Restoring the dignity of work

As we approach Living Wage Week (9 – 15 November), Tim Thorlby, Director of Clean for Good, tells the story of a church’s response to the working conditions of the lowest paid workers in its parish.

In this challenging year, we have been forcibly reminded of how much we rely upon other people’s work – whether it is by doctors and nurses, or social care workers or shop workers, cleaners and couriers.  We have also been reminded that many of these ‘key workers’ are not paid very much and often have quite precarious incomes. The jobs of cleaners, couriers and others are held in low esteem and paid badly – but it turns out that their work is essential.  How could this happen?

The answer is that when we – either individuals or organisations – buy things we need, we often lack curiosity about how they were produced. We do not look inside the ‘black box’. But if we care about the dignity of our nation’s key workers, then we must open the box. 

Christians and churches have the opportunity to restore the ‘dignity of work’ back to the UK’s lowest paid workers by purchasing goods and services from companies which treat their workers well and pay them fairly.

A few years ago, an Anglican church in the City of London undertook some research amongst the lowest paid workers in its parish; it was horrified by their working conditions. Its response was practical – it set the ball rolling to start up a new social business – Clean for Good Ltd – which would be an ethical office cleaning business which would treat its cleaners well. The solution to the mistreatment of workers was to create alternative jobs that offered dignity and fairness.

Today, Clean for Good is 3 years old and delivers workplace cleaning across London; it employs over 50 people and continues to grow. Clean for Good directly employs its cleaners, pays them the London Living Wage (£10.75 per hour) or more, provides decent terms and conditions (no zero hours contracts) and invests in their training and management.  It has been recognised by the NatWest as one of the UK’s fastest growing social businesses.

Many of us have more power than we realise to bring about positive social change – through our spending power. Whether you are an individual shopping for groceries or an organisation outsourcing its cleaning service, you have the opportunity to make a difference – including towards greater dignity and fairness at work for the UK’s lowest paid workers.   

Earlier in 2020, Clean for Good published a short new report (From Outsourcing to Ethical Sourcing) which highlights key questions any organisation can ask of potential suppliers. It provides a simple checklist to help you open up new conversations with suppliers. It is a tool for social change.

Clean for Good continues to work for the day when every cleaner in the UK earns a Living Wage and is treated with dignity at work. Join us. 

Tim Thorlby is the Managing Director of Clean for Good. You can find him on Twitter at @TimThorlby. For more information about Clean for Good, go to www.cleanforgood.co.uk  and follow @clean4good.

Clean for Good is an ethical cleaning company for London. It is a Living Wage Employer, directly employs its cleaners and also trains and manages cleaners professionally. Founded in a church in the City of London, they launched in 2017 and are now an award-winning social business.  

The report link is: https://www.cleanforgood.co.uk/ethicalsourcing

Take action

  • Pray for the work of Clean for Good and for the work of the Living Wage Foundation.
  • Reflect on your church’s spending and procurement decisions. If you employ people directly, are you paying the Living Wage? If you buy in services from elsewhere, what do you know about the ethics of those businesses?
  • Take action locally on the Living Wage through Citizens UK.
  • Use the Money Makes Change Pledge to take practical actions with your church’s finances to shape a fairer society.  

Photo credit : Clean for Good/Rosie Wedderburn Photography

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