End Low Pay – Report from the Frontline

By Keith Henderson (LE/107 Security Branch Secretary, Unite the Union)

Labour’s Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell used a recent article to condemn the scandal of poverty wages. Highlighting the debt and anguish suffered by those in low paid jobs. John calls for the launching of a campaign to end low pay.

Every union representing low paid workers should throw their weight behind such a campaign.

A recent development with the low pay employer ISS Facility Services highlights the chronic poverty being suffered by workers in low paid jobs and the hand to mouth existence they suffer.

My branch of Unite represents security staff. A significant number of them are employed by the private contracting firm ISS.

This firm also employs workers in cleaning and catering in office facilities contracts the length and breadth of the country. It operates in diverse services ranging from national health to finance.

Unison and the GMB union have members employed by ISS.

The firm recently altered its outdated payroll system transferring workers from weekly to fortnightly pay.

That means many thousands of workers will go a week without pay. This has caused incredible hardship for many having to live a hand to mouth existence because of the poverty caused by the low pay that they receive.

ISS nationally informed the unions of what they were doing, and this passes for consultation as far as they are concerned.

The unions were informed that bridging loans would be available for those suffering hardship and would have to be paid back over a period of time.

In the contracting, privatized culture that has developed in this country over the last two generations, and in the absence of national agreements, companies like ISS have been able to act this way treating the workforce and the unions with utter contempt.

Unions have to negotiate and operate on a contract by contract basis to attempt to alleviate the consequences of the actions of the company at a national level.

In some areas individual and collective grievances have been raised by ISS workers and their unions as the result of the incredible hardship that is being caused by forcing many of their employees to go a week without pay.

ISS workers who are members of my branch, on a particular contract, have raised such concerns.

We have argued that ISS should give interest free loans that should not have to be paid back until a worker leaves their employment.

Why should some of the worst paid employees in the country be made to suffer when a multi million pound company chooses to impose a new payroll system?

However a far more acute example of the consequences of the actions of this cynical employer have come to light in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, in South East London.

ISS has the contract for cleaning and catering services.

Following a grievance meeting it was reported that an ISS worker had stated that he had not eaten for three days – as a result of the fact that he simply had no money after providing for his two year old son.

Another employee reported that she was now on medication for depression as a result of having no money.

The GMB union is organising the ISS workers in Queen Elizabeth Hospital and have had to organise a foodbank to help workers, desperate as a result of the high handed imposition of this change by ISS.

In Hospitals in areas like Liverpool ISS workers organised by Unite are discussing the possibility of balloting for industrial action as well as collective grievances being raised by Unite members all over the country.

Co-ordinated action by the unions working together would be exactly the type of campaign needed to expose the horrific consequences of poverty pay. It would show up the hand to mouth existence that is real life for the victims of low pay.

This is why the sort of campaign that John is calling for should be fully supported.

The fast food campaign that he was involved in and referred to in his article was very effective.

The McDonald’s strikes at key locations and the lobbies of parliament were inspiring and highlighted the horrific problems in that industry

Every union representing low paid workers should get behind such a campaign

That workers are literally starving because they are so close to the breadline is totally unacceptable in the sixth richest country on the planet in the twenty first century.