‘Exploitation ends now’ cleaners tell university

Cleaners working at the University of South Wales today launch a campaign to tell their employer they deserve to be paid the ‘real’ Living Wage Foundation rate of £8.45 per hour. The cleaning staff are organised by UNISON and work at four sites on University of South Wales campuses in Newport, Treforest, Merthyr Tydfil and the Atrium in Cardiff. They are employed by KGB Cleaning Services and earn £7.20 per hour, which they say means they are forced to live in poverty despite working as hard as they can. They are one of the only groups of workers at the University who do not benefit from the Living Wage. Some of KGB’s cleaners have seen only one pay rise – of just four pence an hour – in nine years of employment.

The trade union has promised a colourful presence of placards as cleaners gather at rallies for a mass leaflet of the campus and to collect signatures for a petition. Events are scheduled for Newport City Campus today (Tuesday 6 December) at 10am; Atrium City Campus tomorrow (Wednesday 7 December) at 8am and Treforrest on Thursday (8 December) at 8am. Assembly Members have been invited to join the rallies.

UNISON cleaners are hoping to galvanise support from students, lecturers and the public to shame KGB into conceding £8.45. The trade union says the University is hypocritical for boasting it is a Living Wage employer whilst the very people who keep it clean struggle in poverty. Had the university not outsourced cleaning work, those staff would today benefit from decent wages. KGB has a multi-million pound turnover and also the university has the money to ensure any company can pay the cleaners properly.

Cleaners have told UNISON that they are the “unseen heroes”, ensuring the campus is pristine in their early morning shifts and finishing before students and staff arrive. They have told UNISON they are exploited and are “treated like dirt”. “KGB has brought me to a low point”, said one. They feel as though they “are just about living”, unable to go out socially and constantly worried about spending and bills to pay. They are ashamed they must rely on the financial support of adult children or partners to get by. Christmas time brings increased anxiety when “grandkids only get what I can give them and not what they deserve.”

The unfairness of their treatment and life on £7.20 per hour has united the cleaners. One said,

“I understand someone struggling to get by if they haven’t got a job but if you have to get up before 5am to work hard every day, there has to be some reward.”

They have complained that there is no job satisfaction and a terrible atmosphere created by KGB, which does not even know cleaners’ names and “doesn’t care about its staff, only the money to be made.”

Despite being so little valued and often exhausted from the physical work, where scale of task feels like “cleaning up after a four year old’s party,” cleaners know how crucial they are to the university, “we are the bottom rung of the ladder but the whole thing would collapse without us.”

The cleaners have drawn inspiration from the successful push for a Living Wage at IKEA, where the managing director last week said paying staff £8.45 per hour has been crucial to improving the business.

UNISON has also criticised KGB’s practice of not listing the amount of hours worked on staff pay slips. Workers are told only the total sum, making it more difficult to check if they are being paid correctly.

KGB’s contract is up for renewal next year.

Petition link: https://www.change.org/p/real-living-wage-for-usw-cleaners-now