19 Oct 2015

Living wage protest at heart of Westminster

David Cameron’s promised world of the “living wage” is already starting look empty,  even at the heart of government.

Fourteen cleaners are staging a demonstration at the FCO today after being “punished” for having the temerity to ask the Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond for a pay rise.

They were getting £6.87 an hour which is somewhat below the estimated ‘London Living Wage’ hourly rate of £9.15.

Their request for a meeting was in the eyes of their employers ‘undiplomatic’ and they are under threat of dismissal accused of “bringing the contract into disrepute.”

Three have already been made redundant.

But they are by no means Whitehall’s worst paid cleaners. One cannot imagine the floors, furniture and amenities of one government department being less dirty than another.

Yet the Living Wage League table below shows a rather alarming disparity in the value of those cleaning the powerhouses of government.

A difference of £2.65 an hour from the more fortunate at the Department of Energy to the bottom of the pile at Environment, with 11 ministries paying below the current London living wage.

It’s obvious each department has an outside contract with a different company.

But as ministers have repeatedly advised on public services like the police, hospitals, prisons, courts, schools and local authorities that there are savings in reducing suppliers , it’s clear it doesn’t seem to apply in their own backyard.

One waits to see how beyond the FCO, ten other government departments are going to guarantee the rates go up by next April given cuts that are coming.

Interserve – the cleaning contractor used by the FCO – deny that  any workers were made redundant because of the letter to Phillip Hammond.

A spokesperson for the company said: “A letter was recently sent to the FCO, signed by a number of cleaners, regarding levels of pay. No disciplinary action has been taken against these employees and none will be.”


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