Challenging Poverty: The Mitie cleaners’ fight for the Real Living Wage

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”[1] 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.

living wage infographic

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[2]. Pakistani and Bangladeshi women are affected the most out of all racial groups[3].

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[4], 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[5].

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

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[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-49881980

[2] https://www.livingwage.org.uk/news/news-women-continue-be-hit-hardest-low-wages-uk

[3] https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/research-report-108-the-ethnicity-pay-gap.pdf

[4] https://www.rmt.org.uk/news/rmt-justice-for-mitie-cleaners-campaign-events-this-week/

[5] https://www.pcs.org.uk/news/caterers-at-beis-win-london-living-wage-in-landmark-victory

Challenging Poverty Through Public Services

As part of our series of Challenge Poverty Week blogs, STUC Policy Officer, Francis Stuart, discusses the role of public services in fighting poverty and inequality.

Sometimes, in Scotland we can pretend we are a beacon of progressive equality. But as recent studies show, poverty and inequality are rising from already historically high levels. Looking back over the last 25 years (a period in which parties of varying stripes and colours have held power in Holyrood and Westminster) we can see that income gains have been captured by those at the top.

IncomeGainsByDecileAuthors analysis based on Scottish Government data

As I’ve written previously, addressing this economic inequality will require strong political movements and institutions willing to fight for transformative change. That means more powerful, active trade unions as well as more independent community groups and anti-poverty organisations.

But what demands should these movements coalesce around?

Recently, anti-poverty campaigners have successfully lobbied for new cash benefits, in the form of a ‘family income supplement’ to help address child poverty. In a market economy, putting money in people’s pockets is undoubtedly important, and the new supplement will help reduce poverty, particularly among lone mothers.

However, moving forward, there is a risk that greater social security benefits comes to be seen as the de-facto response. The point of this blog is ultimately to say that we shouldn’t forget the role of public services.

While the Nordic welfare states, often held up as beacons of equality, do have generous social security systems, their primary means of redistribution is through public services.

Historically in the UK, the development of council housing, the NHS, and nationalised industries and services was a primary method through which inequality was addressed.

And still today, public services are more valuable than cash benefits to all decile groups in the UK, including those at the bottom of the income distribution. They are also more likely to maintain public support.

Investing in the wages of public service workers also has a direct impact on poverty and inequality. Large numbers of public service workers, particularly women, are low paid and living in poverty. Investing in health and care, education and council services can help address poverty and inequality; boost the wages of low-paid female workers and create a more caring society. Investing in publicly owned green infrastructure could also help transform our economy in a more equal manner while providing solutions to the climate emergency which we know the market won’t fix.

It is worth acknowledging that the debate between universal basic services vs a universal basic income is in many ways a proxy for some of these issues. In reality, tackling poverty and inequality will probably require both.

However, as a collective endeavour, public services can be an extremely efficient way of providing resources to enable people to participate in society. They should therefore be viewed as a crucial weapon in the fight against poverty and inequality.

Regaining Control in Precarious Workplaces

As part of our series of Challenge Poverty Week blogs, STUC Policy Officer Sarah Collins discusses our forthcoming research, “Precarious Work, Precarious Lives”.

Poverty is not an accident. It is the result of deliberate ideological policy decisions and practices. The way in which work is organised is one of the key drivers of poverty.

The ten-year period since the financial crisis represents the UK’s longest pay squeeze in 200 years.[1] This stagnant wage growth impacts particularly on women, young people, disabled people and ethnic minorities.  In this time, precarious work[2] has increased throughout the labour market.  The number of gig workers has doubled across the UK in the past three years whilst income inequality continues to increase.

Precarity is not new in employment but the last decade has seen an increase in the range of sectors experiencing this form of working. These precarious ways of working are often used as tools of exploitation and control by the employer and this insecurity, coupled with high rates of low pay, creates more insecure living arrangements and increased debt. People are now living precariously as well as working precariously.

The STUC is publishing a report, ‘Precarious Work, Precarious Lives’, on 22nd October following research conducted with workers in distribution, hospitality, retail and creative industries. Three themes – Time, Control, and Trust – emerged.

Precarious workers often face a double burden with respect to both ‘time poverty’ and ‘financial poverty’. Workers on low hour contracts receive have less wages, but spend more time looking for other work or taking on a second job.  When workers are on low pay, they will often end up working more than 48 hours per week in order to make ends meet.  In many cases, the research showed the time-consuming battle to get the best shifts and rotas saps unpaid time from workers, contributes to stress, and leads to exhaustion. Dealing with the issue of time was a first order issue for workers.

A young man working in hospitality discussed how his whole life felt controlled by working in jobs with low pay and high hours.   “Aye, it’s looking quite bleak like, this idea of a debt occurring to sort of get through despite working full time hours. Like I do a 72 hour week, I’m thinking that should cover at least two weeks out of this next month coming and it’s like nah, overdraft it is. And that isn’t even with nights out or anything, that’s just basic getting by. My mum works as a part-time carer so we’re putting both of our wages together so we can pay our monthly rent and the way we, we have no control, we can’t say no I’m going to do this, or I’m going to do out and do this or let’s go for dinner or let’s get something nice in the night, it’s just always, always thinking about money.”

Precarity (from zero hours contracts, low pay, gig work, and casual work) as a business model is a decision made by an employer, and is often used as a tool of control by the employer.  The creation of mistrust and competition between workers is a form of control which employers use to perpetuate forms of precarious work.

However, an atmosphere of camaraderie and friendship is also possible in precarious settings. This solidarity is an essential foundation that is needed to create strong trade unions which are key in ensuring effective collective bargaining structures. These union structures, which allow workers to negotiate effectively with employers on all terms and conditions, drive up wages and therefore have a direct impact on mitigating against poverty.

[1] New PAYE data shows employment income in Scotland averaged 2.7% in the 9 months to December 2018 – HMRC (April 2019) Earnings and Employment Statistics from Pay As You Earn Real Time Information: Experimental Statistics April 2014 to December 2018 Quarterly estimates from HMRC PAYE RTI administrative system 

[2] Including zero hours, short hour contracts, casual contracts, fixed term contracts, work via agencies, and bogus self-employment

As part of Challenge Poverty Week 2019, the STUC Youth Committee are hosting an event, “Power Not Precarity: Creating a Young Workers Charter” on the 12th of October at the STUC Centre.  You can find more details on the event here.

Renewables in Fife: A litmus test in whether corporate greed can be held to account

In the final part of a series of blogs looking at renewables in Scotland, STUC Policy Officer, Francis Stuart, looks at the corporations profiting from Scotland’s wind.

Two weeks ago hundreds of trade unionists, community members and environmental activists marched through the streets of Kirkcaldy. They congregated in the old Kirk where they were joined by politicians from the SNP, the Greens, and Labour, including Jeremy Corbyn.

fiferally

A snapshot of the Fife – Ready For Renewal march.

Fife has a proud industrial history and has proven itself an energy leader for generations. Once a heartland of coal in years gone by, its renewables yards could help power Scotland again if given the chance.All had a common message: we want jobs and investment in Fife, including in the Bifab renewables fabrication yards.

Yet sadly Bifab which, as recently as 2017, had more than a thousand workers on its book now has a couple of hundred.

This isn’t due to a lack of work in renewables. The offshore wind industry is booming. It is also increasingly profitable. Only last week it was revealed that the next wave of offshore wind projects will no longer receive subsidies, because costs have tumbled by a third to about £40 per megawatt hour, which is less than the price of electricity in the wholesale energy market.

Rather, the reason that Bifab is operating below capacity is due to decisions by multinational companies to maximise profits. EDF, the French-owned electric utility company, is building its new £2 billion Neart na Gaoithe (NNG) offshore wind farm less than 15 km off the coast of Fife. Yet it plans to ship turbine jackets from Indonesia rather than building them in Fife yards. This is despite the project being subsidised to ensure the developer makes £114 per megawatt hour. Anyone doing the maths between £40 per megawatt hour and £114 per megawatt hour can see that EDF are about to make an absolute fortune.

While it might be EDF in the firing line right now, they aren’t the first and they won’t be the last. SSE have just won a 15-year contract for their Seagreen project consisting of 120 turbines in the Firth of Forth.

There are also plans for further large developments such as Inchcape Offshore Wind Farm off the coast of Angus developed by the Chinese-owned company Red Rock, as well as Moray West Offshore Wind Farm developed by the Portuguese and French firms EDPR and ENGIE. Although both were unsuccessful in the latest round of contract auctions, they are likely to try again in the next round.

Concerns have already been raised about working conditions on many of these projects. The RMT have raised concerns that survey work undertaken for Inch Cape has been carried out by Horizon Geosciences, a United Arab Emirates Agency, using seafarers from outside the EU paid less than £4.20 an hour.

Renewables is now big business and it should be treated as such. As Unite the Union’s Scottish Secretary, Pat Rafferty, said at a community meeting in Buckhaven ‘we have a clear message for all these developers: we want the work and if we don’t get it, we are coming for you’.

Last week saw the inspiring sight of thousands of climate strikers take to the streets to demand real action to address the climate emergency. This week the Scottish Parliament passed new Climate Change legislation and the UK Labour party declared its support for a Green New Deal to decarbonise the economy by 2030.

In many ways, the campaign to bring renewables jobs to the Fife yards is a litmus test in whether we can deliver on these ambitious targets.

Renewable technologies aren’t the future. They are the here and now. Whether they are deployed to the extent needed depends on community support. When energy corporations like EDF chase profits and move manufacturing to Indonesia, not only do they offshore jobs, carbon emissions and tax revenues, but they create a backlash to climate action.

Trade unions, community members and environmentalists like Friends of the Earth Scotland have demonstrated their desire to bring jobs and economic benefit to local communities while playing their part in tackling the climate emergency.

Corporations and politicians who purport the same and talk of a Just Transition for working class communities like those in Fife, must now do likewise. Anything else is a dereliction of duty.

With Scottish Government intervention, wind power can be a powerful turbine for Scotland’s economy

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

“Wind” by De Gringo is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

As part of a series of blogs aimed at getting to grips with the energy market and the failure to ensure workers and communities in Scotland benefit, STUC Policy Officer, Francis Stuart, looks at the role of the Scottish Government.

In the early 1980s, a company called James Howden & Co Ltd in Glasgow was at the forefront of wind turbine manufacturing, supplying the UK’s first wind turbine in the utility industry. However, the company lost Government support and stopped producing turbines in 1989. The main beneficiaries were the Danish manufacturing industry, who were also early adopters of turbine technology and heavily backed by Government.

Unfortunately for Scotland, things haven’t improved much since. The most recent ONS data indicates that the Scottish low-carbon and renewable energy economy imports significantly more in goods and services than it exports; to the tune of -£229 million.

Most recently, we’ve seen the ludicrous situation where work for EDF’s new £2 billion NNG windfarm off the coast of Fife is set to go to Indonesia and be shipped across the world, rather than go to the Bifab yards in Methil 15 kilometres away.

So who is responsible for this?

Last week we looked at the crucial role that UK energy policy plays. Yet while primary responsibility lies at UK Government level, there are also things that the Scottish Government can do.

Currently the Scottish Government has powers over planning consent for certain energy infrastructure application, including projects over 50MW. While a number of consents contain requirements about local construction and socio-economic benefit, in practice these requirements are often not upheld, with the Scottish Government claiming the requirements are not legally enforceable in Scotland. One way around this, given that environmental policy is devolved, may be to include requirements relating to the carbon footprint of construction.

Similarly powers over the ‘Crown Estate’ – the seabed around Scotland’s coast – have recently been devolved. This means that whenever the Scottish Government provide a lease for Crown Estate land, they now have the opportunity to apply supply chain conditions to that lease – ensuring projects provide local socio-economic benefit.

It is only right that as developers cash in on Scotland’s land and resources, workers and local communities should get something back.

We should also consider the role that direct Government intervention and enterprise support could have in yards such as those in Methil, enabling companies such as Bifab to better compete with European competitors.

However, direct and conditional support is unlikely to be enough. Over the last 30 to 40 years, a lack of concern about ownership has led to a plethora of overseas financial interests within the Scottish economy. This has led to the offshoring of jobs and tax revenues, limited transparency, and lessened the accountability that workers, communities and Government hold over multinational companies.

Back in the 1980s, public institutions like the National Engineering Laboratory (the NEL) in East Kilbride supported the development and utilisation of new technologies. While much of that public knowledge has been lost (the NEL was sold off to a German firm in the 1990s) there are still things the Scottish Government can do.

Firstly, the Scottish Government’s proposals for a publicly-owned energy company, could play an important role in developing renewable energy, restoring post-industrial ports, and capturing value from the low-carbon economy. However existing plans for a white-label retail supplier (essentially buying energy from existing producers and then selling it to consumers) are far too timid and will do little to change the generation mix or the nature of ownership within the low carbon economy.

Secondly, the Scottish Government’s plans for a Scottish National Investment Bank could also provide an opportunity to leverage in the huge levels of public investment that will be needed to address climate change. However, existing proposals look like they’d prevent the Bank operating like similar banks in Germany who have full borrowing powers as well as the ability to lend to the public sector.

Thirdly, there has also been talk of a National Infrastructure Company. This is much needed in-light of the collapse of Carillion; issues at Ferguson Marine Energy and the closure of the Caley railworks. However, to ensure workers, taxpayers and public service users are not simply asked to pick up the pieces of private sector failings, this needs to be based on an integrated 10 to 15 year infrastructure strategy which recognises the importance of collective ownership, not simply firefighting at times of crisis.

More radical proposals in these policy areas, coupled with the Scottish Government’s stake in Bifab and nationalisation of Fergusons, could form the basis of a much more interventionist strategy. While the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government framed many of its announcement around a ‘Green New Deal,’ in reality there was nothing on the role of publicly owned energy, transport and infrastructure companies. These are core components of what might make up a real Green New Deal in a Scottish context – one that is capable of decarbonising the economy while restoring good quality jobs to post-industrial communities.

Currently the Bifab yards sit below capacity with hundreds of workers having to choose between sitting on the dole or moving away from their families for work. Scottish Government intervention could, instead, enable these workers look out across the Fife coast and recognise steel turbines carved by their very own hands.

On 14 September, Fife Trades Council are organising a march and rally under the banner ‘Fife, Fighting for our Future’  as part of the fight for renewable jobs in Methil and Burntisland.

They are showing that workers and communities in Fife want to play their part in building a low-carbon economy and meeting climate change targets. If Bifab isn’t to go the same way as Howden’s 30 years ago, we need our politicians to support them.

What Fife’s renewable yards tell us about UK energy policy

teesidewindfarm

“Teeside Offshore Wind Farm” by howzey is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

As part of a series of blogs trying to get to grips with the energy market and considering who is responsible for the failure to ensure workers and communities in Scotland benefit from offshore wind, STUC Policy Officer, Francis Stuart, looks at the role of the UK Government’s energy policy.

On 14 September, Fife Trades Council are organising a march and rally under the banner ‘Fife, Fighting for our Future’ as part of the fight for renewable jobs in Methil and Burntisland.

As well as the loss of jobs at Havelock, the threat of job losses at Rosyth and attacks on pay at Diageo, the march is being organised in response to reports suggesting that the Bifab yards in Methil and Burntisland are only due to win 8 jackets out of the 54 required for the new Neart Na Gaoithe (NNG) offshore wind farm. The rest are set to be made by the Italian firm, Saipem, in Indonesian yards, before being shipped halfway across the world.

Improving knowledge of the way the industry works is key to building workers’ power and control in the sector. So who is responsible for the situation where a yard with the skills and ability to manufacture content for a windfarm 15 miles away, loses out to an Italian firm operating in an Indonesian ‘free-trade zone’ benefitting from a number of tax exemptions?

With some exceptions, such as planning powers which are devolved, energy policy is largely a reserved matter. That means it is the UK Government’s responsibility to determine the framework for how electricity is generated, transmitted, distributed and supplied to households and consumers.

Introduced by the coalition Government, ‘Contracts for Difference’, are the main mechanism for supporting low-carbon electricity generation. The scheme involves the Government auctioning off renewable projects to private developers to produce energy at a ‘strike price’ – a pre-agreed price aimed at reflecting the cost of low-carbon technology which is higher than the market price of electricity. Coupled with a separate ‘capacity market’ aimed at ensuring sufficient capacity in the system, the result is a complicated market-based system where the Government pays to take electricity generation and pays to refuse it. As Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED) state:

“By locking in both volume and price for sales of new low-carbon generation at non-market prices, for fifteen years, these agreements effectively established a long-term, guaranteed, risk free, publicly subsidised income stream for producers.”

What’s more, these subsidies are funded entirely through a levy on consumers’ bills rather than through general taxation, disproportionately impacting on low-income households.

Given this, one might expect some kind of quid-pro-quo for workers and communities who are ultimately paying for the policy. Yet, despite vague targets for ‘lifetime content’ in an offshore wind sector deal, there is no provision within the funding mechanism to ensure content is manufactured locally.

The STUC and the communities of Methil and Leven want to play their part in building a low-carbon economy and meeting climate change targets. However, until UK Government changes its approach to energy policy – to one built on public control and local benefit – the Bifab yards in Fife are likely to continue to operate below capacity while jobs, tax revenue and carbon emissions are offshored halfway round the world.

The energy landscape is complicated. Deliberately so, following Margaret Thatcher’s privatisations in the 1980s. But upskilling our knowledge and then taking action helps builds confidence among workers and communities. The actions taken by workers at Bifab and the rally in Kirkcaldy on 14 September, gives a glimmer of hope that we can create good quality renewable jobs while tackling the climate emergency.

You can read more about some of these issues in STUC’s Broken Promises report. Further blogs will consider the role and responsibility of the Scottish Government and private developers in ensuring workers and communities in Scotland benefit from offshore wind development.

Bi-Fab, Caley, Fergusons. Only public ownership can deliver the green revolution

News reports suggest that Scottish fabrication firm, Bifab are set to win 8 jackets out of the 54 required for the new Neart Na Gaoithe (NNG) offshore wind farm. The rest look like being made in Indonesian yards before being shipped halfway across the world.

This is a corporate betrayal of the thousands of jobs promised in the NNG contract.

While 8 jackets is paltry, it is more than would have been awarded had trade unions, local community members and environmentalists not mounted the Fife – Ready for Renewal campaign calling for work to go into the fabrication yards in Methil and Burntisland. The owner of the NNG offshore windfarm, EDF, and its Italian contractor Saipem would, in all likelihood, have given all the jackets to Indonesia, while quietly slithering off into the night like sleekit beasties.

Hopefully, the 8 jackets provide a lifeline for those yards, allowing for investment in infrastructural improvements and ensuring Bifab win future contracts for the Seagreen and Inchcape offshore windfarms owned by SSE and the Chinese company Red Rock.

However, unless we learn the lessons from this saga, we risk repeating the mistakes of the past. Like North Sea oil, renewables are being exploited by multinationals intent on providing as little social and economic benefit to workers and communities as they can get away with.

Yet renewables, and energy more widely, is a strategically important industry which the rest of the economy depends on. By its nature the wind is territorially located in Scotland. That means there are levers that Governments at Scottish and UK levels can utilise, whether that be energy policy, planning, licensing, decommissioning or the crown estate seabed.

Ultimately, the wind belongs to us, the people, so it is only right that communities benefit in the form of jobs and economic value.

But social and economic benefit will not come through the present system where multinational companies make large profits on guaranteed, subsidised contracts from the UK Government, get planning consent and support from the Scottish Government, and then go onto offshore jobs and emissions in manufacturing to the other side of the world.

There is a need for a radically different energy system and a green industrial revolution based on public ownership. What might that look like?

The Scottish Government stake in Bifab could form the basis for a publicly-owned offshore wind manufacturing industry, ensuring real benefit to working class communities in post-industrial ports and harbours across Scotland.

Proposals for a Publicly-Owned Energy Company could be radically reformed from a focus on buying and selling energy to consumers to a focus on generation, ensuring profits from renewables come back to the taxpayer.

Proposals for a National Infrastructure Company could form the basis of a publicly-owned, green construction company –retrofitting existing homes and the infrastructure we need to meet the climate emergency.

The Caley Railworks, set to shut today following 163 years of railway manufacturing could be taken into public ownership, building new railway stock and electrifying our network to ensure we have a first class public transport system to rival private car use.

Fergusons shipyard, on the verge of administration, would be taken into public hands, to ensure that we build new, green ferries to ensure our Island communities are connected to the mainland.

None of the above will be delivered by the private sector. Private sector investment in green energy has actually fallen in recent years.

The climate emergency and the failure of multinational companies to deliver strategically important assets presents an opportunity to renew working class communities and tackle climate change through a green industrial revolution built on public ownership.

It is an opportunity we must grasp.

 

Francis Stuart,  STUC Policy Officer