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Herney Guevara Rodrigue

Barclays and the living wage

05 November 2018

Julia Jemeljanenko and Herney Guevara Rodriguez both work in support roles at Barclays HQ – Julia as a Barista in one of the cafes and Herney as a Kitchen Porter. As the UK marks Living Wage Week, we talk to them and a branch colleague about how the bank’s commitment to the national standard has changed their lives.

Before Julia Jemeljanenko started her job at Barclays, the most she ever earned was £7.40 an hour. Despite working a 50-hour week, she had very little money, even for essentials. “After rent and travel, I would have about £70 left for the month,” she says.

“My secret was eating once a day. At work I would get vouchers for lunch, and I would save them to use at the end of my shift, and that would be for dinner. Or I would give that to my partner and go and buy some simple things like potatoes or pasta. And that was fine. It was hard, but manageable.”

Julia Jemeljanenko

Julia, who came to the UK from Lithuania aged 19, now works as a Barista in the Sacred coffee shop at Barclays head office in Canary Wharf. She earns the London living wage, which at last allows her to pay for the things she needs – and put savings aside. “Before this job I couldn’t even look at my account. Now I can go out with co-workers, and go to watch my favourite bands. I feel like I’ve got so much more freedom.”

Now I can go out with co-workers, and go to watch my favourite bands. I feel like I’ve got so much more freedom

Looking back, the 26-year-old appreciates how much stress she was under due to her financial situation: “I was feeling very down and very stressed, and sometimes even angry,” she says. “When you have that negative energy, you cannot work and perform how you need to. But you still push yourself, you keep on going.”

Barclays has been a supporter of the living wage since 2003, and an accredited employer for five years, working to ensure that every member of staff and its subcontracted workforce is paid the living wage in London and nationally. As an employee of the contractor ISS UK, Julia benefits from the fact that Barclays requires all third-party suppliers to pay the living wage.

Dominic Johnson, Head of Central Employee Relations , says: “Being a living wage employer benefits our colleagues in terms of providing a higher quality of life and a better standard of living. But it’s also good for Barclays in that it delivers measurably better support and service to our colleagues. It’s really a win-win.”  

Herney Guevara Rodriguez is another beneficiary of Barclays commitment to the living wage. Originally from Colombia, Herney has worked at Barclays for two years. He was previously employed by a cleaning company where he earned between £7.50 and £8 an hour. This was not enough for Herney to support his wife and two daughters, one of whom is at university.

Herney Guevara Rodriguez

“My maximum earnings were £250 per week so after rent, and food, there wasn’t much left. I was living in a Housing Association property, but the landlord wanted the flat back which put me and my family in a very difficult situation.”

Finding it impossible to afford commercial rents, Herney ended up living in a friend’s house, sharing a room with his wife and 14-year-old daughter. “It was very uncomfortable,” he says, quietly. “We had no privacy.”

Things changed when he found work as a Kitchen Porter at Barclays HQ two years ago. He now earns enough for the family to afford a place of their own. “Earning the living wage has made a lot of difference because it was much easier to find a place with my new earnings,” he says. “It’s nice. We have a garden and three bedrooms. We are much happier.”

Earning the living wage has made a lot of difference... We are much happier

Chris Tull-Williams

The bank’s commitment to the living wage also impacts branch staff. Chris Tull-Williams has worked as a Community Banker at the Barclays branch in Canary Wharf, London, for four months.

“Barclays is really leading the way in committing voluntarily to pay a living wage to all of its employees and it’s really great to see such a large organisation taking the lead in such an ethical business practice,” he says.

“That means a lot to me. It’s essential that Barclays pays the living wage to make sure that our colleagues are focused on the task in hand – and that’s delivering a great customer service.”

You tend to do your job way better when you feel valued

Julia agrees that, quite apart from the personal benefits for staff, paying the living wage makes business sense. “In my experience, you tend to do your job way better when you feel valued,” she says. “It is like a circle – if they are good to you, you will be good to them. And when it works, it is wonderful.”