They are paid a pittance and stand for hours come rain or shine wielding heavy advertising boards promoting anything from golf to language schools.
Now the sandwich board men of central London could be a thing of the past under new rules aimed at "decluttering" the capital's teeming pavements.
A law coming into force this autumn will give councils the power to ban mobile street signs from designated areas, including Oxford Street, London's busiest shopping street with 200 million visitors a year.
Westminster council said the unopposed London Local Authorities Bill allows the council to regulate advertising. "If the individuals wanted to attach the golf sale signs to buildings we would not allow them," he said. "Another problem relating to them is that they also block the pavement, hampering the free flow of pedestrians."
News of the plan drew a mixed response from Oxford Street's workers.
Andres Mezetes, 40, a Latvian living in Hackney, said competition for other jobs in London among its immigrant community would only grow if the ban were enforced. But, Mr Mezetes, who spent the last month advertising the internet international cause'' for just £2.50 an hour, also said: "I won't be upset if placard carriers are stopped on Oxford Street because the pay is too low.
"It's a big sign to carry, it's too hot at the moment and the money is too little. I am allowed to shelter in the shop when it is raining, but on days like this it is very difficult.''
Dario Pedrocche, 25, trained as a builder in Italy but has been earning £4 an hour advertising "tattoo & piercing''. He too said he would not mind giving up the job. "I don't enjoy this job, it is just lost time, not real work. I'm trying to find better work."
Jace Tyrell, head of communications at the New West End Company, an umbrella organisation that represents shops on Oxford, Bond and Regent streets, said "decluttering the space will guarantee a safe environment for shoppers".
He said that a two-year report, Choices for a Better West End, found that businesses and shoppers were overwhelmingly in favour of ridding the street of mobile advertisements. But not all traders are in favour of the ban. Mick Crosland, manager of the London Guitar Studio on Duke Street, said he would fight a ban on people using boards for advertising.
"It will affect our business negatively," he said. "Our board man hands out leaflets which generate business. The board brings people down the road."
Westminster council has been campaigning to get the placards removed since 2002, when it attempted to take out an injunction against Andrew Wells, the owner of a discount golf store in Maddox Street. The judge threw out the bid because the law at present refers to "advertising sites", which does not include pavements of Oxford Street.
Sandwich boards and placard carriers have advertised on London's streets since the early 19th century when people would carry signs offering goods and services such as linen, haberdasher, silks, cambric, port wine and washing for "threepence a shirt".Reuse content