John Lewis cleaners ballot for strike over living wage

10:10 am - March 4th 2013

by Newswire    

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Cleaners at the John Lewis Partnership are to ballot for strike action at the flagship Oxford Street store. This is the first step in the revived campaign to win the Living Wage for all cleaners employed by John Lewis.

The Industrial Workers of Great Britain (IWGB) which represents the 33 cleaners at the store has served a formal ‘notice of dispute’ with sub-contractor Integrated Cleaning Management (ICM) who employs the outsourced cleaners

On Thursday 7th March John Lewis will announce it annual bonus for in-house staff. The company is expected to announce a 17% increase of its annual profits of £415 million in the year to January 2013; this follows bumper sales with John Lewis making £684.8 million in the Christmas period.

However, the cleaners at John Lewis who are excluded from the partnership scheme are denied any share of the company’s profits.

IWGB General Secretary Chris Ford says:

Like their snowman John Lewis has a heart of ice. The cleaners are second class citizens, good enough to clean the toilets but not to share in the profits they help make. We made an agreement with the sub-contractor ICM of a meaningful review with the aim to move toward the London Living Wage as the cleaning contract came up for renewal. Now they have amnesia and ignore our request for talks.

John McDonnell MP who has campaigned for justice for the cleaners says:

I went on the picket lines outside Schroders bank in the City and outside John Lewis, whose cleaners are also paid the minimum wage or, in some instances, just above. The cleaners were getting up at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning and travelling to work by bus because the tube was too expensive for them. The general expression that was used by the cleaners in these cases was, “We are treated like dirt.” There is now a new alliance being put together, in terms of trade unions supporting the London living wage campaign, because people cannot take it anymore.

A high profile union campaign last year saw the cleaners take strike action in July winning a 10% pay increase. But the cleaners still earn a mere £6.72 per-hour, the London living wage of £8.55 per-hour is a basic minimum to live on, which the employers could easily afford to pay.

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Reader comments

Depressing, isn’t it? John Lewis should be a model for employee ownership as a route to workers receiving a fair share of the fruits of their labour – a reminder to capitalists and socialists alike that there are meaningful alternatives to the concentration of the means of production, distribution and exchange either in the hands of an elite class of wealthy investors, or in the hands of the state.

Instead, well… “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

And the whole things seems so needless. If the cleaners are *earning* £6.72 an hour, what are John Lewis *paying* the subcontractor? Not much less than £8.55, surely. Bring them in-house.

If the cleaners believe they are underpaid then surely they will be able to get higher paid work elsewhere? Why the need to strike?

3. Luis Enrique

GO, I suppose it is depressing: people acting selfishly. If employee-owners have the right to share in the surplus produced by the firm, then they have an incentive to minimize the number of people they give a slice of the pie. When you suggest bringing the cleaners in house, would that make them JL partners? I don’t know, perhaps not. But if so, there’s your reason why they don’t. I wonder if JL delivery drivers, warehouse pickers and packers, security guards etc. are partners? I’m guessing not. Part of the problem is that the boundary between what should lie inside and outside a firm is not clear. Most people would agree that JL should be able to hire a courier or an electrician without making them JL partners, but what about window cleaners, security guards, IT consultants etc.

Fungus, the cleaners are not underpaid relative to other underpaid workers, they are underpaid in absolute terms and/or relative to better paid JL workers. You are aware of the idea that when there is a large pool of unemployed, employers can drive down wages in segments of the labour market where there is an excess supply of labour to the reservation wage, thereby “underpaying” the lot of them?

“the cleaners at John Lewis who are excluded from the partnership scheme” … “sub-contractor Integrated Cleaning Management (ICM) … employs the outsourced cleaners”

That says everything about the situation. The cleaners do not work for John Lewis, so obviously they aren’t entitled to any share. They are not excluded, they simply don’t work for John Lewis.

If you followed the argument, I could say that I’ve got a right to strike because I’m excluded from John Lewis’ partnership scheme. Even though I don’t work in any retail environment or for any company supplying John Lewis with goods or services.

There are plenty of John Lewis partnership staff who don’t make the living wage, even taking into account the bonus – this story is somewhat disingenuous.

They don’t earn a living wage. They have every right to strike, they are underpaid compared to other John Lewis employees as they are not allowed to share in the profit the company makes. Good Luck to them.

@3 Luis

“You are aware of the idea that when there is a large pool of unemployed, employers can drive down wages in segments of the labour market where there is an excess supply of labour to the reservation wage, thereby “underpaying” the lot of them?”

Luis, how can this be ‘underpaying them’? Who decides if someone is underpaid? If they are underpaid then surely they could get higher paid work elsewhere and their employer would then be forced to mpay them more if they wanted to keep them?

8. Luis Enrique


Well there’s more than one way to define underpaid. The way you are using the word means by definition you cannot call whole segments of the labour market underpaid, or talk about the relative share of the pie retained by labour or capital. The way I am using it does lack objective measure, but we can compare relative pay over time and place and still use the word in a meaningful sense. Although I admit badly paid might be a better phrase than unpaid, if we have some idea of a minimum acceptable level of income we may say people are underpaid relative to that.

9. Shatterface

Luis, how can this be ‘underpaying them’? Who decides if someone is underpaid? If they are underpaid then surely they could get higher paid work elsewhere and their employer would then be forced to mpay them more if they wanted to keep them?

I’ve never understood people who draw attention to their own stupidity like its a trump card.


Yes some people will be badly paid compared to others. But I believe it is up to the workers to do something about this.

In your previous post you pointed out that ’employers can drive down wages in segments of the labour market where there is an excess supply of labour’. Surely this implies there are to many employees in this segment of the market and for the benfit of society they should move to jobs where they are required. Pay differences are the natural way to get the workforce into the roles they are required.


If you don’t understand the arguments it is best not to comment as you just make yourself look silly.

11. Jeremy Burrows

Very sadly, there is little now laudable about the John Lewis Partnership : their in-house industrial democracy was dismantled a few years ago and replaced by the kind of talking shop (i.e. employee forum) which the law requires a company of that size to have anyway – there is nothing more. Interestingly, one of the arguments JL put forward about the contractor not paying London living wage is that, for them to do so, they would be paying at least 25% above the market rate for cleaners in Central London, and this would threaten the cleaning companies financial viability. It’s also worth noting (as has been touched on in some other comments) that many areas of the JLP – including the dot com division’s call centre staff – are outsourced too, not entitled to profit share or benefits. I could go on and on…

Emailed JL in July in support of Cleaners in July and was told the situation would be reviewed. It hasn’t been. I’ve shopped at Waitrose for well over 30 years and do so partly because of staff profit sharing scheme.
Maybe we could have a don’t shop at Waitrose or John Lewis campaign to support the cleaners? W’rose tie-ins with Shell, The Duchy and Pippa Middleton also seem out of step with their declared policies.

Good luck to them. I was a christmas temp and without us, their profits would have been down the pan. Not only did we not get any benefit from helping boost their profits, I was told I had to supply my own uniform because I was “just a temp”. We had to work harder than the perm staff and do the job just as good, if not better than the perm staff, some of who will get a 17% bonus for doing virtually nothing. Its about time JL supported their core contractors and greedy staff stopped getting bonuses

Those who are employed by John Lewis are partners and share in the bonus pool. Those who are do not. Newswire is guilty of a terminological inexactitude when she describes them as employed by John Lewis. They are, as she admits in the next paragraph employed by a contractor.
If the contractor paid a different wage to those working at John Lewis from other cleaners it would be breaking the law. So Newswire thinks that ICM can pay*all* its cleaners 27% more (which when you include NI Contributions means around 30% more on its wage bill) without going bust? For Pete’s sake! Profit margins aren’t anywhere near half that big in a sector that requires minimal capital investment – if they were I’d run a cleaning company in my spare time.

Luis E and Shatterface are the true face of modern economic liberalism. Love or hate them.
Your fucked those at the bottom.

I love the idea the Luis and Shatterface call themselves left of centre. Why ? Surely if anything defines you as a leftie is the support of the poor.
Honesty boys.
In fact please link me to any comment by Shatter or luis that is remotely left of centre.

P Diddy is a troll

” P Diddy is a troll”
Damn right John77 (Age or IQ)
Remember they will look after you in the care home but answer the questions.
Just a point but I have always admired JL, for the way they treat their workers. To be honest they get lots of good publicity for those reasons. The idea that they cannot hire their own cleaners and allow low paid unskilled workers a fair chance does rankle. But as our enlightened economic liberals say that’s the modern world. Although many might not shop at Waitrose because of their liberal guilt. JL are as bad as Tescos but much more expensive.

@ #18 P Diddy
If JLP employed the cleaners they would only be employed for a couple of hours per day. So they are better off being employed for more hours by ICM at a lower wage. The modern world forbids ICM to pay a higher wage to those of its workers cleaning John Lewis and Waitrose than Pounsaver or Tesco. This is result of equal pay legislation. So if you want to pay the cleaners at John Lewis £8.55/hour then you need to scrap equal pay legislation (or bankrupt their employer and put them all out of work).
Incidentally equal pay legislation was not down to “economic liberals”.

@ 19. john77
The cleaners are employed to work enough hours to get the job done. It would make no difference who employed them. Also, they can pay different wages. I work for another cleaning company and the amount paid varies with the place you work. This means some get over £7+ per hour, whilst some get less than that. I know a few companies that are like that.
The question people have to ask is at what point does it become ethical to treat core contractors the same as staff and to what extent. I am employed by a cleaning company and clean for an oil company. Although I am not directly employed by the oil company, I get a lot of the benefits staff get, such as a free lunch and discounts on events. JL could do it so that contractors working over a set amount of hours can get some of the benefits, such as discounts.

@ #20 David
All John Lewis Stores are cleaned while they are closed, not while customers are shopping. So JLP cannot employ cleaners during shopping hours; the distance between stores is, in most cases, too great for one set of cleaners to travel from Edinburgh to Glasgow or Norwich to Ipswich to clean another JLP store after finishing the first – much more sensible to clean something else in the same town. So just how many hours *can* a cleaner work for JLP?
It is a breach of equal pay regulation for your firm to discriminate between two sets of workers by paying them different rates for doing identical work or work deemed to be of equal value.

@ 21. john77
If you actually worked in a JL store, you would know that the cleaners do work when the store is open. Granted they are not always out on the main shopping floor, but they are actually still there. I knew some of the cleaners that were working just as many, and in some cases more hours than JL staff. The distance between stores has got nothing to do with it. Saying that it has got something to do with it is a bit like saying how can someone work part time for John Lewis if they can’t get to other stores.

If they all worked for JL, they would all get the same amount, assuming JL do that. Anyone that keeps up to date with ‘equal pay’ issues, knows it is rarely equal, ie it is normally adjusted based on your gender, your age and your experience. What they need to do is look at how much a sales assistant gets in London compare to their other stores, and then they can talk about ‘equal pay’ having an impact.

There is nothing stopping JL giving their cleaners some of the benefits, their staff are just too greedy to back the idea and would rather their cleaners struggled to get by so they can get more money in their pockets

“If JLP employed the cleaners they would only be employed for a couple of hours per day”
So workers cannot multi task.
When I was in the services, we cleaned but not all the time.Well !
Also didn’t JL use to employ cleaners.

@ 23. P. Diddy
Yes they were. John Lewis decided to outsource them about 20 years ago, along with the caterers in order to save money.

I meant to say that when cleaners went on strike in the Oxford Street store last year, they did get slightly better money, but it was only that one store. Cleaners elsewhere, were not given a rise, effectively meaning that there is no equal pay system for cleaners at JL stores

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