“Saludos a todos las camaradas en huelga hoy! Saludos a Fatima, Alejandra, Nestor, Alba, Alexandara, Marina, Ana, Bertha, Catalina, Iessrto, Jaime, Julio, Luis, Manuel, Mirna, Monica, Pablo, Rafael, Siria, Suzete, Willan, Ximena – y perdone si he olvidado alguno! Miembros del partido laborista de Kensington estamos aqui de pie hombro con hombro en solidaridad con vosotros!”
This is how I will begin my address to RBKC Council cleaners on 7 August, when they go on strike at 12 noon in response to Amey and the Council’s refusal to improve pay and conditions. Via their union, United Voices of the World, they are demanding occupational sick pay (currently they have none), parity of terms and conditions with directly employed staff, and London Living Wage of £10.20/hour, where now they receive just £7.83, which is barely enough to live on, let alone bring up children or have any quality of life.
As a Councillor in K&C I have been fighting for London Living Wage for all Council and contracted staff for many years. As MP for Kensington I will continue this fight until every employee in my constituency is paid a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work.
We first debated this issue in December 2011, citing the difficulties of Council and contracted workers needing to live near work due to working hours but unable to afford accommodation. Former Cllr Lightfoot, Conservative Cabinet member for Finance, refused to support the Motion, saying: “It is the role of national Government through the social security system to top up earnings in relation to family circumstances”.
We debated this again in October 2013 in support of striking OCS workers who clean the Council’s estates. They were earning just £7.43/hr and some could not afford travel fares and had to walk an hour to work through sun, rain and snow.
In October 2015 we demanded once again that the Council pay directly and indirectly employed staff the London Living Wage. On this occasion former Cllr Warrick said: “Well I haven’t looked this up but I bet some get paid time off to go back to their countries”. I think he meant holidays.
We Labour Councillors in RBKC have added a sum to cover added contract costs for London Living Wage into our alternative Budget every year since 2012 - so including Motions to Council this is the 11th time of asking.
The rate our cleaners earn in a year is a pitiful cc £15,000 which is equal to the amount that a Council spokesperson claims as allowance.
Pocket money for Councillors, but poverty pay for the workers.
We were told it would cost £1m a year to cover London Living Wage payments, and that this was unaffordable. But this is a Council which lost an average of £1m a year for 19 years supporting Opera Holland Park, and spent cc £10m in capital on improvements to Opera facilities in that time, totalling cc £30m altogether. Even this year, after Grenfell, they are paying over £1m to make improvements to the terrace where the Opera (supposedly an independent company now) is held.
In local election year 2010 they gave £100 each back to all Council Taxpayers as an ‘efficiency bonus’; this cost £7m. Then in local election year 2014 they gave £50 each, totalling £4m, back to those who pay full Council Tax – those who do not need it. This was so blatantly an attempt at election bribery that some Conservatives were disgusted and a large dissenting group sent the money to local charities.
Then they saved £400,000 on cladding at Grenfell Tower, and lost 72 lives. This Council needs some lessons in basic maths and economics. And they need a mind, heart and soul transplant.
The workers fight this week is supported by their union United Voices of the World, which comprises mainly migrant and precarious (zero hour) workers. This particular group is mainly Latin American. They are determined, persistent and unstoppable. Their campaign will support all Amey workers at RBKC Council and elsewhere, and we hope will achieve a fair wage for the workers of Amey whose turnover was £2.39bn last year.
This Council is still rich – and hoping we won’t notice that a big fat insurance cheque for Grenfell is on the way.
There is and never has been any excuse for this Council not to insist that other contractors pay London Living Wage, and agree other reasonable demands. These are basic human rights they should be compelled to demand for all their contractors.
There is surely something morally wrong with an organisation which expects its employees to rely on welfare and food banks to survive, while prioritising unnecessary frivolities and an ‘efficiency bonus’ just before election time.
The Council insists that since the Grenfell Tower fire there’s been a culture change. Time to prove it.
Cllr Emma Dent Coad MP for Kensington