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Minimum wage Tuesday, 30 March, 1999, 17:47 GMT 18:47 UK
Small profit in cleaning up
The national minimum wage should boost the pay of an estimated 2m workers. Among them will be tens of thousands of cleaners, many of which currently earn as little as 1 per hour. BBC New Online gains the reaction to the government's new pay meausures from two cleaners in London.

Minimum wage
On one of countries biggest council housing estates in London, John and Steve begin their day's cleaning work at the crack of dawn.

As the supervisor, John is on 4.40 an hour - above the minimum wage.

Steve's wage has just gone up to from 3 per hour to 3.60 to take account of the new measures. But, he says, the increase is hardly tangible.

"I do not think it is enough but that is what our pay rise amounts to," he says.

Holidays are out of reach
"We used to get a bonus of 35p but that has now been removed. At the end of the day I will only take home an extra 10p - it's nothing."

Steve works 96 hours over a two-week period and with the minimum wage will take home 280 after tax for that period.

A car or telephone are out of the question. It is 25 years since he had a holiday and working seven days a week, 365 days a year, he is unlikely to have another one soon.

Fighting on

Despite being called cleaners, Steve and his colleagues are, in practice, caretakers for the whole estate.

"We are Jacks of all trades and masters of none," says John. "We clean bins, manage the rubbish chutes, maintain the staircases, change lights bulbs and clean up after the dustmen."

John, as supervisor, has fought hard to get his workers a rise. But is still dissatisfied by the 3.60 level that has been set.

"I am disgusted that in 1999 they are offering this an hour. I have to have my staff in here seven days a week but they are still struggling. I am one of the lucky ones as I am on more but my wife still has to go to work. I do not know how they do it," he says.

Steve often does some of the binmen's job too
The privatised company that employs them says it has had to lay off staff to fund the wage rises.

But the workers blame the council as much as the private company. They do not believe there should be a conflict between raising pay and keeping jobs.

"Companies will always take the lower tender but the lowest is not always the best. So corners are going to be cut," says Steve.

For Steve and John the national minimum wage seems, at least initially, to have made their jobs more stressful through concerns over job security.

Nonetheless, they believe that earning a decent wage is worth the struggle.

"I am a Labour voter who is at this moment ashamed to call himself a shop steward," says John. "But I will carry on fighting until get a fair wage for my workers."

Links to more Minimum wage stories are at the foot of the page.


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