Nicola Sturgeon has urged state-owned Prestwick Airport to pay its staff the real living wage after the Herald revealed it was recruiting workers at the bare legal minimum.

“The sooner it gets there [the real living wage], the better,” she told MSPs, adding Transport Secretary Michael Matheson would be responding to concerns about the issue.

Despite the Scottish Government taking over the airport five years ago, managers continue to advertise jobs at £7.83 an hour, far below the Government’s preferred rate of £9.

READ MORE: Prestwick is one of Scotland's success stories​

Ministers explain the pay gap by saying the airport is run at arms-length, despite the government being its sole shareholder, and lending it more than £45m to stay afloat.

Critics say it is "total hypocrisy" by the government.

At First Minister’s Questions, Scottish labour’s finance spokesman James Kelly raised the Herald’s recent report on salary levels at Prestwick.

We revealed “aviation ground security officers” are currently being hired at minimum wage for work described as “physically challenging” and “around the clock cover”.

The adverts said workers would need to guard aircraft in all weathers with shifts starting “as early as 0400 and as late as 2359”.

As recently as last week, Ms Sturgeon berated the Ministry of Defence at FMQs over pay.

She said then: “The MoD and all Government agencies should pay the real living wage. The Scottish Government is a real living wage employer.”

Citing the Herald’s coverage, Mr Kelly said the failure to pay the real living wage was “unacceptable given that the airport is owned by the Government and the First Minister and her ministers are always willing to talk up their so-called support for the real living wage”.

He asked the First Minister to ensure vacancies were re-advertised at at least £9 an hour.

READ MORE: Prestwick under pressure after advertising jobs below real living wage 

Ms Sturgeon replied: “The Scottish Government fully supports the policy of the real living wage and we expect and encourage all employers to pay it.

“Of course, Prestwick Airport is run at arm’s length from the Scottish Government. But as I understand it Prestwick Airport is committed to the real living wage and is working towards having it paid to all those who work at the airport. The sooner it gets there, the better.

“We encourage all employers, without exception, to pay that rate to their workers because it is a core part of the fair work agenda to which we should all be committed and to which this Government is committed.”

Glasgow Prestwick Airport, which was bought by the government for £1 in 2013, says it has a commitment to pay its employees the Scottish living wage by April 2020.

The airport has been asked for fresh comment in light of Ms Sturgeon’s remarks.