School dinner ladies win a living wage

Hundreds of the lowest-paid workers in school kitchens across the north London borough of Camden will be paid an extra £2.55 an hour, following a four-month UNISON-led campaign.

Around 300 dinner ladies at 51 schools will be paid the London Living Wage of £9.15 from September, thanks to the campaign which saw Camden Council and school meals contractor Caterlink come under increasing pressure to end poverty pay.

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.

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.

Camden UNISON led the campaign – which was backed by some “continued and tenacious coverage” from the local newspaper, the Camden New Journal – and branch secretary George Binette 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.”

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, said: “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.”

 

Camden New Journal coverage of the story