Sanitation staff at UK’s Luton airport battle for living wage

The Sasse group, which was contracted for sanitation services and equipment, pays employees a minimum wage of 7.83 pounds an hour, while the living wage in the UK, outside of London, is 9 pounds an hour

December 08, 2018 by Pavan Kulkarni
The strike by workers began on December 4 and will last till December 11. Photo: Unite the union

Workers employed by the Sasse group to clean the Luton airport in the UK have been on a week-long strike since December 4, demanding a living wage.

It was in April this year that the company was awarded a three-year contract, extendible by two more years, to maintain the hygiene and safety of the airport by providing services such as cleaning the terminal and washroom, and acquiring janitorial supplies.

Last year, the company reported a turnover of 9 million pounds, which is a 21% increase over 2016. The Luton airport itself reported a profit of 40 million pounds in 2017.

The workers laboring to maintain the hygiene of this highly profitable airport are being paid a minimum wage of 7.83 pounds an hour, while the living wage in the UK, outside of London, is 9 pounds an hour.

“With healthy profits and growing passenger numbers, Luton Airport and its contractor have no excuse for paying workers below the real Living Wage,” said Jeff Hodge, regional officer of the union, Unite.

The Sasse group has offered to increase the wages by 9% over a span of three years. However, Unite rejected this offer on the grounds that, if accepted, the workers would not be earning a living wage even by 2021.

After 100% of the members of Unite voted for strike action in a ballot, it began on the evening of December 4 and will conclude on the evening of December 11.

The percentage of jobs paying less than the living wage in the UK has increased from 21% in 2017 to 22% this year, leaving a total of 5.75 million workers with lesser wages than what is required for a dignified living with sufficient food, clothing and decent housing.

Raising its real living wage calculation last month by 25 pence, the Living Wage foundation called upon companies to commit to paying living wages to their staff – both directly employed and sub-contracted.

“We want to see local councils, universities, football clubs, bus companies and the other major public and private sector employers in every city commit to become real living wage employers,” said Living Wage Foundation director Tess Lanning.

About 4,700 employers across the UK have given their commitment so far, but the Sasse group is not one of them.