The campaign for a real Living Wage was born 20 years ago, when communities in East London came together to discuss the issues affecting them and their families. The same problem came up again and again: low pay. In the 20 years since, nearly 8,000 employers have been inspired by their voices to voluntarily go beyond the legal minimum and pay workers a wage based on the cost of living.
Powerful testimonies and leadership from those affected by low pay were the sparks which lit the Living Wage movement and that remains the same today. That's why, together with Citizens UK and On Road Media, we're proud to launch the Living Wage Leadership Academy. The Leadership Academy will create space for authentic leadership for those who know first-hand the difference the Living Wage makes to workers and their families. By supporting the next generation of leaders to grow, the Living Wage Leadership Academy will make sure that the next 20 years of our movement continue as the first began: with people at its heart.
To celebrate its launch, we'll be publishing a series of interviews with the participants of the Living Wage Leadership Academy. We'll talk about who they are, why they care about the real Living Wage and what their hopes are for the future of our movement. So, meet Olawale Ajibola. His interests include Cycling for Transport, Urban Environmental conservation, and winning campaigns to get iconic London institutions accredited as Living Wage Employers.
Tell me about yourself.
I'm 58 years old. I worked for the NHS for over 22 years as an administrator. That job had a big impact on me because it was there that I became a Trade Union Workplace Representative. The experience of being trained, mentored and actually campaigning for better working conditions myself has had a big impact on my life. Long may it continue.
How did you get involved with Citizens UK and the campaign for the Living Wage?
I got involved in the Living Wage campaign when I was working part-time as a cleaner at the London Stadium in 2017. The stadium had originally been built as an Olympic stadium for London 2012. TELCO, The East London Citizens Organisation, had successfully campaigned to ensure all jobs at the Olympics paid the Living Wage and won a pledge to ensure the Living Wage was part of the future legacy. But the stadium authorities had not honoured this: workers were being paid below the Living Wage. Some of my colleagues would work at London Stadium but then go off and work at a second or third job. They were just about surviving.
A lot of the staff were very international. English was not the first language of a considerable number of staff, and some people barely spoke it at all. I was working part-time at the Stadium and losing that job would not have been the end of the world to me. But for some of my other colleagues it was vital to their life. One of the many jobs they had to do to just exist. The situation made me realise how important it was for me to get involved in the Living Wage campaign. My comparatively privileged financial situation allowed me to be more daring, to take on more risks in the campaign than most of my colleagues. So I felt like it was my responsibility to be bold about it.
What impact did winning the Living Wage have on you and your colleagues?
For me, the answer to this question comes back to my longstanding belief that 'work' is not just about a wage. While that is a big part of it, work is also a very important part of our social being. For a lot of people, work is one of the main ways that we experience people in our society other than ourselves. It allows us to feel empathy with others, to understand what's happened in their lives. It is the basis of a decent civil society. And that makes it very important that the conditions of our employment are good.
When I was at the London Stadium, I knew people working so many jobs that even looking after themselves was a challenge, never mind if they had a family or kids. Winning the Living Wage helped them pay their bills. But it also gave people their own lives back. They could have more time with their family. More time to live their life. If there was one thing I always kept reminding myself when the campaign was stressful, or when I had moments of doubt in what I was doing, that was what I remembered. The London Stadium subcontracted something like 2000 people, mostly on low pay. I knew that if we won the Living Wage there it would have a big impact. And it did.
How did you feel standing outside London Stadium in Living Wage Week 2021, seeing them proudly and publicly celebrating their commitment to the Living Wage?
It brought it all back. Working there, getting involved in that campaign has made a huge improvement to my life and given me opportunities to achieve things I'd never done. It gave me more confidence in myself. It trained me to be able to speak publicly, and speak to a big audience. I gave a speech at the London Citizens Mayoral Accountability Assembly at St George's Cathedral in 2018 where I had a hug from the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. I even had the opportunity to address MPs in Portcullis House. If somebody had told me when I went into that job at London Stadium in 2016 what would happen in the next four years, I would have wondered what they'd been drinking! It's one of the highlights of my life really. I feel privileged to have been a part of that campaign.
Why are you taking part in the Living Wage Leadership Academy?
I want to continue learning skills that will help me get involved in more London Living Wage campaigns locally. Having people who can talk first-hand about their experience goes a long way to making a campaign successful. If the powers to be don't see the people who their decisions impact, a campaign becomes vague and more easily contested. But when you show them actual people and let them hear how things like the London Living Wage would make a change to peoples' lives, you are more likely to bring about that change. The Living Wage Leadership Academy is providing the resources to make people more confident, so we can just that.
Where do you hope to see the Living Wage campaign advance?
After we won the London Stadium campaign, we were talking of campaigning to get all the employers in the Olympic Park Living Wage accredited. That's what I'd like to see. There are going to be some big new employers coming in with the development of the Stratford Waterfront. It's going to provide a lot of employment in the area, and a lot of subcontracted employment. I would really like to see the Living Wage advance there.
Help us do right by workers and families by becoming a Living Wage Employer today.