London , United Kingdom

The London Living Wage Campaign


November 19, 2008

City of London signs on to successful community campaign to improve city wages and monitor employment practices

Kasia works ten hours a day cleaning rooms at one of the top destination hotels in the West End of London. Rooms at the posh hotel can cost up to £640 ($1,280) a night and a cup of filter coffee is a £6.50 ($13.00). Kasia is struggling to scrape by in one of the worlds most expensive cities on the national minimum wage of £5.52 per hour.

And that’s before she has National Insurance and tax deducted for her paycheck. Like 94% of migrant workers, Kasia pays tax and national insurance on her pay cheque and doesn’t claim any type of benefits (such as Working Tax Credits, child benefits etc).

Kasia, like many service sector workers – including cleaners, security guards and catering staff experience low pay and difficult, sometimes exploitative working conditions. It is estimated that in the City of London alone, 400,000 people fall into this working poverty trap.

Since November 2005, The London Living Wage campaign has brought together a diverse alliance of active citizens and community leaders from across the city to pressure employers to start paying all their employees a “living wage” and to encourage consumers to support businesses that do.

Led by TELCO, The East London Communities Organisation (now, London Citizens), the coalition included the support of over 80 different groups such as faith groups, schools, student organizations, union branches, resident groups, government, consumers and corporations.

What Is A Living Wage?

The “living wage” is a term used to describe the actual amount a worker needs to be paid her hour (versus the legal minimum wage) in order to provide a decent standard of living for themselves and their families.

In London, the current living wage stands at £7.45 per hour – nearly 35 percent higher than the national minimum wage set by the Government.

As part of the Living Wage campaign, London Citizens launched a report in partnership with UNISON and Queen Mary University called, Making the City Work: Low Paid Employment in London, that looked at the nature and the role of employers as it related to the rise in sub-contract workers in the low paid economy. Subcontracting allows employers and branded companies to cut costs while distancing themselves from the conditions faced by their low paid employees. For example, Margot’s friend Kasia works at a hotel across the street from her where she paid not by the hour but per room – and at a shocking £2.65 per room.

The study also found that of the randomly selected low paid workers an overwhelming 90% were migrants like Margot and Kasia and over half were recent migrants, having come to the UK in the last five years.

Over 90% of cleaners, hospitality workers and home care workers interviewed were migrants earning an average of £5.45 an hour – the equivalent of an average salary of £10,200 a year before tax and National Insurance. This is less than half of the national average annual salary ( £22,411) and less than one third of average earnings in London ( £30,984).

Contrary to the misconception that migrant workers are lone workers, the majority of people interviewed for the study were living with other members of their family – whether partners, parents or children. A third were responsible for dependent children (those under the age of 16) in the UK. A third also had dependants living abroad and two thirds regularly sent money overseas.

Everyone Wins…

KPMG reports that since becoming a Living Wage Employer the turnover of cleaning staff has been reduced by 50%. Moreover, a recent survey found better employment conditions lead to more better motivated workforce. “I used to wake up in the night and feel sick thinking about work” said one cleaner. Now that pay has improved, I feel proud to work in the hospital.”

From January 2009 the City of London has committed to ensuring that grants, favors and funding go to only to those organizations that are accredited Living Wage Employers. The Mayors office is also working with London Citizens to ensure that London’s hotels and hospitality sector pay a living wage by the 2012 Olympics and that the “Visit London” and other Tourist Guides only endorse hotels and restaurants which are accredited Living Wage employers and sites.

Gaining Support…

The Living Wage Campaign have been successful in their appeal for broad public support for the invisible workers that keep London working but that are rarely seen or appreciated by the public. Helping community members to become effective campaign leaders and spokespersons has been key to London Citizen’s campaign success. The organization provides leadership and media training to develop the skills necessary to run an effective campaign whether supporters are new to community organising or have had many years of experience.

The large and diverse nature of the campaign supporters have made the issue a feature on debates on poverty alleviation and social exclusion and pushed the topic into the recent London’s recent Mayoralty race.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson said, “There is too much poverty and deprivation and one way that I can keep an election promise to tackle it is to raise the London Living Wage and step up the commitment to ensure all GLA Group employees and contractors receive at least £7.45 per hour. I want City Hall to lead by example by ensuring its staff can maintain a decent standard of living in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Therefore, I have made it clear to all part of the organization that I expect the Living Wage to be the basic standard.”

To date, twenty-seven organization including the Greater London Authority Group have committed to paying a Living Wage as have: the Metropolitan Police Service, Barclays Bank, KPMG and PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

A legacy of the London Living Wage Campaign is the annual Living Wage Employer Award which continues to capture public support for this issue by recognizing what good employers are doing to provide all workers with a decent standard of living.

London Citizens is an independent charity that has been organising for change and social justice for over ten years. They have an impressive campaign record includes recent wins on ethical guarantees for the 2012 Olympics, the Living Wage Campaign, and a searching commission of enquiry into service provision by the Immigration and Nationality Directorate at Lunar House (England). London Citizens works with the Citizen Organising Foundation (COF), a registered charity whose mission is to create a network of competent, informed and organised citizens who act responsibly in the public life of their communities and are able to influence, for the common good, decisions which impact on their communities.

For related library resources on this Good Idea, see sidebar at right.

Making it Work for You:

  • Go beyond the usual suspects! A strong and successful campaign requires bringing in as many new groups and supporters as possible and really using the media reach that they give you.
  • Media attention does not just happen. It requires knowledge of media organizations, well-crafted communication and a coordinated effort to get strategic messages out.
  • Get the facts! Good research and hard evidence make it easier to paint a compelling picture that can help you gain the broad based support that you need.

For this Good Idea contact:

Colin Weatherup, Development Director
London Citizens
112 Cavell Street, Whitechapel
London, England,
E1 2JA
020 7043 9876

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