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School cleaners to strike for 40 days and 40 nights in ‘righteous indignation’ at ‘wage theft’ and ‘poverty pay’

OUTSOURCED cleaners at a south London school have voted to take “40 days and 40 nights” of industrial action against precarious wages and withheld pay, the United Voices of the World (UVW) said today. 

The strike, which UVW says will be the longest school cleaners’ strike in British history, will see staff at La Retraite Roman Catholic girls’ school walk out from March 16 over a lack of parity in terms and conditions with teachers, including sick pay.

The workers, all of whom are Latin American migrants, are also seeking repayment of withheld wages via an urgent application for an injunction against contractor Ecocleen.

According to UVW, Ecocleen deducted an entire month’s wages from some of the cleaners after they refused to work until Covid-19 risk assessments had been carried out.

In what their union calls a “cruel, vindictive and unlawful punishment,” wages were withheld, forcing some of the cleaners to look to loans and food banks to survive.

Roberto, a cleaner at the school, said: “If we go off sick, we’ll lose our wages, and as we already live on the breadline, every penny we lose risks leaving us unable to buy food or pay for rent.

“If teachers get it, then why can’t cleaners?”

UVW organiser Petros Elia said members would be supported as “long it takes to ensure they are treated justly and as equals.”

An Ecocleen spokesperson said: “We are fully committed to safeguarding the health and safety of all of our workers.

“Since the start of the pandemic, we have undertaken the necessary Covid-19 risk assessments in line with government guidelines.

“We recognise our employees’ right to go on strike and will remain in close dialogue and consultation with them.”

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