Justice Secretary David Gauke has refused to intervene and help low-paid cleaners in his department get a wage bump.
The cleaners, most of whom are migrants, are demanding their hourly wage is upped from the legal minimum of £7.83, to the £10.20 London living wage.
The rate is recommended by Living Wage Foundation as just enough for workers in the capital to live on.
In a letter seen by HuffPost UK, Gauke has refused to help cleaners on the basis that ministers cannot force the contractor OCS, which employs the staff, to pay any more than the government-stipulated national minimum wage.
Replying to a request for help from the shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon, Gauke said that the Ministry of Justice is a “great place to work” and that ministers “value the contribution that these hard-working staff make”.
But, he went on, while the Government would “strictly enforce” minimum wage standards, the decision of whether to pay the London living wage would “rightly remain” with the outsourcer.
Labour frontbencher Burgon said it was “completely unacceptable” that Gauke “stands idly by while hard working cleaners in his own department are paid a wage that falls way short of what they need to live on”.
He said: “Instead of warm words about valuing the difficult work that these cleaners do, the Tory Justice Secretary should set an example by guaranteeing them a proper living wage.”
Burgon said Labour would ensure that cleaners are “treated with dignity and respect” and paid “a real living wage”.
The cleaners, represented by the United Voices of the World (UVW) trade union, took part in a three-day strike earlier this month, and have linked up with the PCS union, which represents cleaners in the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy who are also demanding better working conditions.
They are planning a joint march from the MoJ’s head office at Petty France to BEIS’ head office on Victoria Street on September 5.
The protest will call on Gauke and Business Secretary Greg Clark, whose department is responsible for enforcing wage standards, to take action.
A spokesman for the United Voices of the World union, said: “Mr Gauke’s suggestion that business interest should come before workers’ rights is symptomatic of his government’s attitude towards working people. He is trying to shift responsibility to the contractor, but essentially, it is his ministry that can decide the workers’ pay and conditions.
“UVW members working as cleaners and security guards at the MoJ will continue the fight for the London Living Wage.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “The cleaners in the MoJ are valued colleagues. The National Living Wage has helped to deliver the fastest wage growth for the lowest paid in 20 years and the most recent rise in April meant full time workers will earn an extra £600 a year.
“We strictly enforce the living wage in all our contracts but specific pay and terms are for employers to agree directly with their employees.”
OCS declined to make any comment.