The workers also revealed that an established practice was for firms to further subcontract the work they were required to do, thus lengthening the contract chain so that the initial client and the actual cleaner were separated by several layers of subcontractors or ‘middlemen’, with each taking their cut. This was a key concern for the workers in this sector and respondents reported how the initial £12 that they understood Transport for London were paying for an hour of cleaning, only £4.85 per hour would eventually reach the worker as each subcontractor took their profit from the contracts involved.
We also came across one case of a migrant worker from Eastern Europe who was on a business visa and was therefore classed as self-employed. This transferred the employers’ obligation to pay tax and National Insurance to the worker, and made it easier to violate the conditions that employers are expected to provide to all employed staff (such as the NMW).
Between £4.86 and £5.50
Between £5.51 and £6.69
£6.70 and over
High labour turnover was also an important feature of cleaning on the Underground. Many workers (two-fifths) had taken up their job in the previous 12 months and ISS alone employed one out of two of these recent recruits. Just under one-quarter had been with their current employer for between one and two years, and another quarter for between two and five years. Of the latter, 5% were supervisors.
The prevalence of low pay was also a crucial finding. The Underground cleaners had a higher proportion of workers on the NMW (37%) than any other sector surveyed (see Table 7).
Table 7: Hourly Rates of Pay for Cleaning London’s Underground
More than half earned somewhere between the NMW and the LLW (60%) although most were at the lower end of the scale, the equivalent of between £9,097 and £10,296 a year before tax and National Insurance for someone working 36 hours a week.
Overtime was a routine practice for nearly half of cleaners (46%), who put in anything up to 16 extra hours per week. The majority (86%) did not receive a higher hourly rate of pay for this work. A minority (less than one-fifth) also had other jobs, mainly cleaning, in which they also worked anything up to 16 hours a week. For instance, Anaya from Nigeria had three cleaning jobs. One paid £4.85 per hour, the second £4.55 per hour, while she earned £5.25 per hour as an Underground cleaner. She emphasised that she had ‘no choice’, and that ‘one job wages are too low.’
Conditions of work were particularly poor in this sector. 83% of workers had no annual pay rise, and one in every two had never had a pay rise. One respondent from Nigeria complained that his employers had given him false hopes of a pay rise. He claimed: ‘They said they will increase [pay] for about 18 months, but I have not had a