As part of our series of Challenge Poverty Week blogs, STUC Campaigns & Communications Officer, Rachel Thomson, discusses the Real Living Wage and the Mitie cleaners fighting for decent pay.
As Sajid Javid announces a rise in the UK government’s “National Living Wage” by 2024, it’s important to remind ourselves what a real living wage looks like and show solidarity with those fighting for it across Scotland and the rest of the UK.
The graphic above is a good guide on what constitutes the “Real Living Wage” and the UK government’s shrewdly named “National Living Wage” in 2019. Importantly, the Real Living Wage is a wage that is based on the cost of living, the UK government’s National Living Wage is not.
It’s important to note that poverty pay in the UK is gendered and racialised, with women making up nearly two thirds (62%) of workers currently struggling to make ends meet on less than the real Living Wage. Pakistani and Bangladeshi women are affected the most out of all racial groups.
The UK has a long history of trade unions successfully campaigning alongside campaign groups and communities, and taking industrial action to increase low pay. At the moment, the RMT are campaigning for the real Living Wage for the Mitie cleaners. Network Rail, the UK’s arm’s length public body of the Department for Transport, outsources the work of cleaning several major train stations across Scotland and England to a company called Mitie Facilities Management, part of the Mitie Group plc.
While the Mitie Group has paid out an astonishing £49 million to its shareholders in dividends over the last five years, they insist on only paying their cleaning staff £8.40 per hour. Cleaning, like care work and catering, is often viewed as “women’s work” and is drastically undervalued as a result of this. Earning £8.40 per hour is locking the Mitie cleaners into poverty, while their shareholders and CEO increasingly get richer.
As the cost of living continues to get higher both in Scotland in the rest of the UK, surviving on such a low hourly rate is having increasingly negative impacts on the wellbeing of workers and their families.’. In a recent RMT survey of the Mitie cleaners, 50% of respondents said they were struggling to make ends meet. Respondents reported pay was “only just about enough to pay bills and that’s it”. Respondents also described it as “a continual struggle” and reported “doing without” to cope with budgeting on such a low wage.
The workers are fighting back. With the support of their union, Mitie cleaners have held a series of campaigning actions outside key stations which are cleaned by them. 82,000 people have signed a petition in support of the cleaners, and several motions supporting the campaign have been tabled at both Westminster and Holyrood. Over the next six days, workers will be back leafleting outside six different stations across the UK to increase public awareness of their struggle.
Real Living Wage wins are possible when workers stand together. Just last week, contracted out catering staff working for the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) won the Living Wage after a successful strike by PCS members.
In any just society, paying workers at least a real Living Wage is a moral imperative. Workers coming together to collectively campaign for a real Living Wage is crucial to solving poverty. Trade Unions owe it to their members to make it a priority and we owe it as trade unionists to show solidarity with their struggle.
You can support the MITIE cleaners in their fight for the Real Living Wage by signing their petition here: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/pay-the-living-wage-to-mitie-cleaners-now