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London Citizens Take Living Wage Campaign to Oxford Street Stores
Citizens UK

March 22, 2010
View the Original Article

More than 200 people drawn from the capital’s largest civic alliance called on Oxford Street department stores Saturday to pay the hourly wage described by London’s mayor as “the basic pay rate” for the city.

The London Living Wage (LLW) is a London-weighted basic wage which takes into account the higher costs of living in the capital. Since it began campaigning for the LLW in 2001, London Citizens has persuaded banks, hospitals, universities and shopping centres to pay it. Since 2004, the LLW rate has been set by City Hall – currently £7.60 as opposed to the national minimum wage (NMW) of £5.80.

The “action” coincided with research by London Citizens showing that tens of thousands of London families are in poverty because of the low pay rates among cleaning and catering staff.

Interviews with shop assistants, cleaners and catering staff working in retail have uncovered painful stories of hardworking Londoners paid well below the Mayor of London’s Living Wage of £7.60 per hour.

Even in luxury stores, contracted cleaners are paid the National Minimum Wage of £5.80. The starting wage for shop assistants is £6.65 in John Lewis, £6.67 in Clarks, and £6.15 in GAP.

A shop assistant at a major shoe store said: “it is not possible to survive on this money. I have to do extra jobs at the weekend to pay bills. This is not about luxuries when you earn less than £1000 a month.”

A contracted cleaner in an Oxford Street department store (who wishes to remain anonymous) said:

“I earn £5.80 per hour and work 6 days a week, sometimes 12 hours per day and that gives me around £1000. With a very tight budget I commute on 2 sometimes 3 buses for 2 hours per day. Leave the house when it’s dark and come back home when it’s dark. I hardly see my family and wonder where is my life gone? It slips through my fingers and it frightens me to think that I will wake up one day and won’t remember anything but the toilets that I clean… Sometimes, we feel like rats who are in hiding, do our job, not speak to anyone, don’t get asked any questions or how my day was. Yet, we always make sure the place looks spotless and fresh. We sometimes hear that we don’t smile, we don’t present the right image of the company. But how can we smile when we work so much and so hard and still live in misery?”

As of June 2009, a total of 366,262 people were employed in retail in London, 9.2 % of the capital’s workforce. While average gross weekly earnings in retail in London are £331, above the Living Wage, London Citizens estimate that tens of thousands of these are currently in working poverty.

London Citizens have already secured meetings with Directors at John Lewis and Marks and Spencers to discuss them becoming the champions for the Living Wage in the retail sector.

One of the organisation’s leaders, Gillian Howarth from St Francis of Assisi Catholic parish in, Holland Park, a member of London Citizens, said:

“As a regular shopper in Oxford Street I am shocked that even the most reputable shops like John Lewis and Marks and Spencers are paying poverty wages to their cleaning staff. As a member of my church I understand the cost of low pay on families and communities. As a member of London Citizens I am committed to see the London Living Wage become the new standard for the retail sector.”