It was three years ago that King’s College Council agreed to pay all of the cleaning staff the London Living Wage. This is yet to happen. The cleaners remain on the minimum wage. They remain in poverty.
Two of these cleaners agreed to share their story with Roar!. They have asked to remain anonymous and will henceforth be referred to as Laura and Sophie. The reader is warned that distressing material follows:
“[The minimum wage] is hard to live on,” Laura began. She explained that she struggles to pay her rent, that even buying food is “difficult”.
Her only way out is to borrow money. “Sometimes we borrow money to pay council tax. Monthly, our pay is not even £900.”
Sophie shared a similar experience: “I get paid and it is gone the same day when I pay my rent and tax. I don’t have money for my bus pass, my son had to give me £40 last week.”
This, of course, whilst in the employment of a “world-leading” university, in one of the most expensive cities in the world.
“I am ashamed to tell people that I am getting this money at King’s College, on the Strand,” Laura said.
In fact, most of their frustration is directed at Senior Management. As Laura explained:
“We are not getting even £12,000 a year and when we look at their money some of them are getting £12,000 a month or every two months. Why they doing this to us? We can’t pay our rent so we are saying to them that please they should do something about it. The work is hard and they know it. They don’t care, they are selfish are greedy.”
“We don’t even mind the work… but if we are getting this pay, this won’t encourage us,” Sophie added.
By this point, Sophie was in tears. She had been at King’s in 2010, she explained, when the promised pay rise failed to materialise.
But the cleaners can win! The Living Wage is paid at ten institutions of the University of London, in part because of student pressure. It is with this in mind that Laura concludes the interview:
“The message we have for the students is that please, because of them we are here, so they can help us, if they can help us to talk about our wage, if we can get the [living wage] we will appreciate it. So please, we need their help, to help us.”
In November 2010, King’s College Council agreed to pay all of the cleaning staff the London Living Wage. This followed a joint campaign of workers and students around this demand. Later that month, King’s outsourced the cleaning contracts, essentially abrogating their responsibility to implement the Living Wage. Three years on, the cleaners are still on the minimum wage, which has increased at below the rate of inflation between 2010-2013.
The cleaners are, therefore, worse off than they were in 2010.
“This is shameful,” ROAR! says.
Three long years, that is how long it has been since King’s College London, the institution we are all so proud to attend, promised to pay at least London Living wage to its staff.
Three years on and we hear tragic stories of cleaners, still struggling to pay for basic needs, due to the College’s failure to deliver on its commitment.
We wonder why the College would even consider making a promise it had no intention of keeping.
This question is especially potent when we consider King’s’ £31 million operating surplus.
The only reason we can come up with is the same reason why these people are paid the minimum amount.
The answer: the College and many others consider these people to be right at the very bottom; so low that no one will hear their shouts of protest.
These mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers are in such a precarious situation that they can only challenge the College anonymously.
We desperately want to believe that the College doesn’t hold these views, but the truth is naked: there are employees at King’s who cannot afford to live.
For many of these cleaners, this is it. Unlike us students, they are not at the College to learn and increase their career prospects. This is their career.
King’s must stop ignoring those most vulnerable in our College community. They can no longer remain hidden in plain sight.