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Cath Everett

Sift Media

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

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News: Whitehall cleaners demand living wage from ministers


Government ministers and the most senior judge in England and Wales were presented with letters from their cleaners yesterday asking to be paid a London Living Wage.

The initiative, which is the latest in a series to be organised by campaign group, London Citizens, saw more than 150 cleaners across Whitehall sign and personally deliver letters to the president of the supreme court, Lord Philips, and eight cabinet ministers.
They included business secretary, Vince Cable; deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg; home secretary, Theresa May, and chancellor, George Osborne.
The aim of the move is to try and boost cleaners’ pay from the national minimum wage of £6.08 per hour to the London Living Wage of £8.30. The latter has been independently calculated to reflect the true cost of living in the UK and stands at £7.20 outside of the capital.
By leaving the letters on ministers’ desks, the cleaners hope to make them feel more responsible for the conditions of those working in the same building as themselves, even if they are employed under outsourced contracts.
The campaign’s tactics have led to success at more than 100 companies including HSBC, Merrill Lynch and cosmetics giant, L’Oreal.
A similar letter delivered to the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, in May, is likewise believed to have resulted in a meeting being scheduled for September. Architect of the government’s flagship Universal Credit scheme, Duncan-Smith has professed that his mission is to make work pay and to end “in-work poverty”.
But in a statement issued to the Guardian on behalf of all of the departments involved, Cable’s department of business, innovation and skills said that offering low-paid workers a living wage could damage their employment prospects and that it was “for employers to decide whether to voluntarily sign up” to the London Living Wage scheme.
“The NNW is set with an eye to balance its effect on wages and its effect on employment. The Living Wage does not consider any potential adverse employment effects and – despite its name – is unlikely to be a well-targeted poverty measure,” the statement added.
The move came as cleaners at the mutually-owned John Lewis retail chain were scheduled to go on strike today over low pay. They work for a subcontractor called Integrated Cleaning Management and are unhappy at threats of redundancy and proposed deep cuts in their hours. They are likewise demanding a London Living Wage.
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Cath Everett

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

Read more from Cath Everett

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