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Citizens Action Wins Big Pay Rise for Cardiff Airport Workers... But Not Until 2020. We Don't Want Jam Tomorrow: We Want the Real Living Wage Today!

'Jammie Dodger' Action at Cardiff Airport Prompts Progress on the Real Living Wage 

By Jonathan Cox
Lead Organiser, Citizens Cymru Wales


Photo: Rev Catherine Brobbey (Vale of Glamorgan Methodist Circuit) and Jess Maddocks offer packs of Jammie Dodgers to passengers entering Cardiff Airport.


Citizens Cymru Wales organised a Jammie Dodger-themed action at Cardiff Airport on May 1st 2018 to call on the Chief Executive, Deb Barber, to stop dodging the meeting she had promised local Citizens leaders before Christmas, to stop promising 'jam tomorrow', and instead deliver a Real Living Wage for Airport Workers by Living Wage Week in November 2018. 

The Jammie Dodger Action prompted the Airport to issue a statement pledging to introduce the Real Living Wage for its workers by April 2020 (with an interim increase in April 2019).  If this happens it could mean a pay rise of 12% for Security Workers based on the likely Real Living Wage figure in April 2020.  We understand that Deb Barber has asked to meet with the Living Wage Foundation's Accreditation Partner in Wales, Cynnal Cymru, which is another positive development. 

It is too early to start celebrating, especially as the Airport's workers will have received seven years worth of publicly-funded poverty pay before they finally get the Real Living Wage in April 2020.  Another two years is too long to wait, so we need to keep the pressure on for the Airport to accredit by Living Wage Week in November this year.  As Leanne Wood AM said when she raised our campaign at First Minister's Questions in the Senedd after the action, we need 'deeds, not warm words' from Cardiff Airport. 

What Happened at the Action? 

A diverse team of thirty Citizens Cymru Wales leaders from Cardiff, the Vale and Swansea gathered with placards and loud-hailers at the police-designated protest sites at the entrance and exit of the Airport between 10:00 and 14:00, ensuring that every single car entering and exiting the Airport was made aware of the scandal of publicly-funded poverty pay at Cardiff Airport.

A smaller group were gathered on the footpath nearer to the Airport to hand out packs of Jammie Dodgers to workers and passengers entering and exiting the Terminal.  There were at least 300 engagements with the public as a result of our highly-visual (and audible) approach - you would have struggled to miss us and our message - and the reaction was overwhelmingly positive and supportive of the campaign.

The action also succeeded in commanding the attention of the Airport's authorities and the politicians present at the Airport to welcome the first flight from Qatar.


Photo: The Living Team from SEF Cymru turned out in force and called on every car entering the Airport to show their support to the Airport Security Workers and the campaign for a Real Living Wage.



Photo: Fr Jesse from the Llandaff Area Deanery holds Jammy Dodger-themed signs to get the message across to drivers in a visual way.


Photo: The group from EYST came all the way from Swansea to support the action (and doing a great job pushing our social media message).  Helal and Sadia had role-played this action as recent participants in Citizens UK National Community Leadership Training.


Photo: 'What do we want? The Real Living Wage!  When do we want it? Now!' [...or by November 2018 will do] 


Photo: We marched a little nearer the Airport entrance and took some photos in preparation for handing over the 'Jammy Dodger of the Year for Publicly-Funded Poverty Pay'.



Photo: Fr Michael John and Fr Jesse Smith of Llandaff Area Deanery present packs of Jammie Dodgers and the 'Jammy Dodger of the Year Award for Publicly-Funded Poverty Pay' to a senior representative of Cardiff Airport's CEO, Deb Barber. 

How the Security Workers Responded

After the Action, we returned to our protest site to evaluate.  As we were doing so, a man wearing a Hi-Viz jacket stood on the outside of the circle, listening in.  Suddenly he interrupted us: "I'm a Security Worker at the Airport.  I just want to say how much it means to us to know that you have done this action.  So many people have been coming through security with their packs of Jammie Dodgers today, saying what a scandal it is that we are not paid the Real Living Wage and offering their support.  It means a lot."

Phil, another Security Worker at the Airport (who asked us to change his name to protect his identity) sent us this reflection a few days beforehand to explain why the Airport's offer to bring in the Real Living Wage in 2020 was not good enough, and why he and his colleagues supported our Action:

"Today, the first passengers will fly out on a Qatar Airways flight to Doha from Cardiff Airport.  I will also be at Cardiff Airport today, keeping passengers at the Airport safe as I do day in, day out.  But security workers like me can only dream of jetting off to faraway places because of the poverty wages we have been paid over the 4 years since the Welsh Government bought the Airport.

It is a tough job being a security worker at Cardiff Airport. We work long shifts and unsociable hours, and as the first line of defence against terrorism we have to be focused and vigilant all the time.  It is literally a life-or-death scenario if we make a mistake when searching a passenger, X-raying a bag, or taking a swab from a suspect package. The responsibility is huge.

The public probably think that workers like me, who are so crucial to keeping passengers safe, would be paid at least the Real Living Wage.  After all, research has shown that it can boost morale, help keep hold of talented staff, and provide enough to support a family with dignity.  I love my job, but the sad fact is that I would earn more money serving coffees in the terminal café than working as a security worker at Cardiff Airport.

We are paid around £8.17 an hour – that’s just 34p more than the minimum wage.   And it is 58p less than the Real Living Wage – the rate calculated independently by the Living Wage Foundation based on what people need to live.  Each year our wages seem to slip nearer to the bare minimum the Airport is legally allowed to pay us. This means I can’t afford to treat my daughter on her birthday, and I struggle to pay the household bills. Lots of us are in debt – if it wasn’t for my partner’s earnings, I don’t know how I would get by.  That makes me angry and undervalued as I drive into work each day – surely a fair day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay?

Last autumn, I saw on the news that Heathrow Airport had become a Real Living Wage employer.  That was the last straw - a large team of security workers got together and decided we had had enough, and we have been campaigning for the Real Living Wage with Citizens Cymru Wales ever since.  We have been threatened with the sack by the Airport Management if we support the campaign but it has started to have some impact. The CEO of Cardiff Airport, Debra Barber, promised to meet a delegation of workers and community leaders early this year to discuss the Real Living Wage, but she then went back on that promise, which hit our morale even further.  We have kept going and recently she told us that we won’t be paid the Real Living Wage until April 2020. This is a step in the right direction but it isn’t enough my family can’t wait another two years!   

What I can’t understand is that this is not some big faceless company treating us like this – after all, as taxpayers, we own the Airport.  Welsh Government bought it in 2014 and they have a really good record on the Real Living Wage.  They became a Living Wage accredited organisation back in 2015 and lifted their lowest-paid workers out of poverty pay.  Since then Ministers have used their influence to persuade all of the universities in Wales to adopt the Real Living Wage, and have created a Code of Practice on Ethical Employment in Supply Chains, which encourages all recipients of public money to implement the Real Living Wage.

So I can’t understand why Ken Skates AM, the Welsh Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Transport, has just given Cardiff Airport another £6 million of taxpayers’ money, and has allowed the Airport to delay implementation of the Real Living Wage for another two years. It would cost a fraction of that amount to raise our wages to the Real Living Wage, and it could easily be done in time for Living Wage Week in November.  So far all the cash has been invested in doing up the terminal to entice new airlines like Qatar, while the people who keep the Airport running are left to work out how they are going to get by from month to month.

 As a team of workers, we were delighted to hear that Citizens Cymru Wales plan to come Cardiff Airport on International Workers’ Day (May 1st) to present Deb Barber with the ‘Jammy Dodger of the Year Award’, in recognition of the Airport’s failure to pay a decent wage while hoovering up vast amounts of taxpayers’ money.  She is promising us workers ‘jam tomorrow’, but workers like me want the Real Living Wage today!"

What was the Airport's Reaction?

Cardiff Airport were not delighted about the Jammy Dodger action, and took every step possible to frustrate (invoking bylaws designed to prevent terrorism) and marginalise (demanding we locate in a remote corner of a vast car park) our right to peaceful protest.  This backfired dramatically as we then found a safe and highly-visible location just off their property!

Clearly the Airport were afraid of the negative publicity that would accompany the protest, and so improved their offer to the Airport Workers in the week running up to the Action.  It is a maxim of community organising that the prospect of an action is often as powerful as the action itself - and this was certainly the case in this instance, but we are not complaining!   

As you can read from Phil's reaction above, the new deal is not everything that the Airport Workers want.  There is no explicit commitment to accrediting with the Living Wage Foundation.  There will be another two years' of poverty pay.  There will be no improvement in pay for Airport Workers at all for another year.  For an organisation that has received tens of millions of pounds of Welsh Government money, this is not an adequate response to being caught out paying poverty wages.  That is why we will keep campaigning.

However, the campaign for the Real Living Wage at Cardiff Airport has achieved some real progress since autumn last year:

  • there is now a firm commitment to bring up the Airport Workers' wages to the level of the Real Living Wage (a pay rise of approximately 12% on their current pay);
  • there is a firm timetable to achieve this by April 2020 (since confirmed on record by the First Minister);
  • there is a plan for Airport Workers to get a significant pay hike in April 2019.

We have crunched the numbers, using estimates of the likely level of the Real Living Wage in 2020, to produce this infographic to show the impact of the campaign so far.  It is based on a conservative estimate of the numbers of staff who will benefit, but even so it shows that over a hundred workers will get a 12% pay rise - and that the campaign will put half a million pounds of additional wages in the back pockets of the lowest-paid workers at Cardiff Airport over the next 5 years!Airport_Living_Wage_Impact.jpg

This graph gives you an idea of how the campaign has influenced wage levels of the lowest-paid at Cardiff Airport: 


It shows clearly that the Airport's lowest-paid staff were slipping further and further away from the Real Living Wage, deeper into in-work poverty, and in fact were on course to fall below the level of the statutory Higher Minimum Wage!  The dotted red line shows the impact of our campaign - dragging the level of pay up sharply to the level of the Real Living Wage. These figures are estimates, but are based on reliable data and projections from the Living Wage Foundation and the UK Government's Office of Budget Responsibility.   

The Media Reaction

The campaign was picked up in the local press in days following the action.

The Western Mail published this piece on May 3rd - thanks to the Airport Workers who agreed to be quoted:


Thanks to David Alexander of the Vale Methodist Circuit whose letter prompted this headline in the Gem (the most widely-read paper in the Vale) and a reaction from the Airport.


The Campaign is Raised with the First Minister in the Senedd

We know that many Citizens Cymru Wales leaders and supporters could not attend the action on May 1st, but they did email and write to their Assembly Members, which bore fruit later in the month when Leanne Wood AM, the Leader of Plaid Cymru raised the issue at First Minister's Questions in the Senedd - repeating our description of the situation as 'publicly-funded poverty pay' and reinforcing our demand that Cardiff Airport accredits as a Living Wage employer by November 2018.  You can watch the interaction here.


Leanne Wood AM, Plaid Cymru:

"...First Minister...workers at Cardiff Airport would appreciate deeds rather than warm words. You bought this airport in 2013, yet we still have workers, some of whom live in the Rhondda, who are being paid less than this living wage. An agreement with the GMB will see the airport, and I quote, 4'working towards being in a position to implement the Foundation Living Wage by the end of 2020. If that does happen, then it will have been a full seven years on what has been called 'publicly funded poverty pay.' Many of these employees are security staff, performing vital functions that keep airport security in place and keep passengers safe. What pressure can you now exert to ensure that this asset becomes a Living Wage Foundation accredited employer by the next Living Wage Week in November?"


Carwyn Jones AM, First Minister:

"The airport has made a firm commitment to working towards achievement of the real living wage. A proposal has now been submitted to both recognised unions—the GMB and Unite—that the real living wage will be paid as a minimum to all directly employed airport staff by April 2020. Now, the unions will be taking this proposal to ballot and we understand the unions will be making a positive recommendation to members. That uplift is proposed to take place in two increments—the first in April 2019 and the second in April 2020—and that builds on the progress already made at the airport, which includes the eradication of zero-hours contracts and the introduction of enhanced rates of pay for both overtime and bank holiday working. 

It is good to see that there is progress - but we need to keep the pressure on the Airport to introduce the Real Living Wage sooner.  We also need to send a very strong message to Welsh Government that it is not acceptable for taxpayers' money to fund poverty pay.  Almost one in every four workers in Wales earns less than the Real Living Wage - we must use every method possible to ensure that employers, like Cardiff Airport, that receive large amounts of public money, accredit with the Living Wage Foundation.  We don't want jam tomorrow: we want the Real Living Wage today!

Thanks again to everyone who participated in this action - especially those from Citizens Cymru Wales member institutions: Vale of Glamorgan Methodist Circuit, Ethnic Youth Support Team, SEF Cymru, Dar-ul Isra Mosque, and Llandaff Area Deanery (Church in Wales).  If you would like to join the Real Living Wage Action Team, please get in touch: jonathan.cox@citizenswales.org.uk.  


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