Migrant workers will walk out at 13 different sites across London in an unprecedented coordinated set of strikes organised by the United Voices of the World (UVW) union.
Cleaners at the Ministry of Justice and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) will be not be working on Tuesday 7th, Wednesday 8th, and Thursday 9th of August. Cleaners at Health Care America will also be protesting on those dates, ahead of taking industrial action at the end of the month.
Workers with the UVW are fighting for the living wage, sick pay and unfair working conditions for subcontracted personnel.
A Ministry of Justice headquarters cleaner called Luis said he was striking because:
“Even though we are paid minimum wage, the company still tries to make us work harder and harder, doing more tasks and cleaning more and the company doesn’t send anyone to replace the workers who are sick or absent.
“It is because they don’t even listen to us or treat us with respect that we have to strike. It is for this [reason] that we call this place the Ministry of Injustice.”
Sites affected by the strike will include the headquarters of the Ministry of Justice, as well as Guy’s Hospital, the Shard, Kensington Town Hall and Harley Street Clinic.
The cleaners all work for service provider companies OCS, Compass and Amey. They argue there is a discrepancy in treatment between staff working for outsourcing companies and those directly employed in terms of holiday entitlement, hours and overtime pay.
Additionally, all companies also lack a sick pay scheme, meaning workers cannot afford to fall ill at risk of losing their day’s pay or even their jobs.
Commenting on the strike, Compass-employed Health Care America cleaner Mercedes said:
“We are not just demanding fair pay, we need basic vaccinations, including Hepatitis B and Tetanus, which are being denied to us even though we regularly come in direct contact with bodily fluids including blood. These are luxury hospitals, why can’t we get what we need?”
Strikers are also demanding a pay rise in the form of the London living wage as set by the Living Wage Foundation, which stands at £10.20 an hour. Most cleaners are currently earning the national living wage as set by the government in 2016 – a mere £7.83 an hour.
RBKC cleaner Mauricio explained that the rate was insufficient to survive in the capital:
“It is really hard to survive in London, you have to think about what you can and can’t buy, which bill to pay, it’s very difficult. I wanted to live near my work but it is impossible for me. I live in a room in an apartment with another family, that is how it is here.”
The strikers are mostly from Latin America and African countries, including Colombia, Brazil and Ecuador.
UVW organisers said the strikes were “the most ambitious and widespread industrial action launched by small gig economy union to date.” The independent union was launched in 2014 and has since gained a reputation for representing migrant workers in “unorganisable” sectors, including subcontracted cleaners.
Last year it won a dispute at the London School of Economics, where cleaners now earn a living wage and have parity with professors in terms of sick pay and holiday pay – a first in the history of British academia.
The UVW argued that victories at the Ministry of Justice and RBKC could push other local authorities and national government to implement the living wage across their sites.