£5.73p per hour the “invisible workforce” nobody speaks about.

(The name of the worker have been changed for this article )

Gloria is a cleaner and earns £5.73p per hour. £5.73p is the legal national minimum wage, however it has been long recognised that cost of living for London residents means that there should be a London weighting added. On his election as London Mayor, Boris Johnson has honoured & championed (“Johnson said pay below this rate meant people were living in poverty even after benefits and tax credits were taken into account.”) the London Living Wage which stands at £7.60p per hour for all contracted staff. If Gloria was earning £7.60p per hour it would have a significant impact on the quality of life for her and her family. 


Gloria rises each day at 5 a.m. in order to catch a night bus into Barnet to begin what will be a 14 hour day which will see her work in a number of public sector buildings.


Her first job is in a school before the school opens, children start drifting into school while she is still working. The only person who will speak to Gloria is the caretaker. He will speak to Gloria about any changes to her normal duties and take up any issues about the standard of work she has done. No one else will notice or speak to Gloria, she is part of the school, yet she is not. She is in a school but has not had any training. In the event of a child making a disclosure, Gloria has no idea what she should do. In the time before privatisation the cleaning staff were part of the schools staff team and Gloria would have taken part in the Safeguarding training.


After finishing her shift Gloria has a few hours to kill as her next job is as a catering assistant in another school. She lives too far from home to return and so has to find somewhere to go to have something to eat as it is 5 hours since she left home.


A quick change into her uniform and Gloria is at work in the school kitchen. The catering service was privatised five years ago she is on the minimum wage and working for the next four hours. The work is hard and physically demanding. She is on her feet for most of the time, the work never seems to end.  


Gloria is leaving the school and heading for a college where she works for a different cleaning contractor, but still on £5.73p per hour!


For the next three hours she is cleaning classrooms, toilets, hallways….despite the fact she has been working there for a couple of years nobody says hello, she is invisible. ….


It’s 7 pm and Gloria is off her home it will be almost 9 pm before she arrives home.

In eight hours time she will be leaving for work!


What are the branch doing?

Barnet UNISON is part of the North London Citizens steering group, which is working towards the launch of North London Citizens. Lobbying both the private and public sectors to ensure that staff are at least on the London Living Wage is likely to be one of the aims of the organisation.


In Barnet our cleaners were privatised several years ago and unfortunately TUPE Plus was not on the negotiation table. The former ex council staff have been replaced with new staff on the minimum wage.


Our branch recently formally raised the issue of the cleaners pay & conditions with our employers and expect an update at our next meeting with our employers on 14 September.


Our branch believes cleaners should at least be on the London Living Wage and we are going to help make that happen.


We agree with the Mayor statement in the Guardian on 22 May 2009


“During these testing times, it is vital that we invest in order to pay Londoners a fair and decent wage,” Johnson said. 

“It also brings wider social benefits, tackling poverty, making work pay, and improving the quality of life for families……City Hall is leading by example, and we will certainly be paying the new London living wage across the GLA group as appropriate … I urge all London businesses to invest for the future by paying it too.”


What do you think?