Trade union United Voices of the World (UVW) has today announced that a group of migrant cleaners at the prestigious South London Roman Catholic Girls’ school of La Retraite are suing the school for “institutional racism”.
The legal challenge comes after negotiations between the two sides broke down after Headteacher Dominic Malins refused the cleaners’ calls for the same sick pay that teachers receive, something UVW officials have stated was a “red-line” in negotiations.
The cleaners, most of whom are from Latin America, are outsourced on lower rates of pay and inferior T&Cs to in-house staff, something they will argue amounts to indirect discrimination under the Equality Act 2010, as the cleaners are an entirely BAME and migrant workforce, whereas teachers at the school are preomdinantly White and British.
The cleaner’s union is also reporting the School to the Equality and Human Rights Commission for their failure to comply with their Public Sector Equality Duty.
UVW officials have also stated the school’s refusal to grant the cleaners full pay sick pay will be challenged by a Judicial Review on the grounds that the decision is so “irrational” the courts may overturn it. The test for “irrationality” in judicial review cases is whether the decision “is so unreasonable that no reasonable person, acting reasonably, could have made it”.
Petros Elia, UVW Co-Founder and Organiser, said the following:
“Denying the cleaners full pay sick pay in line with La Retraite staff is unjustifiable and unreasonable in the circumstances. We are in the middle of the most deadly pandemic for a century that has taken the lives of over 100,000 people in the UK, many of whom, according to leading epidemiologists, may have been saved from their untimely deaths were it not for being denied full sick pay.
Providing full pay sick pay is not just a benefit for workers, but a matter of health and safety, forcing workers to forgo their wages if they take a sick day leaves them feeling constrained to continue to come to work when ill – potentially with COVID-19 – putting themselves and others at risk. No worker should be forced to choose between protecting their health and that of their colleagues and loved ones, or complying with public health duties or making ends meet, especially when the financial means are available to save them from this Dickensian choice.
He went on to say:
“In our our view, La Retraite’s decision to deny the workers full pay sick pay is a breach of the Equality Act, as La Retraite clearly has control over our members’ terms and conditions of employment and the decision disadvantages the cleaners, all of whom are either non-White or non-British, and does so without any objective justification.
As a public body, La Retraite has a duty to ensure its decisions are “rational”. Denying these key workers full pay sick pay, something which would protect not just the workers, but La Retraite’s students and the wider public, and ensure its compliance with the Equality Act at an absolutely nominal cost, is entirely “irrational” and we will fight La Retraite for as long it takes, both through strike action and legal action. We hope Dominic Malins, the Headteacher who is on at least £110K a year, will stop being cruel and vindictive and start treating the cleaners as equals.”
Magaly Quesada, one of the cleaners on strike and bringing legal proceedings said the following:
“I feel annoyed, I feel frustrated and I feel inferior, because I do not understand why it is considered acceptable to deny someone full pay sick pay – in the middle of a pandemic – just because they work part time or work as a cleaner. I simply do not understand it. We are all human, so we deserve to be treated equally.
She went on to say:
“None of us wanted to go on strike or to take La Retraite to court, but we have been left with no choice. We hope they see sense and stop their hypocrisy of on the one hand saying they are a Catholic school who live by the Catholic ethos of “treating everyone justly and as equals like Jesus did”, and then on the other hand treating us cleaners like we’re second class – or like the dirt we clean. We’re cleaners, we’re key workers and we’re proud, we will not stop fighting until we are treated with respect, dignity and equality.”
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The legal challenge for indirect discrimination is one of several similar challenges being brought by United Voices of the World (UVW) against clients of outsourcing companies who have control over BAME and/or migrant workers’ pay and T&Cs and who outsource them onto inferior rates of pay and T&Cs relative to White in-house staff.
The Royal Parks, a charity created by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to manage the Queen’s Parks in London, such as Hyde Park and St. James’ Park, as well as the Ministry of Justice, are also the subject of such a challenge.
21.05.2021 / La Retraite