39,000 Questions to Ask: how the minimum wage is widely ignored

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Meet Georgina

A few months ago, we won a new contract to clean an office building.  The lady who had been working for the previous cleaning company was entitled (via TUPE) to transfer to work for us, and she did so. Let’s call her ‘Georgina’ (not her real name).

We discovered that her previous employer had been paying her £3 per hour, for some years. They also owed her £4,000 in unpaid wages. They regularly withheld her monthly wages in an effort to tie her to their company (“if you leave, you’ll never get paid”). She lived in debt and couldn’t even afford a mobile phone.

The good news? The employer switched their cleaning contract to Clean for Good, and so now Georgina earns a Living Wage (she had a 350% pay rise) and is responsibly employed.  She is getting her life back on track.

The bad news? Georgina’s story is by no means unusual.

Less than Minimum?

In the last six months alone some 1 in 8 of the cleaners we recruited at Clean for Good were being paid less than the legal Minimum Wage in their previous job before working for us. (That is 13% of our recruits from January – June 2019).

In our experience, underpayment and illegality are rife within the cleaning sector.

Our experience is supported by the most recent statistics published by the Low Pay Commission which show that this is a national problem. 

In their April 2019 report, the Low Pay Commission highlighted that the cleaning sector is still characterised by extensive low pay.  They found that nearly 240,000 cleaners in the UK earn the Minimum Wage. That is a large proportion of the UK’s cleaning workforce. In London, it is not possible to live on this wage, it is too low - it is a poverty wage.

The Low Pay Commission also reported that in 2018, some 39,000 cleaners in the UK were entitled to the Minimum Wage but were being paid less than this. In other words, nearly 1 in 5 of all cleaners on the Minimum Wage weren’t even getting paid that much.  

The cleaning sector is a place of significant illegal underpayment. And according to the Low Pay Commission, the problem is currently getting worse, year on year, not better. HMRC are responsible for enforcement, but are very under resourced.

Hidden in plain sight

These cleaners are not invisible. Every single one of them works in a building used by other people. They live and work under our very noses.

Every employer who outsources a service has a responsibility to ask questions of their service provider and ensure that they are trustworthy. It is not in any employer’s interests to find one of their own suppliers regularly breaking the law within their own premises.

And trustworthy cleaning companies do exist.

Doing business differently

What makes Clean for Good a different kind of cleaning company?

One of the many things that makes us different, is that from ‘day one’ we have sought to establish a reputation for being trustworthy in how we employ our cleaners.

That is why we are one of the few cleaning companies in London which is a fully accredited Living Wage Employer. 

We are also transparent with our customers about what we pay our cleaners and their terms and conditions – because we are proud of them.

If you are in any doubt as to what your cleaners are getting paid, you are fully entitled to ask. If every employer asked what their cleaners are earning, there probably wouldn’t be 39,000 cleaners earning less than the legal Minimum Wage.

We continue to work for the day when every cleaner in the UK earns not just the Minimum Wage, but the Living Wage, and has all of their employment rights respected.  Join the movement for change.

Clean for Good is an ethical cleaning company for London, cleaning offices and workspaces across the city. It is a Living Wage Employer, it directly employs its cleaners and it trains and manage its cleaners professionally. Founded in a church in the City of London, it launched in 2017 and continues to grow.

For more information and to get a free quote for cleaning your offices, go to www.cleanforgood.co.uk  

Follow us at @clean4good.

Tim Thorlby is the Managing Director of Clean for Good. You can find him at @TimThorlby.