Lesley Ciarula Taylor
“These people keep their opulent palaces clean and tidy. They just want to be paid a living wage,” public service union organizer Lizzie Woods told the Star on Thursday.
“It’s quite breathtaking, really, when you consider the cost of the Royal Wedding and what little we’re asking for,” said Woods. “We’re talking about no more than 25 workers.”
The 25 mostly immigrant workers who dust and mop Buckingham Palace, the palace mews, Clarence House and St. James Palace get paid £6.45 ($10.11) an hour. That’s over the national minimum wage of £5.93 ($9.29) but well under the £7.85 ($12.31) an hour set for the London Living Wage.
The LLW, which is voluntary but has the weight of the Greater London Authority and Mayor Boris Johnson behind it, recognizes that London is an expensive place to live.
Parliamentary estate cleaners, who keep the Houses of Parliament and its various buildings sparkling, won the London Living Wage after a campaign.
Woods, whose Public and Commercial Services Union represents the cleaners, started campaigning in February 2010, to improve pay and working conditions.
On Thursday, the union launched a petition online.
“Yes, of course, the Royal Wedding is a pressure point,” Woods said. “When you think of the millions being spent, we’re not asking for much. The Royal Family can certainly afford it.”
Security alone for the wedding of Kate Middleton and Prince William next Friday is estimated to cost a minimum of $30 million.
The Royal Household employs 1,200 staff, 450 of them paid by taxpayers, who range from the Private Secretary’s office to art curators to cooks, sommeliers, gilders and upholsterers.
But not cleaners. The general cleaning staff at those four palaces is contracted out to KBG Cleaning and Support Services Ltd. and Greenzone Cleaning and Support Services Ltd.
KGB declined to comment.
In the last negotiations, said Woods, “ultimately and sadly, they wouldn’t agree to pay our members the London Living Wage.”
“We’re obviously concerned to make sure they’re paid the minimum wage or above,” Marnie Gafney, a Buckingham Palace spokeswoman, told the Star.
The palace wants to ensure it provides “fair wages and proper working conditions” for the cleaners, but the contractors “are responsible for what they pay their staff.”
Some services are contracted out, she explained, because “we want to get best value for money.”
In Woods’s view, the government and the Royal Household have a responsibility to make sure the cleaning contract specifies a London Living Wage.
The cleaners’ petition appeals to Secretary of State for Culture Jeremy Hunt to intercede.
“The Government provides around £15 million ($23.5 million) a year to help pay for the running costs and upkeep of the Royal Palaces, but decisions on how this money is allocated are a matter for the Palace authorities,” ministry spokesman Toby Sargent told the Star.
Taxpayers in total provide £30 million ($47 million) a year to the Royal Family.