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Cleaners demonstrate against Government's culture of disrespect against low paid workers
Following the damning comments in Sue Gray’s ‘Partygate’ report, regarding the treatment of those tasked with cleaning Government buildings, members of the United Voices of the World union protested outside Downing Street on Friday against the culture of disrespect towards low paid workers – such as cleaners and security guards - in Government buildings and offices across London.
"We're not in the least bit surprised by the revelations in the Sue Gray report!” remarked Petros Elia, general secretary for UVW – the union that represents cleaners and security guards in Government buildings.
“We have thousands of members who work as cleaners and security guards and these workers face disrespect and discrimination on a daily basis in offices and government buildings across London, not just in Downing Street.
"It is outrageous to have rowdy and illegal parties during the pandemic but to then expect cleaners to mop up after you and to pay them - as well as porters and security guards - poverty wages, and deny them full sick pay, is abhorrent. Most of the cleaners and security guards out there are ethnic minority workers, black, brown and migrant people, who are disproportionately impacted by poor working conditions and racialised inequalities.
"We represent cleaners at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) who had to walk off the job during the pandemic because they were not given adequate PPE and were denied full sick pay, which they eventually won for Covid-19 absences. One of our members who worked as a cleaner at the MoJ tragically died an untimely and avoidable death. That's how far the levels of disrespect and mistreatment went and goes towards low paid workers.
“What many of these outsourced workers face is racial discrimination, which an Employment Tribunal recently found in the case of London' Royal Parks cleaners. The government is actually intervening to oppose our claim because they are determined to defend the system which subjugates low paid and migrant workers and keeps them at the bottom of the pile.”
UVW represents outsourced cleaners at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) who are still fighting for full pay sick pay and the London Living Wage. One cleaner and UVW member, Emanuel Gomes, tragically lost his life in April 2020; something which could potentially have been avoided if Emanuel had enjoyed access to a sick pay scheme which genuinely allowed him to take time off work when sick. Instead he was forced to go into work when sick because he could not afford to take a sick day. Cleaners from MoJ joined the Friday protest outside Downing Street.
Florencio Hortago, a cleaner at the MoJ and UVW member, said:
"Cleaners are disrespected on a daily basis, even working for the Government. When the pandemic hit we didn't have sick pay. I have been working at the MoJ for 18 years and I still don't have full sick pay. I worked with Emanuel Gomes for a time and I knew him.
I also was very ill during three weeks at the beginning of the pandemic, when we didn't know whether our symptoms were Covid-19 or not and I still had to go to work feeling unwell because otherwise I wouldn't be able to pay my rent.
“When we asked for masks, they said no.
“We, the MoJ cleaners with the help of UVW fought against this and managed to get the MoJ to cover our Covid-19 related absences but we are still fighting to get full pay sick pay.
“We are on poverty wages, barely paid pennies above the minimum wage. I have three jobs. I have just finished working a 12+ hour overnight shift cleaning three different buildings. This is the situation of most of us in the cleaning services and that is what is truly disrespectful." Picture courtesy of PA
2nd June 2022