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MoJ cleaners win C-19 sick pay but vows to continue the fight

UVW union demands full sick pay for key workers

CLEANERS at the Ministry of Justice have cautiously welcomed an offer of full Covid-19 sick pay, but warned yesterday that the move does not go far enough. 

Outsourced workers, who have continued to clean central London offices during the pandemic, will now receive full pay for any coronavirus-related sick leave, backdated to April 1. 

The announcement on Wednesday evening follows the deaths of two workers in April and reports of a coronavirus outbreak among cleaning staff, with at least five falling ill during lockdown. 

Emanuel Gomes, who was outsourced to cleaning contractor OCS, died on April 23.

His union, United Voices of the World (UVW), said that Mr Gomes had little choice but to work, despite suffering coronavirus-like symptoms for around five days prior to his death, because he could not live on statutory sick pay of just £95.85 a week. 

The official cause of death was recorded as hypertensive heart disease, but Mr Gomes’s family is reported to be considering seeking a second, independent, post-mortem.

Another worker, employed by outsource firm Kier, was confirmed by the company to have died from Covid-19. 

Responding to the new offer, one cleaner, who preferred not to be named, told the Morning Star that it was only a “short-term solution.” 

“We should have had these rights without needing to demand [them] from the company, these are basic rights,” he said.

The cleaner, who was off work for more than a month with coronavirus, said that without the support of his family he could have “died, like Emanuel.” 

“We already have pitiful pay of £9 an hour, why don’t they pay the living wage? They should respect the demands we made before.” 

UVW organiser Molly de Dios Fisher explained that the offer does not cover sicknesses other than coronavirus, and that the union would continue fighting for occupational sick pay and the Living Wage.

“We also wish to stress how deeply angry and saddened we are that this decision has come too late to save our member Emanuel Gomes,” she said. “Had this sick-pay policy been implemented sooner Emanuel might still be with us today.”

A spokesperson for OCS said it recognised that SSP had caused financial concerns for its staff.

“We are therefore pleased to confirm that, based on support from the MoJ, OCS will pay enhanced sick-pay rates to colleagues working at MoJ-managed sites for Covid-19-related absences for the period April 1 – July 31 2020,” they said. 

An MoJ spokesperson said: “We are extremely grateful to all the staff that have ensured our buildings remain safe for those who cannot work from home.

“We hope the fact that OCS colleagues are now able to self-isolate on full pay will provide financial reassurance.”

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