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Unite the Union demands: ‘Pay cleaners ‘real’ living wage’

The cleaning staff at Sussex are employed by private company Sussex Estates and Facilities and are paid £7.71 an hour. This is above the minimum wage but lower than the Living Wage Foundation’s ‘Real Living Wage’ at £8.75.

Unite the Union has raised concerns over the workers’ rights and conditions of cleaning staff in and around The University of Sussex.

The university established Sussex Estates and Facilities (SEF), who are responsible for the employment of cleaners on campus, with Interserve following outsourcing of facilities management in 2014.

The University of Sussex is not directly responsible for employing cleaning staff.

Unite’s allegations suggest that outsourced cleaning staff at the university are not paid the ‘Real Living Wage’, as set out by the Real Living Wage Foundation, work from 4 am to 8 am and consequently, may have to walk to work in the dark due to the lack of transport.

However, a university spokesperson said: “The University actively engages with all relevant Unions and is committed to understanding all matters that are raised.”

They say that all SEF employees are paid above the living wage, including their 150 cleaning staff.

They confirmed that a significant number work 4 am- 8 am “to ensure spaces are ready for the teaching and working day.” SEF has also trialled alternatives to these shift times.

SEF also pay for a free, dedicated bus for the cleaning team. They “continue to evaluate all of our [their] services on an on-going basis.”

These issues come amid wider, national concerns.

At The University of London, cleaning staff have taken strike and legal action to demand universities employ them jointly with outsourcing companies.

The employees want the ability to negotiate their pay and conditions by assigning employment responsibility to universities and not just these outsourcing companies.

A Unite Workplace Representative at Sussex said: “We feel Sussex senior management ought to put pressure on Interserve to pay SEF staff a fair wage for the excellent work they do… The cost of living in the South East keeps on going up and people simply cannot get by on such low wages.”

The ‘Real Living Wage’ differs from the government’s higher minimum wage rate, also known as the living wage, introduced in April 2016. The living wage is £7.50 for over 25s and is a legal requirement. SEF cleaners are paid £7.71 an hour, while the Living Wage Foundation recommends a ‘Real Living Wage’ of £8.75.

Unite has claimed that “workers doing the same job across the road at Brighton University (Who have not outsourced their cleaners) are paid between £8.49 and £8.83 per hour” a figure closer to the ‘Real Living Wage’.

However, The Badger has been unable to verify this claim at the time of print. The University of Brighton told The Badger that cleaning staff are paid between £16,341 and £16,983 per year, which we estimate as between£7.83 and £8.07 an hour after tax. However, this is variable and dependent on factors such as holiday pay, overtime pay, and hours per week.

According to a Unite member: the government’s ‘national living wage’ is not calculated according to what employees and their families need to live.”

The ‘Real Living Wage’ is “voluntarily paid by over 3,500 UK businesses, including a number of universities.”

A Senior Unite Organiser has also told The Badger: “Unite has been denied the right to organise building workers on the construction site.” The University has told The Badger that they “actively engage with all relevant Unions and is committed to understanding all matters that are raised.”

The Organiser said: “Over the last few years the construction industry has been hit by the scandal of blacklisting – where thousands of trade union members had their names kept on lists that the industry used to deny people work.

“When the evidence was finally revealed, some of the biggest names in the industry, including Balfour Beatty, were found to have takn part in this illegal… practice.”

In 2016 a group of eight companies, including Balfour Beatty, which manages the new East Slope development, reached an out-of-court compensation agreement with Unite representing blacklisted workers.

The Unite Organiser believes blacklisting leaves workers vulnerable to scams whereby they do not have the legal protection any other employee would have.

They added that: “If companies like Balfour Beatty and major contractors like Sussex University are seriously committed to ensuring that blacklisting and bogus self-employment are ended they should have an open policy to Unite organising on site.

“Respectable contractors should have nothing to fear from an organised workforce and the University, as ane ethical body, should be comfortable with insisting that any contractor it works with should take a positive stance towards trade unions and facilitate their ability to organise.”

A University of Sussex spokesperson said: “The East Slope construction site is run by Balfour Beatty, the main contractor for the duration of the project. As such it is not appropriate for the University to comment on matters relating to Balfour Beatty staff.”

Balfour Beatty have been contacted for comment.

Image by Aqua Mechanical on Flickr.

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