- Created: Tuesday, 02 August 2011 14:29
On 20 July cleaning staff met with the director of human resources for London University, who refused to accept the demand to pay outsourced employees of Balfour Beatty Workplace at the London Senate House and halls of residence the London Living Wage (LLW). There will therefore be protests from September. Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! encourages all our readers in London to support this campaign.
Prior to the meeting with management, over 70 activists, mainly from the Latin American community, had met at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) on 9 July to launch a campaign in support of the cleaning workers’ demand. At present the workers receive the minimum wage of £6.15 per hour. Whilst there is no legal obligation on employers to pay above this level, following the launching of the London Living Wage campaign in 2001, it has been widely accepted, including by former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, current Mayor Boris Johnson and Prime Minister David Cameron that this salary is insufficient to survive in London and that pay levels for London should start at £8.20. Similar campaigns have been successful in many parts of London University, with contractors at Birkbeck College, the University of London Union, the Institute of Education, Goldsmiths, UCL, LSE, SOAS and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine all now paying the LLW. Whilst the demand for payment of the LLW is frequently raised by trade unions, such as Unite, Unison, GMB and RMT, which organise low-paid cleaning workers in London, it is worth noting that the campaign was not begun by any of the unions, but by the charity Citizens UK.
Wage levels are not the only problem faced by cleaning workers and there are many complaints about late pay, withheld pay, lack of sick pay and so on. examples cited at the meeting included a worker who had been underpaid by £1,600. Cleaning workers in Hughes Parry hall of residence spoke of stifling working conditions, especially in summer, when they are not even provided with drinking water, lack of extra pay when there is more work to be done and having to wait a month for overtime payments.
Following on from lengthy past campaigns fought by cleaning workers in offices, banks and corporations, the City of London continues to be a focus for protest. Early morning cleaning workers at the Guildhall are paid £5.93 per hour and generally paid a month in arrears; however many of the workers had been continuously underpaid by contractor Ocean over the previous three months. On 14 and 15 June, workers refused to work until the company gave them assurances they would be paid and remained in the reception area for the duration of their two hour shift. The company then issued some ‘amended’ payslips, and promised that the rest of the shortfall would be made good.
The Guildhall workers, who are organised, not through one of the main British unions, but via the syndicalist International Workers of the World Cleaners and Allied Trades branch, presented a collective grievance to Ocean management, stating that they would strike again if their demands were not met. On 15 July the workers went on strike again, this time supported by a large solidarity demonstration which carried on from 5.30 to 10am. As a result of the strike, Ocean management agreed to sort out all the unpaid wages; however the Guildhall cleaners are now stepping up their struggle and beginning a campaign to be paid the London Living Wage.
More details on the struggle of the university cleaning staff will be posted here: http://unisonsenatehouse.blogspot.com/
To sign a petition for the LLW go to: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/senatehousellw/