On Friday this week, campaigners will meet officials from Goldsmiths, University of London to confirm that the college is to become one of six universities in London to back a living wage for cleaners of £7.60 per hour.
The campaign, which has been supported by student unions and the community organisation London Citizens, demands that all cleaners in universities in the capital receive a living wage of £7.60 per hour, rather than the current minimum wage of £5.80. The rate for the living wage is set annually by the Greater London Assembly.
The living wage has already been adopted by the London School of Economics, Birkbeck, the School of Oriental and African Studies, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Queen Mary. Goldsmiths says it will introduce the higher rate wage when it renews its cleaning contract.
Living wage campaigners say that low pay condemns workers to a grinding life of poverty, many having to do two or three jobs, with limited time to see their own families. A cleaner at Goldsmiths, who did not want to be named, admitted that she was not able to support her family on her current pay and had to take on other domestic jobs during the day. She welcomed the possibility of a pay rise, calling it : “Good, very good – let’s see if it happens”.
Sebastien Chapleau from London Citizens, which has been demanding a living wage since 2001, describes the campaign as:
“asking large employers in London to pay their low-waged staff – mainly cleaning, catering, and security staff – a wage that is good enough for them to live a decent life…Since 2001, we have managed to generate around £40 million, thus lifting out around 10,000 families out of working poverty.”
He welcomed the move by Goldsmiths to introduce the living wage, and added:
“We are looking forward to our meeting with senior staff to discuss its implementation, but also how to champion them for addressing this issue. We are hoping that Goldsmiths will work with us to champion the living wage across the higher education sector, as there are some universities and colleges across the capital not paying the living wage yet.”
University College London, for example, says it has “no plans” to adopt the living wage. At UCL, students, staff and supporters have been involved in a lively campaign to support cleaners and force the university administration to change its position. Students there complain that a cleaner on the minimum wage of £5.80, working a 40-hour week, 52 weeks a year, would have to work more than 33 years to earn the annual pay package of the university’s provost.