Unite has won staff working in schools in Hackney the London Living Wage following a yearlong campaign.
Catering and cleaning staff employed through OCS, a subcontractor, have been promised a wage increase of £2.20 an hour backdated to April 1 2016.
The London Living wage was increased to £9.40 per hour in October 2015 and Hackney council is committed to paying it to their staff. Yet cleaners and catering staff working in schools within the borough were earning as little as £6.70 an hour (the minimum wage at the time).
All Hackney council employees receive the London Living Wage, as do all staff employed directly by schools within the borough.
The campaign came about when Unite went out to organise in schools in Hackney and did an initial survey of staff to find out their concerns.
“The survey showed us that people’s biggest concern was that they were not receiving the London Living Wage,” said Unite regional officer Onay Kasab.
Hackney council had negotiated the council facilities management contract with Babcock International, which is also committed to the London Living Wage. However Babcock had then subcontracted the work out to another company called OCS – which turned out not to be committed to it.
The survey had been an initiative to see what people wanted the union to campaign on and how it could help them.
“We visited schools across the borough and recruited members and some excellent activists along the way,” said Onay.
One of the activists recruited was Gloria D’Costa, a cleaner from Cardinal Pole school who went on to become a union rep and a central driving force in the campaign.
“I joined Unite and became a rep for my workplace because I wanted to help the other staff and make things right,” said Gloria.
“A lot of the staff are single parents and the money just wasn’t enough for them to live on. Bills are constantly going up and pay has to reflect that,” she added.
Gloria went school to school recruiting a significant number of new members helping to strengthen the campaign.
“When Hackney council had negotiated the contract with Babcock they had not specified that all staff must receive the London Living Wage,” said Onay.
This is why catering and cleaning staff employed through OCS were not being paid what they should.
“The majority of staff employed through OCS on the lower rate of pay were part-time women. The London Living Wage is the minimum rate of pay people need in order to survive in London,” added Onay.
Unite began to pressure the council to make a political decision to commit to getting these people the pay increase that they needed.
“While the council were supportive at first their commitment did not go far enough,” said Onay.
The council wrote to all the schools saying it would be nice if they could make sure all staff were being paid the London Living Wage but did not enforce the minimum pay level.
“We then discovered that the OCS contract was due for renewal this year,” said Onay.
Unite stepped up pressure on local councillors and the Mayor to get behind the campaign, which they did.
“We were just short of looking at a ballot of our members in support of the claim when we got a message from the council that they were renegotiating the contract,” added Onay.
Hackney council have now confirmed that the new contract has been agreed and all staff will receive the London Living Wage.
“It took us a year because of the added complications of contracts being subcontracted out through more than one company but I didn’t give up because people believed in me,” said Gloria.
“I’m really happy with the result and I would tell anyone else not receiving a living wage to join Unite,” she added.
“A £2.20 an hour pay increase will make a significant difference to the quality of these people’s lives,” said Onay.
“Not only have we secured a better wage for them but we have gained some really wonderful new colleagues along the way.”