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23.06.2015 / News /

Campaign launch at Debenhams

BREAKING NEWS: UVW have written to Debenhams, the multinational retailer, to demand the London Living Wage for our trade union members at the Flagship store in Oxford Street. Debenhams is a scrooge employer that thrives off poverty wages (whilst paying the CEO £1 million a year and earning £90 million in pre tax profits in the 26 weeks to February 2015) so they will not give in without a fight. Taking on retailers like Debenahams is no easy task. In fact, not a single high street retailer pays the Living Wage so we will need all the support we can get. Please get in touch if you would like to help us out and please spread the word! Together we can win! 

Here’s Debenhams’ promo video for the £25 million they spent on doing up their Flagship store where they pay the minimum wage of £6.50 per hour, not just to the cleaners but to pretty much all their employes:

Here’s the letter we sent Debenhams; 

Dear Debenhams,


United Voices of the World (UVW), the trade union to which the cleaners employed by Interserve working at Debenhams in 334-338 Oxford Street, London, are members of, notes that they are only paid the National Minimum Wage (NMW) of £6.50 per hour, significantly below the London Living Wage (LLW), which currently stands at £9.15 p/hour.

The NMW is the minimum hourly rate of pay that all workers are entitled to by law, and does not take into account the changing cost of living as the LLW does. In fact, the minimum wage officially places workers below the poverty line. In other words they have to earn their poverty. UVW believes this is unacceptable. Indeed the current NMW of £6.50 per hour is exactly what the LLW was calculated at in 2004. As such, Debenhams pay scales are more than 10 years behind the cost of living in the capital.

There are several pernicious results of paying the NMW, the most striking of which are that:

1) Children growing up with parents on the NMW will see less of their parents, and are more likely to achieve less than better off peers at every stage in the early education system.

2) Two thirds of children in poverty live in a household where an adult earns the NMW, and in three quarters of these households, an adult is working full-time. The Chair of the Government’s Child Poverty and Social Mobility Commission recently remarked that “the principal problem [of child poverty] seems to be that those working parents simply do not earn enough to escape poverty.” Likewise, the IFS have stated that “it is low hourly wages rather than low hours of work that are most strongly linked to being in poverty”.

3) NMW workers cannot afford to travel by tube or train and are thus forced to spend several more hours per day travelling by bus. Coupled with this is that NMW workers are forced to work several jobs at once and as result have half the amount of family time during a typical working week as somebody on the the LLW.

5) NMW workers often face a choice between heating and eating.

6) The NMW often leads to chronic levels of stress, depression and anxiety.

7) The NMW results in increased levels of personal debt.

8) The cost of the NMW is shared by everyone in the UK, not just the lowest paid. While Government tops up incomes through tax credits and in-work benefits, the increase in the number of low paid workers also sucks demand out of the economy.

The LLW:

The LLW is the hourly wage needed for an employee to achieve an adequate level of warmth and shelter, a healthy palatable diet, social integration and avoidance of chronic stress. In other words, it enables people to live, rather than barely survive. It enables people to live and work in dignity.

There is significant evidence that the Living Wage can be used effectively as a tool to improve the living standards of the lowest paid, benefit the productivity of businesses, and drive the economy forward. Also, employers which pay the LLW have seen enhancements in the quality of work, a positive impact on recruitment and retention, reductions in absenteeism, and improved client awareness of their commitment to be an ethical employer. You may see a list of all accredited LLW employers here:

Debenhams has publicly stated that wages should always be enough to meet basic needs and to provide some discretionary income. However, this is clearly not true as the NMW does not meet basic needs or provide any discretionary income. Do Debenhams wish to retract this statement?

Debenhams also claims that workers are paid above the NMW in all countries they operate in. Whilst this is questionable, assuming it to be true, why is the UK excluded from this alleged enhanced rate of pay?

Debenhams has also claimed that they “hope in time for a realistic living wage to be paid across the global supply chain including the UK and other EU countries”. Whilst this is welcome news could you please qualify what you mean by a “realistic living wage”, and how that differs to the Greater London Authority’s methodology/Minimum Income Standards Methodology which is well established, and has gained recognition from both campaigners, academics and employers? Could you also please qualify in what timeframe Debahams “hopes” to pay a Living Wage?

As you are aware there is significant public support for the LLW and even the Prime Minister David Cameron has said that “where companies can afford to pay the Living Wage, I think they should.”

Clearly Debenhams can afford to pay the LLW and even increased the pay in 2014 of Michael Sharp, the CEO by 32% to to £1 million. Furthermore, Debenhams has recently reported reaching a 15-month high, with profits before tax rising 4.3% to £88.9m for the 26 weeks to 28 February 2015.

UVW has no intention in debating where responsibility lies to pay the LLW between Debenhams and Interserve. We would nonetheless welcome the opportunity to meet with you and your colleagues to discuss a timescale of implementation for the LLW.

However, if no response is forthcoming and/or no steps taken to engage with UVW by Friday 24th July at 4pm then we will, regrettably, be left with no choice but to launch a high profile LLW campaign consisting of, but not limited to: issuing notice of a formal trade dispute and balloting our members for industrial action; staging lawful, peaceful, regular, and noisy protests; securing mainstream press coverage; co-ordinating actions with other trade unions and campaigning groups and; calling on Members of Parliament both to attend our protests, table Early Day Motions and generally rally public support.

We look forward to your response on this matter.


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