School workers in Tower Hamlets paid less than London Living Wage despite mayor’s long-standing pledge

Pic: Clemens v. Vogelsang

Teaching assistants and school cleaners in Tower Hamlets can be paid as little as £6.67 an hour under their terms of employment, despite Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s long-standing pledge to pay all staff the London Living Wage.

After Eastlondonlines’ brought this to the attention of the council, Mayor Rahman has pledged to work with schools to bring them in line with council policy to pay the voluntary hourly rate of £8.55. Full-time positions are currently paid at day rates of as little as £50.

He said: “I am disappointed that some schools have not yet adopted the Living Wage and I will be working with them to ensure they do sign up to it as I believe this is another step to create a better and fairer society for all.”

Numan Hussain, the mayor’s political advisor, added: “We will be getting in touch with paid services and human recourses and making sure these discrepancies are brought to their attention.”

A variety of roles, including speech and language specialist assistants, and educational needs assistants are advertised at day rates of between £50-£70 across a number of internet job boards. Inquiries revealed that a typical day begins at 8.30am and can last until 4.30pm, with a half hour lunch break.

Whilst the positions are advertised and paid by recruitment agencies, funds are administered by Tower Hamlets council. A search on Academics Ltd, one such agency, returned 24 such positions.

Additionally, two part-time cleaning positions at Seven Mills Primary School paying £8.11 an hour are listed on the Tower Hamlets council website.

The roles are paid at National Joint Council payscale 1.2, which was abolished in 1997. The school declined to comment on this matter.

A council spokesperson stated that hiring in schools is outside of council control: “Recruitment to schools is governed by the individual schools and not decided by the local authority. While we would of course encourage and hope schools would adopt the LLW, recruitment of staff is the responsibility of the Governing Body.”

However, the council does have ultimate control in the administration of human resource funds and sets the terms and conditions governing employment decisions.

The council originally pledged to become a London Living Wage employer in 1998, and the policy provides a central theme in Rahman’s speeches. Announcing the extension of the LLW to all outside contracts in December 2011, he stated: “We’re giving the London Living Wage top priority.”

Following Boris Johnson’s announcement on November 6 that the London Living Wage would be increased to £8.55, Rahman wrote in a blog post: “We’ve ensured all staff are being paid the London Living Wage and we’re pushing this out to as many contracts as legally possible… The Council has resolved that its lowest paid staff should not be paid less than the level of the London Living Wage.”

The pledge is also included in the council’s pay policy.

However, while the policy covers “all parts of workforce”, a loophole “excludes school based employees”.

One position, paid at £60 per day reads: “The Head Teacher wants 1st Class Graduates (ideally with a curriculum subject) to assist pupils in a number of different ways throughout the school year. From assisting with homework and in lessons, to assistance on applications for University and UCAS this will be an in depth [sic] role.”

Some of the roles involve participation in after-school clubs, which would increase the daily hours further.

Commenting on the ambiguity of day rates, a spokesperson for the Low Pay Commission said: “Contracts have to specify the number of hours and it’s down to the employer that he is paid those hours. If they’re not paid, the employee can go to HMRC and take action against the employer. Obviously there is some grey area when it comes to day rates.”

A spokesperson for the London region office of Unison, the union for school workers, explained the confusion that can exist around school contracts. “The law on how schools employ staff is complicated. The employer in law is usually the school governor. But if there is an agency involved, they will be the employer. But ultimately, the local authority administers the funds.”

Last week, Hackney council was forced to remove adverts from their site that promoted childcare positions at private nurseries paid paying less than the LLW.

Although Lewisham council has also pledged to pay the LLW, a handful of positions advertised at £250 per week fall short. Croydon council has made no such pledge.

Sarah Vero, Accreditation and Communcations officer at the Living Wage Foundation, said: “Tower Hamlets council are classed as an ‘in process’ employer. Because of the nature of having many employees, they will have to go through hundreds of contracts and bring them all up to scratch.”

“It’s been bubbling away for a while now and we hope that the LLW week will jump start councils and employers who have signed up. We’re pushing for the changes to come in over the next 6 months to 2 years.”

Read ELL’s wider investigation into the London Living Wage here.

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