The Labour-run council was elected in 2014 on a promise to pay all its staff fairly. Yet some of the council’s least well-paid workers are only catching up now, and as KEN LEE reports, the Town Hall’s job brokerage service is openly advertising jobs that pay well below the London Living Wage
Those who remember Tony Newman’s firm commitment in Labour’s local election manifesto in 2014 to ensure that all those working for the council – whether staff, suppliers or contractors – should be paid a decent wage might have been a tad surprised by an announcement put out from Fisher’s Folly just last week.
“Apprentices working at Croydon Council are now being paid the London Living Wage, as the authority continues to invest in the borough and the people living within it,” was what was put out by the Goebbels Institute for Truth and Accountability (what was once known as the Croydon Council press office).
“Following a pay review, all apprentices will now be paid at least £10.55 an hour – with the pay increase being backdated to 1 April of this year,” they said.
Some of the apprentices, or those who have worked through their apprenticeships with the council, might wonder why the pay rise is not back-dated to May 2014.
Because after five years in charge of the Town Hall, Newman and his numpties who think they are running the council are only now just getting around to implementing one of the most significant policy pledges made in their manifesto-before-last.
Last week’s press release continued: “This increase means all apprentices employed by the council will be paid at least an annual salary of £19,750, enabling more of the borough’s residents to be financially independent.”
Which, of course, also means that before last week, a cohort of eager young Croydon residents will have been paid less than £19,750, in some cases considerably less, even though they are working for a Labour local authority which five years ago said it would pay the London Living Wage.
The London Living Wage is a pay standard set for the capital which seeks to recognise the higher costs associated with living in this city. It is overseen and championed by the Living Wage Foundation. In 2014, Newman got Croydon Council to sign up to the LLW in a flurry of virtue-signalling publicity. So for five years, Croydon under council leader Newman has been breaking its pledge.
The “national living wage” is a rebrand of the National Minimum Wage, and is £8.21 per hour (as of April 2019) across the whole country. It is a statutory minimum and all employers have to pay it to employees over 25 years of age.
The Real Living Wage, on the other hand, is independently calculated, voluntary and based on the cost of living. The Real Living Wage has different rates for London and the rest of the country. The London Living Wage rate is £1.55 per hour more than the £9.00 per hour rate set for the rest of Britain.
According to figures from the Trust for London, 21.5 per cent of Croydon residents live below the poverty line, which is higher than the national average of 20 per cent. The Trust says that 24 per cent, nearly 1 in 4, employees in Croydon are low-paid, which is higher than the London average of 22 per cent.
By not paying their own apprentices the London Living Wage, Newman’s Labour council has been slow to address some of that working poverty in their midst. In this case, it was in an area over which they actually have some direct control.
In 2014’s Croydon Labour manifesto, Newman and his numpties said, “Croydon needs a skilled and knowledgeable workforce, and a workforce that is paid fairly. We will work with Jobcentreplus, employers and our educational partners to ensure that our people have the right skills for the right job while ensuring they are paid justly for their work.” Those are our italics.
“We shall ensure that all new council contracts will pay the London living wage and we will work to make Croydon a living wage borough.”
Except, it now transpires, when it came to paying the council’s own apprentices.
It is not the first time that Croydon Council has missed a gold-plated opportunity to help to transform wages and working conditions for some of the worst-paid workers in the borough.
In 2015, Jo “We’re Not Stupid” Negrini, the council’s chief executive (now paid £220,000 per year – or 11 times the London Living Wage), pushed through a £3million council loan for a private business, Boxpark, to set up in disused shipping containers next door to East Croydon Station.
Boozepark has since received grants from the council amounting to almost £500,000, plus generous and regular bookings for Town Hall events.
Yet no one at the council, not even “We’re Not Stupid” Negrini, bothered to do any due diligence over the terms of the council loan to Boxpark to ensure that traders based in the council-invested venue would be paid the London Living Wage.
Only after an Inside Croydon investigation did Boxpark itself – as the landlords of the venue – pay lip service to becoming a living wage employer. The hospitality sector is notorious for its long hours and low rates of pay. The food and drink operators based in Boxpark, meanwhile, have never had to comply with any council policy to compel them to pay their staff – cooks, bar workers and waiting staff – the London Living Wage.
Last week’s announcement from the council that they are belatedly going to do the right thing by their staff comes as the Town Hall is pushing training and apprenticeship opportunities, offering to meet employers’ apprentices’ training costs through the council’s free job brokerage service, the oxymoronic Croydon Works.
Croydon Works’ bold and ambitious target is to fill 100 apprenticeship places in 100 days. This in a borough with a population of nearing 350,000.
The Croydon Works website today has only five apprenticeship vacancies listed – just at a time when thousands of 16- and 18-year-olds are finishing their GCSEs and A levels and maybe contemplating embarking on their first steps in their working life.
Croydon Works says that it offers “Access to vacancies across a vast number of organisations in Croydon and surrounding areas” (our emphasis). It is hard to confirm that claim from a cursory examination of the council-run website, which has links to barely a handful of employers.
Indeed, given the council’s firm commitment to paying the London Living Wage’s £10.55 per hour rate, some might be surprised that the Croydon Works website is littered with job ads for employers who are offering considerably less than that rate of pay, and very often for only part-time jobs.
There’s an opening for a barista in Battersea offering just £8.41 per hour for up to 24 hours per week (which works out at a little more than £10,000 per year), or a waitress/waiter position for £8.50 for fewer weekly hours.
G4S, the outsourcing “experts”, are offering £9.41 per hour for a hospital porter (about £17,000 per year). That G4S are doing this on the cheap, at the expense of whoever gets hired, is shown on another page of the Croydon Works site, where hospital porter jobs recruited directly by the NHS at St George’s in Tooting are offered a salary of £23,000
Should a website run by a Labour council, one which claims to support the LLW, be promoting blatant attempts to exploit workers?
Councillor Newman, the one-time organ player in a technopop band, meanwhile, is always available to collect freebie festival tickets and make gala dinner appearances, although he never has to demonstrate that he works even 35 hours a week at the Town Hall.
A year before the council’s apprentices got their pay review, Newman demonstrated where his priorities lie. He sorted out a Town Hall pay rise for himself and his top numpties. Newman now receives a very comradely £55,516 per year in council allowances – or nearly three times the London Living Wage.
Trebles all-round, quite literally.
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