No Ordinary Time, No Ordinary Response
In this guest blog, Tim Thorlby asks how we might rebuild a society post Covid-19 that’s fairer for the key workers we’ve been so dependent on
A time to mourn
A wise person once wrote that there is ‘a time for everything….a time to mourn and a time to dance’.
Now seems very much like a time to mourn.
So much is currently being lost or broken in our country as Covid-19 remains an unwelcome guest in our midst. Many have lost lives - or lost loved ones. A growing number have lost their jobs. Both charities and businesses are bringing forward redundancy programmes – and as the Government’s furlough scheme winds down, this will accelerate. A generation of children are missing out on their education. A record number of families are reliant on Food Banks for their daily meals. The mental health of many people is under strain.
We must surely make time to acknowledge and lament for what we have lost. It is considerable.
But we also see the light at the end of the tunnel. The virus is on the wane. The lockdown is easing, step by step.
But let’s not go back to normal. Normal’ actually wasn’t a great place for many people. We can do better.
A time to think
One of the most visible features of the Lockdown in the UK has been the attention given to ‘key workers’. ‘Thank you’ signs and rainbows have appeared everywhere, even on litter bins. These are the people who have kept working whilst many have been at home – to keep us safe, to keep us fed, to keep the country moving.
Key workers include doctors, nurses and social care workers of course, but also teachers, supermarket workers, cleaners and couriers. It is a long list. All providing essential services.
Yet we’ve also seen how many of these people, providing our essential services, are only paid a Minimum Wage, often accompanied with poor terms and conditions, and expected to work under difficult circumstances.
In the cleaning sector, where I work, the Living Wage Foundation estimates that 60% of cleaners in the UK earn less than the Living Wage.
In my experience, the majority of cleaners are on the Minimum Wage, with terms and conditions also at the bare statutory minimums. We even meet some who are being paid below the legal minimums. The nation’s cleaners are being asked to help us get out of Lockdown – by cleaning hospitals, offices, churches and schools – making them ‘Covid-19 Secure’ for the rest of us.
Surely, the least we can do is treat them fairly? That means paying them a Living Wage (£10.75 in London), employing them on decent terms and conditions (like sick pay, holidays and pensions) and treating them with respect.
As we all go back to work, as offices re-open and churches re-start their activities, there is a question to answer – can we rebuild a better country than the one we left behind?
A time to dance?
I want to ask every employer (including churches and charities) to think about who does your cleaning.
Who are they?
Do you know their name?
Are they paid the Living Wage and well treated?
We have seen how much the nation’s key workers do for us. Can we take one step forward and move to paying every cleaner in the UK the Living Wage?
This action is available to every employer – whether business, charity or church.
It would transform the lives of hundreds of thousands of workers and their families.
The company I help to lead – Clean for Good – is three years old. It is an ethical workplace cleaning company for London – cleaning offices, churches and community centres.
Founded by churches and charities to set a new standard in the cleaning sector, we are a Living Wage Employer and employ our own cleaners on Terms and Conditions above statutory minimums. We invest in training and management.
Since we started, Clean for Good has enjoyed three years of continuous and rapid growth, won two national awards, achieved commercial viability and proved that a professional cleaning company can also operate ethically.
We have proved that a better future is possible.
As we slowly emerge out of this unprecedented national crisis, let us do better than the old normal – let’s choose to take one step forward and give the nation’s cleaners – and other key workers – something to dance about.
“There is a time for everything … and a time for dancing.”