Knowingly underpaid? John Lewis hit by cleaners' protest
Workers at co-operative told they will lose their jobs or have their hours cut by half
Wednesday 27 June 2012
It is hailed as a socially responsible employer whose workers all have a stake in the company, and for many John Lewis is a paragon of ethical business. But for those who clean the floors, stairwells and toilets of the venerable department store, there is no share of the spoils.
Cleaners at the company's flagship store on London's Oxford Street are protesting against low pay, redundancies and cuts to hours, claiming they are being treated as "second-class citizens".
The 28-strong workforce have been told by their employer, subcontractor Integrated Cleaning Services (ICM) that half face losing their jobs owing to a "challenging economic environment". Working hours will be cut by half for those who remain.
Cleaner Elkin Avecedo said that some employees' shifts would be cut to just two hours a day.
"I have a wife and two children and another kid on the way – what can you take home to them on that? The company is cutting everyone's hours yet they expect us to do the same work as we were doing before."
Under its co-operative "partnership" agreement, John Lewis's 70,000 employees all have a say in the running of the business and share profits. However, third-party employees are excluded from the model, and the company says it holds no sway in the cleaners' dispute as ICM is subcontracted through a facilities firm, MML, which looks after its premises.
But the cleaners' union, Industrial Workers of the World, is calling on John Lewis to live up to its lauded principles by preventing job losses – and last Saturday staged the first of what it says will be a weekly noisy protest outside the store.
It is also demanding that ICM pay its staff the London Living Wage of £8.30 an hour, set by the Greater London Assembly (GLA) in recognition of the high living costs of the capital. Currently the cleaners earn the minimum wage of £6.08 per hour, which according to GLA calculations falls below the poverty line.
The union claims that ICM, which was taken over by the world's largest catering firm Compass last year, put in too competitive a bid to win the cleaning contract and that the shortfall is now being passed down in the form of staffing cuts.
"John Lewis are engaged in rank hypocrisy," said organiser Chris Ford. "They can't say they know nothing about it when they accepted the low bid for the tender."
He pointed to the company's pre-tax profits of £353.8m and its creation of 4,400 jobs in the past year. Today union representatives are due to meet ICM through conciliation service ACAS, but unless a deal is reached a ballot for strike action may be taken. ICM would not be drawn on the details of the dispute, but managing director Paul Rafferty said: "We are aware of the recent protest by some ICM employees and we take such matters very seriously." MML said it was looking at deploying affected employees at other sites.
Within John Lewis, the campaign has prompted an outcry. A recent letter to the employees' internal publication suggested that some cleaners at other stores earn only £72.96 for working six shifts a week, and called for all subcontracted workers to be brought into the partnership.
A spokesman for John Lewis said it was "extremely concerned" by the allegations at the Oxford Street store and that an investigation was under way.
- 1 The black and blue dress: Makers considering a white and gold version
- 2 Husband and wife die holding hands within hours of each other after 67 years of marriage
- 3 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 4 The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
- 5 Saudi Muslim cleric claims the Earth is 'stationary' and the sun rotates around it
Boris Nemtsov shot dead: Putin critic may have been murdered by Islamic extremists, says president-led committee
Stephen Hawking's wife Jane Wilde on their marriage breakdown: 'The family were left behind'
British are sexually uptight, dirty and drink too much – according to Spanish book
PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
White and gold or blue and black – what colour is the dress? An eyewitness gives a definitive answer
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Russia's roadmap for annexing eastern Ukraine 'leaked from Vladimir Putin's office'
iJobs Money & Business
£40000 - £50000 per annum + pro rata: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...
£30000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established in 1999, a highly r...
£250-£300 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Are you a qualified accountant with strong exp...
£230 - £260 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Do you want to stamp your footprint in histo...