The official voice of  The Cleaning Show

A living wage

Published 17th November, 2022 by Stan Atkins

A living wage

I vividly remember reading in the Radio Times in 1991 that a late film was a zombie movie about a farmer who evoked zombies to work for him because he wouldn’t pay the living wage.

Whether this was tongue in cheek or not, it made me think of one of the first recorded incidents of workers fighting for a living wage. This, unsurprisingly, was in the agricultural sector and as many of you will be aware, the Agrarian Revolution came before the Industrial Revolution.

Without the structure of a Trade Union, machine breaking was one of the only mechanisms workers could use to increase pressure on employers to increase wages - hence Luddites! The Luddites also used other guerrilla-type tactics - this was not, therefore, a Trade Union movement. Lord Byron denounced what he considered to be the plight of the working classes and ‘the government’s inane policies and ruthless repression’ in the House of Lords on 27 February 1812.

In my opinion the earliest concerted effort to ensure a living wage was in 1833 when six men from Tolpuddle in Dorset founded the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers to protest the lowering of agricultural wages. These Tolpuddle labourers refused to work for less than 10 shillings a week, although by this time wages had been reduced to seven shillings a week and were due to be further reduced to six shillings a week. A Friendly Society was formed, and they operated as a Trade Specific Benefit Society. They swore an oath to support each other which was to become their undoing as in 1834 they were tried under the Unlawful Oaths Act of 1797 which prohibited the swearing of secret oaths. They were arrested and were found guilty and transported to Australia. They were sentenced to seven years penal transportation. They were eventually pardoned on condition of good conduct in March 1836.

On their return, what could be classed as a crowd funding exercise bought them all a piece of land to farm near Greensted in Essex. Currently the National Living Wage (Government minimum wage for over 23s) is £8.91 per hour which equates to approximately £18,500 a year for a 40-hour week. The Living Wage Foundation recommends a Real Living Wage of £9.50 per hour (£10.85 in London) for all people 18 and older, which equates to just over £19,700 (£22,500 in London) per annum. Even the Real Living Wage is not particularly generous and I, for one, have seen ads for domestic cleaners of £10.00 or £11.00 per hour, cash.

So many things that we believe are new and innovative - like crowd funding and a living wage - are not. They are ongoing social issues. In most cases contract cleaning companies are happy to pay the living wage but unfortunately the same cannot be said of all clients. This is illustrated by the hourly rate for cleaning operatives compared to domestic cleaners. The other two factors that can affect wage rates are company overheads and supply and demand - as the supply of cleaning operatives diminishes, rates will inevitably increase. Also, the industry has an image problem which precludes people even applying for vacancies.

About the contributor

Stan Atkins

Stan Atkins



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