Poverty in Ireland-Case study: UCD cleaining women
THE CLEANING WOMEN in UCD earn £6 5s. Od. for a five day week. There are 25 of them. They work from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and from 2.30 p.m. until 5.30 p.m. This is a thirty hour week, but they have no recognised breaks which makes their week's work equivalent to a normal employee's. On their £6 they pay 9s. 6d. in insurance and up to £1 in income tax. This lowers their weekly salary to £4£4 10s. a week. By John Feeney, Dan Ruddy and Vincent Browne. Published in Nusight, November 1969.
They receive no transport allowances and either walk to work or pay anything from 2s. 6d. to £1 a week on bus fares. Since they start work at 7 a.m. they often have to walk to work since no buses can bring them to work in time. Mter paying bus fares, some women are left with as little as £3- £4 a week to bring home.
Moreover, they receive no special facilities from their employer. They have a small room to hang their coats in, but have no special lavatory facilities and, most importantly, no canteen facilities. Since they cannot use a canteen, most women have to return home to eat at lunchtime, even if they do not have young children to look after.
The hours of work are especially difficult for married women. They have to leave their homes before their children are up and are still working when they return from school. In effect, work takes up their full day from early in the morning until late in the afternoon.
The work done by the women is difficult and tedious. Every day the quantity of dirt they have to clean is far in excess of normal office cleaning requirements. The College is littered and covered in mud by its huge daily intake of students. Some women have to carry very heavy loads of ashes to the incinerators from the big, centralheating unit and others have to deposit large quantities of litter in di sposal units. Furthermore, the women, unlike other cleaning women, are constantly interrupted by inflows and outflows from lectures. Only on Saturday afternoons do they have space in which to work.
If a woman goes sick, the rest have to cover the rooms she would normally do, since the College refuses to make up for any cases of absenteeism. For the extra rooms they do, the women get no extra pay and are required to cover the extra rooms in the normal hours. If they do not, they have to do unpaid overtime. During winter months when either the women or their families suffer from regular bouts of influenza, the women may have to increase quite considerably the volume of work they do. Cleaning women work in such conditions because the few pounds they get may often be absolutely necessary for their families.
For two years the women have been claiming parity with the cleaning women in Government Buildings. They receive £8 IOs. Od. a week for no extra work and have considerably easier conditions. Earlier this year the College administration responded by granting them a derisory 2s. 6d. cost-of-living increase. Naturally the women were not satisfied with this. Certain factors stop them demanding their pay increase in a more militant manner. There is a big turnover in women since most accept other, more pleasant jobs if they are offered them. They are not encouraged to mingle with other members of the staff and consequently are not really able to compare their pay with them.
The College can also threaten to bring in contract cleaners which would mean that they would be thrown Otlt of work. This happened to women in Newman House (another part of the College) two years ago. However, the contract cleaners found the conditions of work too difficult and their standard of work was considerably below that of the women who had been sacked, who were then re-instated. All the women are members of the ITGWU. This Union has very many underpaid workers, but rarely puts their case as strongly as it could. The shop steward for the women until this year was a man employed by the College in a different capacity and he was extremely inefficient in pressing their just demands. However, the Union is now putting their case to Mr. Kelly, the Assistant Registrar and College Secretary.
The College quite unjustifiably is asking that the women should be on call for at least twelve hours overtime if such is needed before they consider the claim. The women, quite rightly, claim that they would be called on to do overtime nearly always since despite their heroic efforts, the College remains dirty, the College needs an evening shift to deal with the litter left by night students.
The cleaning women get a mere 4s. 2d. an hour. This pay is far below the ICTU demand for a minimum wage for Irish employees of £15 a week and pay parity for women. That they are prepared to work for such slave rates at all testifies to the inadequate pay their husbands receive and to the totally inadequate government support for widows. That the College authorities are prepared to ask women to work a 42 hour week when they are already unselfishly helping to keep large families, is a testament to their hardheartedness and their complete lack of concern for the workers employed by them.
The £8 IOs. Od. demand of the cleaners is ridiculously low itself if the conditions of the women and the importance of the work they do is seriously considered.