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Low wage workforce…  July 14, 2017

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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This is well worth a read, a continuing series on low-wage Britain which – naturally, has implications for low-wage Ireland too. In some ways it’s not just the low wages but all that comes with it. For example:

Last year, Serco won a £600m facilities management contract for Barts health NHS trust. Its first act at the trust’s Royal London hospital? To take away cleaners’ paid 15-minute breaks. “When we were about to finish our shift at 3pm, they handed us letters,” Abigail, a cleaner and strike organiser tells me. The next day, she and almost 150 of her fellow cleaners walked to the fifth-floor canteen to tell their managers they wouldn’t restart work until they had their breaks. After two days, Serco restored their paid breaks. Serco told me that it wasn’t aware the cleaners had paid breaks, and that any change was made by a local manager for which it later apologised.

There’s a basic lack of respect in regard to those workers on the part of an employer which is so clearly indifferent to the rights and needs of its employers. And this is telling too:

The breaks matter – and not just because it sets a company apart from a sweatshop or workhouse. Cleaning a hospital is hard physical labour. Serco claims that it isn’t increasing the workload for cleaners – on the contrary, it no longer requires them to serve patient’s meals. But talk to staff on the ground and they say it’s now standard for workers to do the job previously done by two or three people. In one shift, Abigail has to clean the space of 26 patients. That’s 10 different rooms. She says four people used to be responsible for that amount of work. Now it’s two. “They work you so hard,” she says. “It impacts your health.”

That point about cleaning a hospital being hard physical labour is crucial. These are demanding jobs. And Frances Ryan, who wrote the piece notes the following:

It is now commonplace for cleaning and other maintenance work to be outsourced by the public sector. While contracts are sold off in the name of “efficiency” or “cost cutting”, the most modest worker demands – holidays, sick pay, safe conditions, a decent wage – are deemed a price too high to pay.

She notes that they’re unionising and that is excellent news. For those workers who are in some of the most precarious jobs the only way to apply leverage is to organise immediately. And there’s a lesson there for all workers.

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