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September 14, 2012 / politicsbitesize

Respect the workers

The Golden Rule of treating others as you would like to be treated yourself is a strong ethical starting point for anything you do in life. If all people around the world adhered to this rule then life would run pretty smoothly, yet the world does not run smoothly and people are treated badly and exploited on a daily basis. Is this because we each have a different idea of what it means to treat people kindly, or does it mean that the world is filled with masochists who would like to be treated badly wherever possible and so treat others accordingly?

Perhaps the answer is yes to both questions! Or maybe the answer is that the exploitation of people distinct from oneself is perpetuated, in a Capitalist society, by the inability to perceive the ‘other’ as a person in his or her own right. In other words, those in charge (the CEOs of large companies) don’t relate to those who labour for them (the workers) in any real sense. It is the age-old class-war – those who work aren’t as ‘important’ as those who control the source of employment. But with each passing day/month/year the majority of working people are standing up and saying ‘we are as important’ and, in actual fact, ‘we are more important’. After all, how well would a company run if there were no workers there to ensure that the products and services were completed?

On Monday 10th September 2012, an open meeting in the Westminster Quakers House was held between the John Lewis partners and their cleaners. The reason for the meeting was to decide on the wages of some 3,000 cleaners who work in John Lewis stores but who are outsourced. Over two years ago, London Citizens (part of Citizens UK) approached the usually ethical partnership about the possibility of introducing a living wage. No resolution was forthcoming and so, for the first time in the company’s history, John Lewis faced strike action. On Friday 13th of July 2012 cleaners working in the flagship store on Oxford Street went on strike to demand an increase in their wages from the minimum wage of £6.08 per hour to a London living wage of £8.30 per hour.

According to the Living Wage Foundation employers can choose whether to pay their staff a living wage or not. It is calculated according to the cost of living in the UK and is set independently by the Centre for Research in Social Policy (UK) and the Greater London Authority (London). The London Living Wage is currently £8.30 per hour and the UK Living Wage for outside of London is currently £7.20 per hour; the rates are calculated annually.

Since its inception in 2001, the Living Wage Foundation has encouraged over 140 companies in many sectors to adopt the living wage and, as a result, over 15,000 families have been taken out of poverty. If John Lewis was to decide to give their cleaners a living wage it would join the growing number of employers who are providing a much needed lifeline to many hard-working men and women.

The living wage is an idea that is supported across all parties in the UK and last week, at the Policy Network think-tank conference, Ed Miliband repeated his support for such a scheme. It is a simple idea, that if you respect the people who work hard for you, you might find they will respect you in return. Or, to put it another way, employers should lead by example. If all employers treated all their workers with dignity and respect, perhaps the global exploitation of people could stop and a sense of balance could be restored to the system.


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