“It’s been a long haul,” trilled an email which dropped into local Labour party members’ inboxes on Friday, “but the Royal Borough of Greenwich has just signed an agreement with the Living Wage Foundation to become an accredited living wage employer.”
“The news will become public soon but I wanted members to be the first to know.”
And of course members should be the first to know, because the email was sent by Matt Pennycook, wannabe MP for Greenwich & Woolwich – he wants those members to be voting for him when they decide who their Westminster candidate will be on 30 November. (More on that particular sideshow to come once nominations close on Monday.)
To be fair on Pennycook, the living wage – which in London, is £8.55/hour – is something he’s big on, as a member of the Living Wage Foundation’s advisory board. But his own council hasn’t exactly helped him – as he constantly tweeted and wrote about the issue, Greenwich lagged behind even Tory City Hall.
That said, though, some local Labour members are narked, to put it mildly, to see the Greenwich West councillor taking the credit for something they say they’ve been pressuring the Roberts regime about for years. Indeed, it wasn’t well-known outside the town hall that he’d been “given special responsibility to take the council’s accreditation process forward” – especially considering backbench councillors are barely trusted to even operate a hot tap.
But ambitious people do end up treading on toes from time to time. And any sign of non-parochial ambition from the snoozing Labour benches will put noses out of joint.
This isn’t, however, about intra-party squabbles – this is about people finally being nudged out of poverty pay, and being paid a decent wage for a decent day’s work. But how many people will benefit? According to council documents… nobody. Well, not immediately, anyway.
The LLW accreditation initially covers those directly employed by Greenwich. In particular, that covers services such as street-sweeping and refuse collection, which are contracted out in other boroughs. But according to a council document on the decision to go for the accreditation…
“As RBG is already committed to paying the LLW for all directly employed staff and agency staff there are no immediate financial implications to this decision.”
So, in effect, all this is about, so far, is the £400 it costs Greenwich to make use of the Living Wage logo. Why didn’t it go for it sooner, then?
Because it’s not that simple. Firstly, there’s agency staff, who are technically employed by Manpower – this is where the zero hours furore came from – who are said to be on LLW anyway. A new contract next year will have the LLW written into it.
Then it gets difficult. Many of the people carrying out work for Greenwich Council are employed by a firm called GS Plus. If you use the toilet in Woolwich Town Hall, you might bump into a GS Plus cleaner. It also deals with school catering. When the council gave its staff a day off for being named “council of the year”, GS Plus staff didn’t get one. GS Plus staff also don’t get the London Living Wage.
This is particularly awkward because GS Plus is owned by Greenwich Council, and has deputy leader Peter Brooks as its chair. Indeed, it was Brooks who signed off the decision to have Living Wage accreditation for the council – yet the company of which he is chair isn’t paying its staff that sum.
Greenwich’s Living Wage licence says it’ll “enter into negotiations” with GS Plus, with a target date of March 2015 to achieve a living wage for staff. This’ll be one to watch.
GS Plus’s sister firm, Greenwich Service Solutions, which also has Peter Brooks on its board, doesn’t even feature in the Living Wage agreement, despite also being owned by the council.
Next up is an even trickier case – Greenwich Leisure Limited, which recently put its foot in it by trying to rename Charlton Lido as “Royal Greenwich Lido”.
While it’s a co-operative (and recently launched a bond issue with ethical bank Triodos), it certainly isn’t a living wage employer…
Nowhere near living wage. But if Greenwich was serious about a living wage, why wasn’t this enshrined into last year’s contract?
Another London borough got a better deal out of GLL – Islington Council made sure staff at Ironmonger Row Baths, near Old Street, were paid the living wage by GLL (Islington’s other leisure contractor, Aquaterra, also pays LLW.) Hopefully it won’t take another 14 years for GLL to fall into line in its home borough. Perhaps GLL trustee Peter Brooks can do some work there.
There’s other issues, of course – will the council’s own employment agency, Greenwich Local Labour and Business, commit to not advertising sub-LLW jobs? There’s nothing in the agreement that says it will, while we know it still advertises “zero hours” jobs. It’s a knottier issue, but one that’s caused controversy in Hackney.
It’s easy to be cynical, and the announcement’s handily-timed for at least one election coming up. Let’s be clear, though – while it’s largely symbolic, Greenwich getting living wage status is certainly a good thing. But with those GS Plus and GLL deals to be looked at, Matt Pennycook’s “long haul” may have only just begun.