The Real Living Wage and the Cleaning Industry: From Invisible Labor to Key Workers – Blog

The Real Living Wage and the Cleaning Industry: From Invisible Labor to Key Workers

October 7, 2021
Article by Sébastien Bachelier

Sebastian Bachelier, program manager at the Living Wage Foundation and project manager at Recognized Service Providers, tells us that cleaning remains one of the lowest paid sectors in Europe. He encourages all businesses to do the right thing for their workforce and pay the living wage.

The Living Wage movement in the UK – celebrating its 20th anniversary this year with more than 8,000 employers – was built by cleaners. The first Living Wage Employers were banks, whose cleaners, although working in the same offices, lived in completely different worlds due to low wages. At the forefront of the movement since the beginning, it is time that we give them their due.

Since its inception, the Living Wage movement has put more than £1.53billion back into the pockets of more than 280,000 workers. Despite their fundamental role in our history, most cleaners are still underpaid; almost 75% earn below the actual living wage. The Real Living Wage (not to be confused with the UK government’s statutory National Living Wage) is a voluntary rate of pay calculated on the basis of the actual cost of living; currently at £10.85 per hour in London and £9.50 for the rest of the UK.

Earning below the actual living wage often leads to in-work poverty and can force workers to work multiple jobs just to make ends meet. Unfortunately, this impact has fallen disproportionately on women and racialized communities.

This is why paying the real living wage is the right thing to do. As well as being good for workers, it’s also good for business. Over time, we have documented the transformative capacity of the living wage. Seventy-five percent of accredited employers have a better reputation after accreditation, and 60% said they received higher quality applicants. At Sodexo UK – one of the largest employers in the service sector – where real living wages are paid on client contracts, retention rates have improved significantly, bolstering the business’s long-term resilience and reducing costs rotation.

For cleaners like Rukky at Clean For Good, the extra income has allowed her to spend more time with her family instead of having to take every available shift to make ends meet. The benefits of the real living wage are felt across industries, families, and society itself.

The pandemic has highlighted the essential role cleaners play in our society. Before the pandemic, they were called the “invisible workforce” because they operated outside the limelight. With hygiene and cleanliness brought to the forefront of our collective consciousness, cleaners have rightly been recognized as ‘key workers’. It therefore follows that their work must be fairly remunerated – receiving the real living wage.

Our Living Wage accreditations are designed to improve the quality of life of workers, making employment more secure and financially rewarding. Living Wage Accredited Employers must pay all directly employed staff and third party contracted staff the actual living wage.

We recognize, however, that many companies that provide staff on a contract basis are unable to become living wage employers without the support of their customers. That’s why we created the Recognized Service Provider Program, to support claimants on their journey to becoming living wage employers. Recognized Service Providers pay all directly employed staff, not tied to client contracts, the actual living wage and agree to provide an actual living wage offer, alongside a market rate offer, for each future quote/tender for contract work.

This ensures living wage is still an option in traditionally low-paying jobs and gives providers the ability to defend it, one contract at a time.

Paying the real living wage is an important first step towards a world free of working poverty, but there is still a long way to go if we are to get there. Working hours insecurity is currently experienced by 6.6 million UK workers, 56% of whom are paid below the real living wage.

In response to this, we have developed our Accreditation of life hours program: where, alongside actual living wage payments, organizations offer all direct and contract employees with third parties guaranteed working hours and decent notice periods for shifts – to be borne by employers who are already paying the real living wage. With these programs, we aim to create additional support for low-wage workers, to complement our core Living Wage accreditation.

Cleaning remains one of the lowest paid sectors on the continent. It is time for that to change. We encourage businesses across Europe to respect their workforce. It’s time to pay a real living wage.

• Sebastian Bachelier, Program Manager and Project Leader for Recognized Service Providers, Living Wage Foundation, will lead a session at the Cleaning Show titled “From Invisible Labor to Key Workers: Why Real Living Wages Matter More Than never”. Taking place on Tuesday, November 2 at 12:00 p.m. and joined by Charlie Mowat, Founder and CEO of The Clean Space, the session will explore the growth in demand for frontline workers in cleaning, catering and security, and how now could be the perfect it’s time to defend the true living wage. For more information on The Cleaning Show and to register, visit:

Michael A. Bynum