'Not the dirt we clean': Ministry of Justice cleaners walk out over pay

7 August 2018, 13:10

Cleaners at the Ministry of Justice and Kensington and Chelsea Council are walking out over pay in what organisers say is an "unprecedented" three-day co-ordinated strike.

Their union, United Voices of the World (UVW), have claimed an early victory as Kensington and Chelsea Council (RBCK) has announced it will bring cleaners in-house, ending the outsourced contracts striking workers opposed.

Workers said they would continue to strike for their other demands, including the London living wage of £10.20 an hour, compared to the minimum wage of £7.83 - and sick pay beyond the statutory minimum.

Outsourced employee Nestor told Sky News he hoped to keep up the pressure on RBCK over rights and pay, and said it would be "fantastic" to be brought back in-house.

Workers say if the strike is successful it could lead to a 25% pay rise for more than 1,000 staff.

The cleaners say they feel overworked in a "draconian" disciplinary environment, and can barely survive despite working long hours which allow them little chance of a social or family life.

"Even though we are paid minimum wage, the company still tries to make us work harder and harder," striking worker Luis, who works at the MoJ, said.

"It is because they don't even listen to us or treat us with respect that we have to strike. It is for this that we call this place the Ministry of Injustice."

At RBCK, Nestor told Sky News he worked seven days a week. "London is so expensive," he said. "To make ends meet you need to work two or three jobs".

The MoJ, which outsources cleaning contracts to a provider called OCS, told Sky News its cleaners were "valued colleagues" but said pay and terms were between employers and employees.

RBCK, revealing it would take back contracted services from external provider Amey, told Sky News: "We are not prepared to pay more for a contract with a private sector company which has a turnover of billions and which clearly has the resources to pay staff appropriately."

Recent months have seen a flurry of walkouts by mostly low-paid and migrant workers in the capital, many of whom are employed by outsourcing companies that unions say offer lower-cost services by squeezing pay and conditions.

Petros Elia, a representative of UVW, said the union represents workers who often feel "invisible".

"These cleaners are not only fighting for themselves," he told Sky News, adding that he hopes the strike could bring change for others at the targeted organisations and across the city.

"For most low paid workers, the biggest barrier to taking action at work is fear," Mr Elia said. "We show workers we will protect them, and remind them of their sense of power and channelling the anger they've got."

The joint walkout will be followed by strikes by cleaners at Health Care America - one of the largest providers in the world - at the end of August.