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Living Wage debate14th of May 2013
ECJ’s correspondent in the UK examines the issue of the Living Wage, which has been subject of much discussion lately and directly affects cleaners.
The Living Wage issue has occupied many column inches recently without providing very much in the way of clarity beyond a feeling that cleaning operatives are not rewarded sufficiently well for their efforts. Blame falls on the employers who divert it in the direction of client who they say will not pay sufficiently for the contract. Cuts and increasing taxation are added to the mix so that
one may also blame the government and particularly the prime minister.
An interesting article in the latest British Institute of Cleaning Science (BICSc) quarterly journal The Standard takes a strong approach with the title ’Could you live on this?’. As a start it highlights an employee earning just over 16,000 euros before tax (if any) for a 35 hour week, assumed to work outside London and poses the question: “Is it truly possible to live on this?”. No doubt it would be since others are managing on less but it is extremely difficult.
However it leads to a number of thoughts. If the worker concerned was able to put in 40 hours his/her earnings would rise annually by some 14 per cent. Secondly, should the worker accept wages at this level at all? Today the number of applications for any vacancy is quite staggering because despite the suggestions to the contrary, people do want to work. They are right to do this because employment provides confidence, a feeling of importance and being needed.
The Living Wage highlights assorted problems. Employers do not pay enough; clients do not pay enough; shareholders do not get high enough dividends; falling dividends can mean difficulties for pensioners and pension providers; the public expects cleaners to be paid less than them; the government maintains that we are a high wage economy compared to the Far Eastern tiger economies.
Change in thinking
The solution can be seen but will require a massive rethink to achieve. The cleaning industry is one of the best barometers of the state of the nation but the changes must begin with the organisations that purport to manage our lives. State and private industry have an appalling record of bad management, phenomenal waste and greed whilst living in a protected world of personal comfort. No one in the corridors of power looks capable of breaking this mould. Watch and listen to the debates in the Houses of Parliament if you do not believe this.
Fortunately we as an industry are not involved in the great horse meat scandal. The crime is ‘passing off’ something that it is not. The objective: cheap food and profit. People cannot afford better food thus falling into the traps of obesity and poor health. We do need a Living Wage but we need so much more.
In case you thought that the National Health Service’s (NHS) problems were not of the cleaning industry’s making, be assured the canard has not left us. Journalist Charles Moore - writing about the problems of the NHS - refers in his headline to “its filthy hospitals”. There are many phrases he could have used but he chose the easiest.