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STRIKING cleaners won concessions today from both the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) on the second day of their historic strike action.
Following a protest at a planning meeting yesterday evening, council representatives finally agreed to meet the strikers in person.
Councillor Catherine Faulks – widely criticised last July for saying a Grenfell resident having been charged rent after the fatal blaze was a “tiny thing” – and council chief executive Barry Quirk visited the picket line.
The pair refused to make any commitment to introduce the London living wage but did agree to broker a meeting between members of the United Voices of the World (UVW) union and council leader Elizabeth Campbell.
UVW general secretary Petros Elia told the councillors that the cleaners were “striking for their dignity and their very existence in this city.”
He said: “Every time they have asked the council to increase their wages they have been met with complete silence.”
Ms Faulks told the strikers: “Thank you so much for what you do for us. We really, really appreciate that,” prompting one observer to respond: “Well, bloody pay them, then!”
Nestor Rueda Torres explained through a translator that he was striking to win the fair wages “he thinks he needs, he deserves.”
He said he and his colleagues “normally come to work without having barely any sleep” for “misery wages.”
A translator told the councillors: “He wants you to know they are not machines, they are human beings.”
Mr Elia told the council representatives that “obviously it’s positive that you are here,” but said that the cleaners “do intend to call new strikes in the following weeks and months. … to avoid any future strike action they will need a commitment.”
He asked: “Are you able to offer, here today, a commitment to the London living wage?”
When the council refused, Mr Elia said cleaners had no option but to escalate the action.
Ms Faulks responded: “Personally, I agree these people aren’t being paid enough, but we also have to be responsible politically with our finances.”
The borough was slammed after last year’s devastating Grenfell fire for sitting on hundreds of millions in reserves and handing out council tax rebates to the wealthy while neglecting its responsibilities to poorer residents.
Mr Quirk did, however, say that he would recommend that cleaners are paid the London living wage, currently £10.20 an hour.
An occupation of the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) headquarters in central London this afternoon also secured a commitment to a meeting with the strikers.
The UVW said: “Management’s response levels to our requests for a meeting over the past 10 months have been zero. Shame it takes a strike and an occupation to finally draw one.”
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