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Striking rail cleaners swept in to occupy the Swindon headquarters of train company First Great Western (FGW) in a dramatic protest over poverty wages yesterday.
Over 50 noisy protesters peacefully entered the building in Swindon to deliver a letter to FGW managing director Mark Hopwood.
The cleaners, who are employed by subcontract giant Mitie, travelled in from London, Bristol and Swansea.
They are demanding that FGW, whose trains they clean, put pressure on Mitie to pay a living wage - or get rid of the subcontractor altogether and employ them directly.
The occupation came at the start of a three-day strike across FGW rail services over pay and conditions. It is the third strike in as many months and railway union RMT has said there is more to come if their terms are not met.
Stubborn Mitie bosses are refusing to pay the cleaners a living wage despite earning more than £100 million in profits last year. Most cleaners for the group earn the minimum wage, even those in central London. Although promising in an internal letter to employees to "address the issue" of a living wage union reps said the company had dismissed the idea out of hand during talks.
Mitie employee Moses Owusu travelled from London to attend the protest. The 33-year-old is expecting his first child with wife Bertha early next year.
He said: "I don't know what we will do. There's so many things we need to buy but with this wage there's no chance. It's a serious issue - by the end of every month I'm in deficit."
Cleaner Anna Tryjankowska, from Bristol, was at the rally in Swindon. The mum of two also struggles on the minimum wage. She said she'd spent seven years working side-by-side with cleaners who are employed directly by First Great Western, yet was on lower pay and worse conditions.
She said: "We clean their trains, they should take us onboard."
Cleaners represented by RMT have rejected a paltry 3 per cent pay rise by Mitie, citing that their FGW equivalents earn 30 per cent more than they do. Mitie have explained their position by blaming FGW.
According to the union the train operator only awarded Mitie the new contract, valid until 2015, if it reduced costs by 20 per cent. This has led to an influx of zero hour workers and attempts to get rid of contracted employees.
The RMT are pressing FGW to take responsibility for the effects its deals have on workers. FGW has so far refused to acknowledge the dispute, telling the Star the issue “is for the RMT and Mitie to resolve.”
Mitie said it was “currently in discussion with the RMT.” This has not stopped the firm from threatening non-union employees with disciplinary action if they strike or refuse to cross a picket line. Assistant general secretary Steve Hedley promising to smash “the apartheid Mitie cleaners currently work under.”
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