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Britain: Royal Cleaners Fight for Living Wage

May 5, 2011
View the Original Article

While the Great and Good were busy spending our money on the Royal Wedding, low-paid cleaners at Buckingham Palace were fighting to increase their meagre wages to something like a decent level. Sign the petition in their support.

Taxpayers provide £30 million ($47 million) a year to the Royal Family for the upkeep of the Royal Household. But there are people who dust and mop Buckingham Palace, the Palace Mews, Clarence House and St. James Palace for £6.45 an hour. That’s over the national minimum wage of £5.93 but well under the £7.85 an hour set for the London Living Wage., which even The Tory Mayor of London Boris Johnson considers to be the minimum needed to live in the capital. The cleaners in Parliament get this wage. Why should firms contracted by the Royal Family pay less?

Most of the cleaners are migrant workers, a very exploited and vulnerable section of the working class. They are employed by subcontractors KGB Holdings and Greenzone who are making a packet out of lucrative cleaning contracts in Buckingham Palace and other royal residences, while paying their workers derisory amounts.

The PCS union, which represents cleaning staff at royal residences, is demanding an end to this scandalous situation. Due to a ban on protests on the day of the wedding itself, members staged a demonstration outside the palace gates on the eve of the wedding, to raise awareness of their campaign and to win support from tourists and passers-by. Union organiser Lizzie Woods says: “It’s quite breathtaking, really, when you consider the cost of the Royal Wedding and what little we’re asking for. We’re talking about no more than 25 workers. KGB is worth 23 million pounds – they can afford to pay the increase.”

Union members waved placards outside the main gates to the palace chanting: "Fair pay for royal cleaners!" before being moved on by the police, but not before they got their message across to the public. Lizzie Woods chanted through a loudhailer: "Thirty million pounds of taxpayers’ money is paid to the royal family annually for the upkeep of the royal household. It is clear the London living wage is affordable. These people keep their opulent palaces clean and tidy. They just want to be paid a living wage.”

She added that the protest was just the start of the campaign: “We will escalate the campaign when US President Barack Obama visits and stays in Buckingham Palace in May. I don't need to illustrate the hypocrisy of the USA's first black president being serviced by black and migrant workers earning poverty pay.”

The protest was joined by John McDonnell, the left wing Labour MP, who placed the blame squarely at the door of the royal family. "It's a scandalous act of hypocrisy when millions are spent on the royal wedding and for the Queen not to pay the London living wage," he said.

The picket got a favourable reception from members of the public, who said it was a scandal that people working in the Palace should be forced to accept such low wages, in sharp contrast to the razzmatazz and luxury of the royal wedding. John is urging people to pressure their MPs to sign EDM 1696 on the issue and for the public to sign the online petition at www.pcs.org.uk/royalcleaners.

See youtube video of the picket “Royal Wedding: The dark side”