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Whitehall accused of hypocrisy over exploitative pay for cleaners

Ministries pay lower rates, despite Cameron declaring the living wage’s ‘time has come’
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Whitehall departments have been accused of hypocrisy and worker exploitation after an investigation found the majority still do not play their cleaners the London living wage.

Most major government departments – including the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) – pay their cleaning staff less than the recommended £8.80 an hour, it has emerged. Some cleaning staff miss out by up to £2.50 an hour.

This is despite David Cameron describing the living wage – which is higher than the legal minimum wage – as an “idea whose time has come”. Campaigners have called for public sector employers to set an example to the private sector.

The data, compiled by the campaign group Citizens UK, found 12 out of 17 government departments are tied into cleaning arrangements under which workers are paid less than the recommended £8.80 for London. Ten departments pay their cleaning staff less than the UK living wage of £7.70.

The Archbishop of York John Sentamu called the lack of living wage in the public sector “an affront to human dignity”.

Cleaners and catering staff will gather in Whitehall this morning to protest outside some of the worst-offending departments. They include the Department of Health (DoH) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) which, according to the study, pays its cleaners £6.31 an hour. The UK minimum wage is £6.31 an hour.

The discrepancy in wages across Whitehall is due to cost-conscious government departments that manage their own budgets and procure contracts from a roster of preferred suppliers.

Campaigners say that, in many cases, a lack of emphasis on the living wage during the bidding process has left many workers susceptible to low pay as suppliers seek to cut costs to be more competitive.

One of the protesters, Mohamed Fofanah, works for a company that cleans Defra. “Every year transport costs are increasing, my rent is increasing as is looking after my wife and two children. But my wages haven’t really changed in nearly 13 years,” he told The Independent. 

“I pay my rent of £700 a month and then the rest of my pay is gone by the end of the first week. The rest of the month is a constant struggle that is taking its toll. My children know I can’t take them to the cinema or allow them to buy trainers.”

Also singled out is the Department for International Development (Dfid) which pays staff £6.69 an hour.

Stefan Baskerville of Citizens UK, said: “Justine Greening leads a department that is supposed to be about ending poverty, yet the people who clean her office are on poverty wages. She should take responsibility for the people who clean and cook in her department and make sure they are paid a living wage.”

A Dfid spokesman said: “Like all government departments Dfid does not employ cleaning staff directly. Wages are agreed between the contractor and their employees. Where possible we encourage the payment of the London living wage and all cleaning staff are paid above national minimum wage.”

On Friday night Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) announced that it would bring in London’s minimum wage from next month. Last week Ed Davey said cleaners’ wages at the Department of Energy and Climate Change would conform with minimum wage legislation immediately. 

Last week cleaners delivered letters signed by over 100 of their colleagues to ministers across Whitehall. The letters state: “We work hard to keep the offices of Government clean but we are paid less than it costs to live. This means we have to make painful sacrifices.”

An FCO spokesman said:“The FCO encourages its contractors to commit to paying a living wage and ensures that they meet the legal requirement to pay at least the national minimum wage.” The Home Office and the MoJ were unable to respond in time for deadline. Defra did not respond.