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Fair pay for London cleaners

11 May 2011

Sandy Aird challenges cleaning contractors to pay the London living Wage to their employees, and opens a debate online

We were the first cleaning contractor in London with 95 percent of our clients willing to pay cleaning staff the London Living Wage of £7.85. Generous or foolish you may think, but our clients are content to pay this amount because of the resulting benefits they receive.
It’s madness to think that we can pay cleaning staff an insulting national minimum wage of £5.93 to work in Central London when a significant proportion of their income is spent on travel from outer city zones. The cheapest way to travel is with a weekly bus pass costing £17.80. That would leave a cleaner working a normal five-day week on a two hour shift with £8.30 per day in his/her pocket.
Staff retention
The cost of living in Greater London is higher than anywhere in the UK and if we don’t pay a sensible wage the cleaning business will continue to experience +100 percent staff churn each year. That is no good for clients who don’t like staff change and it is hopeless for us because we spend an excessive amount of time on finding and training new staff - time that could be allocated to further improving our service. Let’s not forget for one minute that we are a service industry and we are all only as good as yesterday’s work.
Queen Mary University of London is currently researching the business case for paying The London Living Wage. We have been invited to participate in the study and every member of our staff on five sites will be interviewed in their native tongue. The process will be repeated in 12 months for comparison.
We welcome this initiative, but I expect many other contractors will shy away. We have found that paying fair wages attracts good staff with a service-oriented attitude. These are people with the right mind set who will stay with the business and see it as a longerterm opportunity with promotion prospects. Staff on London Living Wages will go the extra mile to keep the customer satisfied – the core value of a service business.
Andrew Large, Chief Executive of the Cleaning and Support Services Association is wholly supportive of our attitude towards the Living Wage. He said: “I am delighted that you have brought together your considerable experience into a new cleaning business and focused on the fact that your people are the future of a service business. London is one of the most expensive cities in the world and I hope that your initiative to pay all staff the London Living Wage will be a shining example to other service businesses.”
A challenge
I want all London’s contract cleaners to follow our example and think long and hard about their future growth, staff and client retention, because these three issues are interlinked.
Some staff at Enhance had pay increases of up to 30% to achieve the London Living Wage. Clients have agreed to pay this as they recognise the extra benefit of top quality and contented staff far outweighs the extra cost of a few pounds per week.
Under The Pensions Act (2008) I am also pleased to see that contractors will, from 2012, have no choice and cannot opt out of providing a Qualifying Workplace Pension Scheme for all employees earning above the NI threshold, with at least a 3 percent company contribution.
In addition as is often the case today, these schemes will no longer be administered by the pension provider but by the employer. Yes, this will incur an on-cost to the client but our customer discussions to date indicate that they appreciate their own staff are beneficiaries of such schemes so why exclude sub contractors’ staff from similar benefits? This is a victory for common sense.
We are pleased to be the standard bearer for the London Living Wage in the cleaning sector and hope that all London office cleaning contractors will appreciate the all round benefits and follow our example for this industry employing a workforce of over 110,000 in Greater London.
Continue this debate on
Sandy Aird is MD of Enhance Office Cleaning Ltd.

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