a basic standard of living.
That's according to new research from KPMG, which has revealed that 26% are being paid less than the Living Wage compared to a UK average of 21%.
The number of workers who fall in to this category has risen by over 400,000 in the last year alone, and the UK total now stands at 5.24m.
Young people in the 18-21 age group are most affected. Women are also significantly more affected than men, as are part-time workers when compared with those in full-time positions.
Marianne Fallon, Head of Corporate Affairs at KPMG, said the research had been published for the on-going Living Wage Week.
"Low pay is a real problem in Northern Ireland, particularly at a time when the cost of living is rising at a faster rate than earnings," she said. "People on less than the Living Wage can seriously struggle to make ends meet.
"Whilst it is still not easy, earning a Living Wage can make a huge difference to individuals and their families, enabling them to afford a basic standard of life.
"For many businesses, paying the Living Wage rate need not actually cost any more.
"At KPMG, we have found that better staff performance and motivation, combined with lower absenteeism and turnover, cancels out the extra salary costs," she added.
Ms Fallon said Living Wage Week is the perfect opportunity for employers to consider whether they can make the move.
The Living Wage is a voluntary rate of pay designed to enable workers to afford a basic but acceptable standard of living. Earlier this week, the UK rate, which is not binding on employers, rose by 20p to £7.65 an hour compared to the legal national minimum wage at £6.31.
In London, the Living Wage rate has been increased by 25p to £8.80 an hour.
The research finds that Northern Ireland has the highest proportion of workers paid less than the Living Wage at 26% (2012 report: 24%), followed by Wales at 25% (2012: 23%).
Sub-Living Wage pay is less prevalent for direct employees in the public sector (less than 10% of the workforce) than it is in the private sector (27%), largely due to differing job types.
More than 30,000 low-paid UK workers stand to receive a pay boost of up to £400 a year after a hike in the so-called Living Wage. The country-wide threshold, which is calculated annually by the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University against the basic cost of living in the UK, is now £7.65 an hour (rising to £8.80 in London). The rate is higher than the legal national minimum wage, which stands at £6.31 an hour for over-21s. A total of 432 employers are signed up to the campaign, up from 78 this time last year, including Legal and General, KPMG, Barclays and Oxfam.