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Cleaners at Sotheby's win London Living Wage
Volunteer-run trade union United Voices of the World has successfully negotiated with Contract Cleaning & Maintenance (London) to secure the London Living Wage - and other notable benefits, for the cleaners and porters at the famous Sotheby's auction house in London.
As well as a substantial pay rise to the full London Living Wage of £9.15 per hour, the increase will be backdated to 1st November 2014, a suspended shop steward and dismissed cleaner have both been reinstated, and the chemicals the cleaners use will be changed in favour of more eco-friendly products.
"Sotheby's is famous for selling masterpieces for millions of pounds, so the contrast with cleaners on poverty wages could hardly be greater," argues United Voices of the World general secretary, Petros Elia.
"These hardworking people were also subject to a host of other injustices, which are sadly all too common in the cleaning sector, including a cut in hours and pay resulting in more work for less money and aggressive managers who never faced disciplinary sanctions.
"We began by submitting a collective grievance to the contractor, CCML, but this was flippantly dismissed. We then secured an Early Day Motion in Parliament strongly condemning such employment practices and calling on Sotheby's to resolve the dispute. That helped to raise awareness of the cleaners' complaints, as did writing to several hundred of Sotheby's employees. A protest scheduled for 22nd February seems to have been the catalyst for this comprehensive settlement, which was achieved without having to resort to strike action.
"Having arrived late at the negotiating table, Sotheby's deserve great credit for proposing a generous package which goes way beyond what other multinationals provide. The rise to the London Living Wage equates to an extra £1,750 a year for a cleaner working eight hours per day, with the backdated pay worth a further £600. In particular, the promise of contractual sick pay sets a fine example that we urge others to follow.
"It says a lot that the cleaners say the most welcome change is an ability to take all their annual leave in one go. Many are of Latin American descent, so this will make it much easier for them to visit their families."
A Sotheby's cleaner, who wished to remain anonymous, comments: "At first we were all afraid of losing our jobs. We were told that if we went on strike we would all be fired.
"So then we all came together and joined the union United Voices of the World. We cannot find the words to thank UVW, who gave us so much support and encouragement to fight for our rights and our dignity."
Petros Elia co-directed the documentary 'Waging a living in London', chronicling the successful campaign by cleaners at The Barbican theatre, who are also members of UVW. They secured a pay rise from around the minimum wage to the London Living Wage at the time - £6.19 to £8.55 per hour. It brings into sharp focus the day-to-day difficulties of living on the minimum wage. Watch the film on London Live at:
United Voices of the World is a grassroots, member-led trade union comprised almost entirely of low-paid migrant workers in the service sector. The majority of members are of Latin American descent, although increasing numbers of African, British and Eastern European workers are also joining. UVW has a dedicated team of representatives with extensive experience in all manner of employment law issues. It also works closely with the ethical law firm Truth Legal, specialist in accident, assault and employment issues. UVW encourages its members to learn English, study employment law, campaign for the Living Wage and stand against abuse, bullying and discrimination at work.
26th February 2015