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

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.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Financial Adviser

£20000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you recently QCA Level 4 qu...

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £22500 per annum + OTE £30K: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

Guru Careers: Application Support Analyst / 1st Line Support

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Application Support Analyst / 1st L...

Guru Careers: .NET Developer / Web Developer

£45K - £55K (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a full stack .NET D...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence