Cleaner ‘fired after taking leftover £1.50 tuna sandwich’ speaks out against ‘unfair bosses’ as protesters target law firm

20 February 2024, 17:29

Gabriela was fired from her job cleaning at Devonshires
Gabriela was fired from her job cleaning at Devonshires. Picture: Social Media
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

A cleaner who said she was fired for taking a tuna sandwich left behind after a meeting at a top City law firm has spoken out against her former employers.

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Gabriela was working for a cleaning agency contracted by the solicitors Devonshires, which posted a profit of nearly £21 million for the last financial year, when she was 'sacked for eating a leftover sandwich'.

Dozens of union members, workers and friends went to visit the law firm in central London to protest against her dismissal, which they claim was because she ate a '£1.50 tuna sandwich from Tesco'.

"Gabriela was summarily sacked after 2 years on the job just before Christmas by the contractor, Total Clean," a spokesperson for the United Voices of the World Union (UVW) said.

"On Valentines day, we demanded that Gabriela - an Ecuadorian single mother - is reinstated and compensated for this unfair and inhumane treatment."

"We left the sandwiches with reception and demanded a meeting with management which was agreed to by the CEO and a partner of the firm."

Gabriela, who joined the protest, then addressed the crowd, thanking it for its support.

"This is my first time and I've learned a lot," she told the crowd.

"To those who are not unionised, please join a union because it helps you defend your rights.

"If the employer is unfair, the union fights for justice. Thank you for being here."

300 tuna sandwiches and 100 cans of tuna. That’s what we brought to city law firm, Devonshires Solicitors, to protest...

Posted by United Voices of the World the union on Monday, February 19, 2024

UVW union said the single mother was fired by the agency just before Christmas for taking the sandwich "on grounds of 'theft'".

The law firm is said to have contacted the agency, called Total Clean, to note that leftover sandwiches were not being returned, the Times reported. The agency then sacked Gabriela.

"I've been accused of theft when all I did was eat a small sandwich that was probably going to end up in the bin," she previously told MailOnline.

"I put it in the fridge to have after my shift ended, because the sandwiches were left in the kitchen for other staff when ground-floor meetings finished, and I understood I had the right to eat it as someone who worked in the building," she continued.

Gabriela
Gabriela. Picture: United Voices of the World

"There must have been around five trays with left-over food, including crisps and sandwiches, and I only took one small one with tuna and cucumber inside.

"It would have been around 2.30pm, so lunch-time was virtually over, and almost certainly the sandwich I ate and most of the others on the trays would have ended up being thrown away." She added: "The way they got rid of me was horrible."

Read More: Cleaner on £13/hour 'fired after taking sandwich left over from meeting' at law firm that reported £21 million profit

Read More: 'Unfair and inhumane': Cleaner on £13/hour who was 'fired after taking sandwich left over from meeting' breaks silence

UVW, which describes itself as a "grassroots trade union founded by and for of low-paid, precarious and migrant workers", is taking legal action against Total Clean, but is also protesting in the meantime.

UVW said: "Gabriela is an Ecuadorian single mother who after 2 years cleaning the offices of a corporate law firm was summarily sacked just before Christmas on grounds of 'theft' - the 'theft' in question being a £1.50 Tesco tuna sandwich that she ate which was left over from a lawyers meeting, and was due to be discarded.

"Sacking cleaners on ridiculous grounds like this - treating them like the dirt they clean - is not uncommon though is always outrageous and in UVW we always fight back.

"We are taking the case to court but that takes time, and justice delayed is justice denied, so in the meantime we'll be doing what we do best and fighting back through direct [action]."

Devonshires distanced itself from the decision, saying that it would welcome Gabriela back if Total Clean restored her job.

The union has rallied round Gabriela
The union has rallied round Gabriela. Picture: United Voices of the World

The firm said it "expressly" told Total Clean not to take any action against Gabriela, adding that the decision to fire her "was taken without any input or influence from Devonshires whatsoever".

A spokesperson for the company added: "We have made clear to Total Clean that we would not object, as we never have done, to Gabriela attending and working on our premises if Total Clean changes its position".

Total Clean said that it wanted "to maintain the integrity of our workforce and service by ensuring we deal appropriately with any actions that undermine the hard work and reputation of our incredible team who conduct themselves impeccably. Trust and honesty is of paramount importance”.

The company added that "all steps taken have been in accordance with UK employment law following the proper investigative and disciplinary process".

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