Community support wins higher wages for lowest paid cleaners


London : Community spirit is not yet dead, bringing about positive changes like winning higher wages for some of the London’s lowest paid.

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A new Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funded study highlighted “against the odds” success of a coalition of faith groups, unions and organisations in winning a “living wage” for thousands of low-paid migrant office cleaners who had been struggling to support themselves and their families.

The research, led by Jane Wills of Queen Mary, University of London, arose amid concern about low levels of political participation and weak community cohesion in Britain’s poorest multicultural communities.

It centred on a campaign for a living wage for cleaners, spearheaded by London Citizens – a coalition of about 100 churches, mosques, labour organisations, student and community groups.

Findings from the project, which involved 130 interviews with cleaners and campaign and coalition leaders, reveals the extent of dependence on migrant labour to keep the capital’s offices clean.

Contract cleaners employed in just one building at Canary Wharf were found to come from 29 different countries, including Britain. As many as 80 percent of this workforce were born overseas, according to an ESRC release.

Many cleaners complained about wages and conditions of work in the cleaning industry, but were often more dissatisfied with a perceived lack of respect.

They highlighted their experience of arbitrary and summary discipline, and night workers argued that they were largely invisible to the wider population. While they laboured to keep the city at work, they felt like ghosts whom no one wanted to see.

A special London Living Wage Unit, established by the Greater London Authority in 2005, has calculated a separate minimum standard for workers in the capital – currently 7.45 pounds per hour, compared with the national minimum of 5.52 pounds for workers aged 22 years and older.

The Living Wage campaign says that it has so far secured gains for more than 5,000 cleaners, working for various contractors, with several high profile employers agreeing to pay the 7.45 pounds.