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27.01.2021 / News / Press releases /

PRESS RELEASE: “There is a culture of discrimination” says trade union as it ballots school cleaners for strike action

  • Outsourced cleaners at La Retraite Roman Catholic Girls School in South London are being balloted for strike action today 
  • The ballot is in respect of a cut to the cleaners’ hours, health and safety concerns and a refusal to give them full pay sick pay in line with school support staff. 
  • The workers’ trade union United Voices of the World has also condemned what it describes as a “culture of discrimination” at La Retraite
  • The cleaners have refused to work this year due to the threat of Coronavirus

Cleaners at the prestigious Roman Catholic Girls’ School La Retraite, in Clapham South, London, are preparing to go on strike their trade union, United Voices of the World (UVW), has announced today.

The dispute is understood to have emerged after the workers’ hours were cut, leading to what the union has described as a “£150 annual pay cut”, and after management refused to meet the workers’ demands for parity of sick pay and other terms and conditions with the school’s support staff. The cleaners currently only get the statutory minimum sick pay of around £95 a week. The cleaners were going to strike to be paid the London Living Wage, but this demand has already been conceded, marking the first time that the cleaners of La Retraite will receive anything more than the national minimum wage. 

UVW has also condemned what it has described as “lax and appalling health and safety practices” at the school resulting from the cleaning contractor’s failure to carry out a risk assessment in consultation with cleaners until 26th January 2021. Something it says at one point most likely led to a Covid outbreak amongst the cleaners and where around 25% of the workforce either had, or were suspected of having, contracted the deadly virus.

The cleaners balloting to strike, all of whom are Latin American migrants, have refused to attend work this year citing the danger of catching the new variant of Covid-19. The cleaners’ decision to stay home has prompted their employer, Ecoleen, to threaten them with disciplinary action if they do not return to work.

Something UVW is commencing legal action in response to, as the union states it breaches the workers’ rights under section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, which stipulates that workers may refuse to work in circumstances which they believe will put them in serious and imminent danger, without suffering a detriment.

This legal claim will be the first to test the law on the point of whether refusing to work due to the threat of Coronavirus does protect workers from being disciplined. 

Juan Tamayo, one of the cleaners being balloted for strike action, said the following: “I have decided to go on strike because we’re made to fear for our health and that of the vulnerable people we live with. As a working person I deserve respect, a Living Wage, and for me and my colleagues to be paid when we are sick”.

Petros Elia, a UVW Organiser, said the following: “La Retraite’s contractor has implemented appalling health and safety practices; these workers should have had a safety assessment carried out in consultation with them, and we can reliably assume that at one point as many as 25% of the cleaners either had or were suspected of having contracted Covid-19. These key workers deserve better. Further, even though the cleaners have already won the London Living Wage thorough their campaign they are still being denied full pay sick pay and are the only members of the La Retraite community who are”.

He then went on to say: “This is not only unacceptable, especially for a Catholic School whose explicit ethos is to treat everyone as equals, but it is also unlawful in our view, and we will be taking La Retraite to court to prove that they are discriminating against their migrant cleaners on the grounds of their race. This fight will only end once the cleaners are treated as equals and get the dignity and respect that hey deserve. We urge La Retriate to do the right now before things needlessly escalate“.

###

Editors notes

For further information or comment please contact:

Petros Elia, petros@uvwunion.org.uk, tel. 07884 553443

Kane Shaw, kane@uvwunion.org.uk, tel.. 07950 927798

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