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

19 February 2024, 22:37

Gabriela was fired from her job cleaning at Devonshires
Gabriela was fired from her job cleaning at Devonshires. Picture: United Voices of the World/Google
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

A cleaner working for £13/hour who said she was fired for taking a sandwich left behind after a meeting at a top City law firm has broken her silence.

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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, and had revenues of over £46 million over the same period.

United Voices of the World union (UVW) 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 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."

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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".

Read more: Anti-Zionist views protected after tribunal makes landmark ruling in favour of sacked professor

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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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