(July 2011) In 2010 over 160 cleaners in Islington, north London, became direct employees of the local council again, on much better pay and conditions.
The decision came after the council agreed to a commitment to ensure that everybody working for the council is paid at least the London Living Wage.
This wage, higher than the national minimum wage, is fixed by the Greater London Authority each year. It has no legal basis, but exists as the result of many years of strong campaigns by local community groups and trade unions.
The private Kier Group had held the contract for cleaning the council’s offices and other buildings for 10 years, but they were paying them much less than the London Living Wage. When the contract expired in October 2010, the council decided to re-employ the cleaners directly.
The transfer back to an in-house service has seen the cleaners’ pay rise significantly to the London Living Wage level of £8.30 an hour, with longer holidays, better sick pay entitlement, and a better pension scheme. They have also become permanent employees - under private management many of the cleaning staff were 'temps' - without contracts or the right to sick leave. They also benefit from the feeling of being “part of a team” – and the council and the cleaners both agree that this makes them more productive and efficient as well.
There has been no increase in council spending as a result of this decision. In fact, the in-house service actually costs the council less, because it no longer pays for the management fees and profits of the private contractor. The savings from this are so great that it can improve the cleaners pay and conditions and still save money.
Deputy Council Leader Richard Greening says: "The council is taking a small but important step in making Islington a fairer borough by ensuring that the staff who clean council buildings are paid properly. In return, we as a council get a better motivated workforce, increased productivity and commitment.”
Contracts for other council services in Islington are being reviewed as they become due for renewal. The approach is “non-ideological” – it will not begin with the assumption that “private is always cheaper”. But the review will be subject to the council’s commitment to increase wages to the London Living Wage level.
The council has also set up a ‘Fairness Commission’, involving academics, representatives from local government and health services, trade unionists, community and campaigning groups and businesses, to identify ways of increasing equality in the district. It has held seven well-attended public meetings and identified a series of policies that can make the council a better place.