Monday, 15 June 2015

Camden wins the London Living Wage for Dinner staff

At last! School dinner ladies set to win fight for a London Living Wage

    School dinner ladies campaigning outside the Town Hall earlier this year
    School dinner ladies campaigning outside the Town Hall earlier this year
    Published: 11 June, 2015
    >>NEW JOURNAL COMMENT: Dinner ladies’ pay deal is a victory for common sense (click here)
    HUNDREDS of the lowest-paid workers in school kitchens across Camden will be paid an extra £2.55 an hour, following a four-month battle backed by the New Journal.
    Around 300 dinner ladies at 51 schools will be paid the London Living Wage (LLW) of £9.15 from September, thanks to the campaign which saw Camden Council and school meals contractor Caterlink come under increasing pressure to end the so-called “poverty pay”.
    Union leaders and kitchen staff last night (Wednesday) praised the New Journal’s “continued and tenacious coverage” as it was revealed that Town Hall managers had secured the pay increase following lengthy negotiations with Caterlink.
    The agreement will mean 232 of the lowest-paid school kitchen workers will be around £1,500 better off. Other staff, including supervisors, will also see their pay increase as a result. The deal will cost around £500,000 in total, which will be met jointly by Camden and Caterlink, with a small increase in the cost of each meal being passed on to parents.
    Council leader Sarah Hayward said it came as a result of “sustained pressure on Caterlink”.
    A deputation of dinner ladies had told a meeting of all Camden’s council­lors in March that their current rate of £6.60 an hour left them struggling to make ends meet, with nothing but jacket potatoes with which to feed their families.
    Despite the sympathetic reactions from many in the council chamber, they were told that they would be stuck on the lower rate until the Caterlink contract ran its course.
    But after weeks of extensive coverage in the New Journal – with the £500million-a-year turnover of Caterlink’s parent company Westbury Street Holdings coming under close scrutiny – Town Hall managers and senior Caterlink bosses got around the table and began hammering out the agreement that will come into effect in 11 weeks’ time.
    Camden Unison led the campaign and branch secretary George Binette yesterday described the pay increase as a “a significant outcome for some very low-paid members”.
    He added: “Our lobby on March 2 was clearly significant in forcing Camden to sit up and take notice, while at the same time the continued and tenacious coverage of the New Journal was no doubt causing reputational damage to Caterlink, forcing them to act.” Mr Binette said Unison wanted to move forward in securing more gains for contracted staff, including occupational sick pay, so their working conditions were “more akin to those of direct employees of the council”.
    Amy Davies, a Caterlink catering assistant who lives in Camden Town, said last night: “I’m really happy about it. It’s going to come in time for Christmas, which will really help. When I worked it out roughly, for me it means my wages go up by about £250 extra a month. It means we’ll actually be able to do nice things, rather than worrying all the time about money and bills.”
    Ms Davies, who became a Unison rep after joining protesters outside the Town Hall in March, added: “The pressure of the New Journal really helped and when the paper got involved I think that really shocked Caterlink – before then I think they thought that no one was taking it seriously.”
    Caterlink will make a “direct financial contribution” to covering the costs, as well as accepting a reduction in the profit they make on each meal. The Town Hall say parents will be expected to face an increase of 14p per meal at primary schools, totalling £26.60 per child.
    Cllr Hayward said: “As nearly 70 per cent of school catering staff and their families live in Camden, I hope that parents and Camden schools will agree with me that this increase of £26.60 over a full academic year is an acceptable cost to ensure their children’s dinner lady, who may be their neighbour, gets a fair salary.”
    She urged anyone receiving benefits to contact their school directly, as they may be eligible for free meals.
    Cllr Hayward added: “We know that meeting our commitment to LLW means making some tough choices, and we are asking schools and parents to join us in helping to contribute to achieve fair pay for all those who live and work in Camden”
    Neil Fuller, managing director of Caterlink, said: “We have worked closely with the council and are pleased to have helped in finding a solution that will enable them to deliver on their pledge.”

    How the New Journal put the living wage row under the microscope

    “CATERLINK your wages stink.” This was the chant on March 2, when schools’ kitchen staff stood outside the Town Hall banging pots and pans on a dark and wintery night.
    They left empty handed and were told they must wait until the outsourced contract expired on March 31, 2016.
    In the following weeks the New Journal kept the campaign alive by dedicating two front pages (below), dozens of column inches and several comment pieces to championing their plight.
    The muscular financial position of Caterlink’s parent company, Westbury Street Holdings (WSH), which reported a turnover of more than £500million in 2013, was exposed in a two-page investigation. It was revealed the firm had recently parted with an unknown sum – estimated to be between £25-30million – to buy Searcys, a chain of high-end champagne bars with an outlet at nearby St Pancras station. Just metres away from the council’s headquarters in Judd Street, where dinner ladies were telling of their dire financial straits, customers had been sipping bubbly at the bar where a single bottle of champagne can cost £1,400.
    After repeated requests for a face-to-face interview with directors of WSH were turned down, the New Journal took the fight to the mansion home of Alastair Storey, the firm’s chairman and chief executive. Reporters travelled to his grade-II listed home in a sleepy Berkshire village.
    No response was forthcoming, but the following evening Caterlink’s managing director Neil Fuller and Camden Council bosses met to try and find a solution that would “satisfy all parties”.
    Cllr Sarah Hayward had consistently supported the dinner ladies’ calls for fairer pay, but said it was the responsibility of Caterlink, not the council, to make up the difference. It was also revealed that at schools in neighbouring Islington, Caterlink staff were around £10,000 better off, with the council on that side of the borough boundary refusing to grant a contract in 2010 unless the London Living Wage be paid to all.
    Today the New Journal reveals that from September all Caterlink staff at Camden schools will be paid £9.15 an hour, £2.55 more than their current wage. On average, 232 of the lowest-paid workers will be £1,500 better off as a result. 

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