CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Workers shouldn’t have to wage war for decent pay

01 August, 2019

Royal Parks cleaners say they are living ‘hand-to-mouth’

THE protests of cleaners in the Royal Parks who are demanding a “living wage” feels like a story from a different decade.

No worker in London – with its astronomical rents, expensive travel and inflated food prices – should be forced to get by on poverty pay.

The response to criticism from the Royal Parks to its workers that clean the parks it manages is predictable: It is not our responsibility.

Workers in public spaces are often exploited through tiers of contractors, each one taking a slice of the profit, leaving outsourced workers with the bare minimum.

In 2005, a campaign kickstarted a debate about pay levels in the capital and, eventually, a handful of companies and organisations became “accredited”.

Camden Council was among the first local authorities to agree to pay its staff a higher rate. However, a stumbling block for Camden’s pledge in 2012 was its legion of contractors.

Thousands of workers, mainly providing so-called “ancillary services”, such as cleaning and catering, but also in revenue-generating roles such as parking enforcement, did not benefit from the new commitment.

A particular problem was with care providers who had long-term contracts tied into PFI-style building projects.

Low pay, with its inevitable consequences of low morale, in the care sector particularly, can have devastating consequences.

Privatisation makes it much harder to get information otherwise publicly available; often companies choose to ignore rather than respond openly to questions or criticism in the press.

In 2015, the New Journal paid a visit to the stately home of the chief executive of Camden’s catering contractor.

School dinner ladies had been struggling to make ends meet.

Requests for an interview with the chief executive about criticism of his company’s pay structures had not been met.

So we delivered the information directly to his home. The dinner ladies were awarded the London Living Wage soon after.

This is not the way it should have to be. The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has promised an end to the practice of “rip-off” outsourcing if Labour wins a general election.

Last month he said rubbish collection, cleaning and school dinner services would all be taken back “in house” by local councils under Labour.

The party has pledged to reverse four decades of outsourcing in local gover­n­ment, blaming it for scandals such as the collapse of Carillion at a cost of £150m.

If he wins power, Jeremy Corbyn will legislate to ensure the default option is for the public sector to deliver its own services.

Outsourcing is a scourge of society that should be scrapped.

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