The festive treatment of cleaning staff speaks volumes about culture No. 10
ANYONE who has worked hard in an office will understand how stupid their neighbor can be.
In an office where I worked in the washroom, there was a sign asking staff to refrain from picking their noses and wiping their finds on the door frames.
While this may be deeply unpleasant, you can easily imagine the general scene in workplaces across the country: tea bags and ground coffee left in the sink; used tissues left where they fall on the floor; rotten fruit stones left on the desks; the trash cans are overflowing.
I imagine those filthy fiends are better off at home, partly because they have more respect for their own surroundings where there’s less chance there’s anyone to pick up after them, but by and large part because they have a complete lack of respect for the person picking up after them. them at work.
There’s an old dating adage about monitoring how the person you’re dining with treats the waiters. If they make eye contact, speak politely, and tip meaningfully, they are a keeper.
It is likewise how to judge the character of those with whom you work. Creating a daily pigsty shows an arrogance – thoughtless or not – towards office cleaning staff that is perfectly indicative of their character.
Sue Gray’s report on the Downing Street pandemic party contained many shameful revelations but, perhaps most unedifying and telling, was the line about disrespect from security and cleaning staff.
Among the stories of being left to clean vomit and scrub red wine from the walls, Ms Gray wrote that she had been “made aware of multiple instances of disrespect and mistreatment from security and cleaning staff This was unacceptable.
At Wednesday’s press conference, in which he laughably claimed to have been “humiliated” by the Gray report, the Prime Minister made sure to point out that he had spent time that day visit Downing Street to apologize to these staff members.
The Prime Minister knows very well that the behavior described is unacceptable. He is a member of the British upper classes, for whom decency towards “the staff” is an ingrained part of basic good manners.
Or should be, unless one is too arrogant – or perhaps too drunk – to pay attention to one’s P and Q.
Downing Street’s permanent staff does not change with the administration; they exist all the time, watching prime ministers, cabinets and officials come and go, come and go.
Yet these core staff, the people who keep buildings running and do the vital work of protecting the health, safety and well-being of their colleagues, have been abused under the watch of Boris Johnson and that in says a lot about the attitude of Downing Street officials towards those they presumably like below them.
It was interesting to hear the Prime Minister refer to these employees as ‘gatekeepers’ – a semantic trick that implies respect for their work, but a respect entirely lacking in practice.
We know Mr Johnson’s thoughts about the ‘blue-collar workers’ he employs from the 1995 newspaper column in which he said working-class men were ‘likely to be drunk, criminal, aimless , foolish and hopeless”. Yet a man of any class, and certainly of his class, should be able to rise above such laughable views to ensure that they are at least treated with respect, let the sentiment be superficial or not.
Treating everyone the same is such a simple and easy mandate to achieve. Barack Obama was particularly good at this, displaying a classless class, an all-around sensibility, absent from our own prime minister.
When he arrived in Downing Street on his first visit to London in 2009, Mr Obama shook hands with the policeman posted outside. A thrift store, an otherwise insignificant, but enormous thing. For British politicians, staff like police are invisible, part of the decor. Might as well shake hands at the railing or exchange a paw with Larry the cat.
As Gordon Brown followed the US President to the Downing Street front door, he passed the officer’s outstretched hand, not so much a snub as a mere blinding.
In a similar vein, a job posting for a cleaner working on the royal estate, either at Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle, caused ire this week, as the position appears to pay less than the national minimum wage at £7.97 an hour – £1.53 less than the national minimum wage for people over 22.
Bed, board and bills are covered as part of the job, so the overall package is more tempting than the upfront pay suggests. However, a salary of £19,900 comes across as a slightly miserable offer from one of the world’s richest women.
Meanwhile, Early Years Scotland has reiterated concerns that private nurseries are losing staff due to lower wages and conditions than council-run early years settings. The organization reports that nursery workers leave for supermarket or delivery work where the pay is better. The problem, say private providers, is a shortfall between what they are paid by councils and what it costs to provide ELC places.
Underfunded, undervalued – it’s a cry we hear repeatedly from workers in these types of frontline jobs.
One of the many lessons of the pandemic is the importance of key workers, who these workers are and the value of their work.
But it’s one thing to feel disrespected by management-imposed salary structures and quite another to be undermined by immediate colleagues.
A truly decent person does not treat subordinates as equals because they were told in a management training course that it made them appear fair and decent; they don’t do it because their mother passed down the rule to them as wisdom or because their father made a point of modeling behavior.
They do this because they simply and naturally see others – regardless of rank or role – as equals. It is a vital part of human decency and morality that cannot be taught and is sorely lacking in our current ruling class.