BEIS urged to tackle 'poverty pay' for department's cleaners

Labour calls on business secretary Greg Clark to take action

Photo: Louise Haywood-Schiefer

By Matt Foster

26 Sep 2018

Labour has demanded that business secretary Greg Clark steps in to make sure cleaners and security staff in his department are not left on “poverty pay”.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy oversees enforcement of the minimum wage and workers’ rights and has long outsourced some of its jobs – including cleaning, catering and security – to private contractors.

But Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey urged Clark to step in after it emerged that some of the staff who clean his department and guard its buildings are getting paid substantially less than the £10.20-an-hour rate that the independent Living Wage Foundation says is enough to live on in London.

Other Whitehall ministries like Michael Gove’s Department for the Environment and Liam Fox’s Department for International Trade are understood to already pay outsourced staff at least the £10.20 rate, and Long-Bailey told CSW’s sister title PoliticsHome: "It is two weeks since I wrote to the business secretary regarding the serious concerns that some outsourced support staff in his department are on poverty pay and do not enjoy parity of certain rights and protections enjoyed by in house staff. I am yet to receive a reply.”

“Without support staff the BEIS department would simply not be able to function.

“The business secretary is responsible for protecting workers rights, he needs to take this seriously and lead by example by ensuring that all staff within his department are paid a proper living wage."

In 2014, then-energy secretary Ed Davey intervened to grant contractors a similar London living wage guarantee after a campaign by unions.

But Labour said BEIS is now lagging behind, with Long-Bailey warning: "Many workers are forced to work sick or injured as they cannot afford to miss a day."

Shadow small business minister Bill Esterson –  who recently joined a pay protest organised by cleaners and other staff in the department – added: “Cleaners and security workers are as important to the successful running of government departments as every other member of staff and they deserve better than this.”

PoliticsHome understands that staff are planning to hand a petition calling for a pay boost directly to Clark in the coming weeks.

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “All of our contractors are paid at least the National Living Wage. However, specific pay and terms are for employers to agree directly with their employees.

“The National Living Wage has helped to deliver the fastest wage growth for the lowest paid in 20 years, with low paid workers £2,000 better off since 2016.”

Advocates of the higher Living Wage Foundation rates, which are backed by companies including Aviva, KPMG and Nestle, say the Government’s own National Living Wage of £7.83 does not stretch far enough.

The LWF argues that the higher rates mean workers can "earn a wage that meets the costs of living" in the pricey capital city.

A government source said ministers take advice on minimum wage rates from the independent Low Pay Commission, saying the body “balances the needs of workers and businesses”.

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