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29.04.2020 / News / /

Two workers at the Ministry of Justice die from suspected COVID-19

  • UVW members at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) walked off the job for International Workers Memorial Day in response to two of their colleagues dying from suspected COVID-19. 

  • Cleaners at the MoJ, outsourced to OCS, receive no occupational sick pay and are forced to work throughout lockdown with complaints of inadequate PPE. 

  • Emmanuel, a UVW member, had worked at the MoJ since February 2018 and could not afford to take time off when he fell ill. He worked until the day he died, with colleagues reporting he was on the brink of collapse with fatigue and delirious with fever when leaving work.

Two workers at the Ministry of Justice have died from suspected COVID-19. On April 28th, International Workers Memorial Day, UVW members who clean the MoJ walked off the job to protect themselves from COVID-10 following a repeated failure to provide them with adequate PPE. 

One of the cleaners who died was named Emmanuel. He was from Guinea Bissau and a member of UVW who had been cleaning the MoJ for years. 

It’s reported that Emmanuel hadn’t eaten at all, or had barely eaten, during the 5 days before his death and was so weak in the hours before his death that he barely knew where he was or how to get home. His last hours were sadly spent at work. Neither the MoJ or their contractor OCS bothered to help him or call an ambulance, and he left work and died on April 23, 2020 at 10:30pm. 

Emmanuel had worked at MoJ since February 2018. He was an agency worker for two years, despite repeatedly asking OCS to make him a permanent employee. As an agency worker, he was not entitled to holidays, sick pay, and had no security when taking strike action or engaging in other union organising. Despite the risks, Emmanuel bravely chose to go on strike twice in order to demand  a living wage and sick pay. 

In early 2020, OCS made Emmanuel a permanent employee. When he fell ill a few weeks ago, he only continued to attend work because the MoJ and OCS refused to offer him any sick pay, despite Emmanuel and his co-workers fighting for years to get a proper sick pay scheme. 

Instead, Emmanuel, like millions of other workers, was only entitled to Statutory Sick Pay. SSP provides no money for the first 3 days of illness and £19.17 a day thereafter. Emmanuel simply couldn’t afford to take time off work to seek medical treatment and recover.

The MoJ and OCS must be held to account. Every worker deserves full pay sick pay from day one of illness. It is literally a matter of life and death, and not just during COVID-19.

You can find statements from MoJ workers here:

  • Fatima, a UVW member and cleaner at the MoJ

  • Carlos, a UVW member and cleaner at the MoJ 

  • Other testimonies about conditions at MoJ and Emmanuel’s circumstances

For ways to help, please visit our take action page or join our solidarity network for regular updates.

We are fundraising to help Emanuel’s family with the cost of repatriating his body to Guinea Bissau, funeral costs and to tied them over in the immediate aftermath of his death. Please share and donate if you can. You can find the Crowdfunder here

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