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CLEANERS at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea (RBKC) took to the picket lines today in their landmark fight for workers’ rights.
Workers paid just the minimum wage of £7.83 an hour began the first of three days of unprecedented strike action to secure the London living wage of £10.20 an hour.
They are also aiming to win the right to sick pay and annual leave.
Staff are not currently paid for the first three days of absence through sickness and then only receive £18 a day.
The strike, organised by the United Voices of the World Union (UVW), was well supported by fellow unions, including the Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB), RMT, PCS and Unite members.
Eduardo Ventimilla, who works as a cleaner at the MoJ, told the Star that the strike was about dignity, saying: “In this building of the Ministry of Justice, there has been lots of injustice.”
He added: “We can’t allow them to keep abusing the workers, the cleaners of this building. We are the only workers in this building who don’t have dignity. We have to carry on until we win our rights.”
His colleague Osvaldo de Oliveira, who had to take seven days leave recently to have an operation, told supporters outside the MoJ building in central London: “This is a historic struggle and it is great to see the solidarity.”
He stressed: “We deserve a better wage than the minimum wage. We are here to carry on the struggle. Don’t give up, the struggle goes on.”
Both the MoJ and RBKC subcontract cleaning services, to OCS and Amey respectively. The strikers are demanding that the public bodies step in to ensure staff are paid fairly.
RBKC announced today morning that it would be bringing its cleaning contract with Amey back in-house.
An RBKC spokesman said that, “over the next few months, we will be taking back the services they currently provide to us. We will review all the associated costs and services at that time.”
But, this afternoon, RBKC backtracked on the commitment prompting UVW to say in a statement: "Within hours, the richest borough in London shows contempt for the people who clean their HQs by withdrawing a key offer.
"This is not a game, this is people's lives. Big mistake."
UVW general secretary Petros Elia told the Star the cleaners’ demands — the living wage, sick pay and annual leave — were modest, but they were demands low-paid workers have been forced to make “across the economy.”
He pointed out that “employers have got comfortable, unilaterally setting terms and conditions.”
Kensington MP Emma Dent-Coad told the Star that RBKC needed to put “all direct and indirect employees on the London living wage as a minimum. It shouldn’t be an aspiration."
Ms Dent-Coad added that the RBKC strike had a much wider significance, underlining: “If they win, they will win for everyone, the Amey-contracted workers and hopefully all the other workers that are contracted by the council.”
IWGB president Henry Chango Lopez told the Star: “The future of our unions is solidarity. We can only win with this kind of community that we are creating.”
Civil Service union PCS executive committee member Candy Udwin said it is “an absolute scandal” that the MoJ “doesn’t pay its own staff the London living wage” and conveyed her union’s solidarity with the strikers.
Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley said the strikers had “made history in the fight against the exploitation of low-paid workers.
“In this age of insecurity, government departments should be leading by example, not leaving their own cleaners without basic workers’ rights.”
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