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09.12.2022 / News / Worker's Story /

Going home for Christmas: Don’t let them stop you!

“My supervisor told me: ‘We all lie to get out of here’. That was what hurt me most. My mum was dying and I just wanted to say goodbye and that she’d be able to meet her grandchildren. I wasn’t lying. I told myself: This won’t stay like this.”

Maribel Garcia Torrico, migrant cleaner and UVW member.

Maribel works as an outsourced cleaner for a services company in London. After the summer she told her supervisors she wanted to take a three-week holiday to visit her terminally-ill mum in Bolivia over the Christmas period. When her bosses denied her request for leave, she fought for her right to travel on her own terms and won. 

Maribel was not going to take “No’ for an answer. Her mother is in palliative care due to cervical cancer and could die any day now. This Christmas would be the last time that Maribel would get to see her mother, and the first and last time that her two children of 6 and 3 years old, respectively, would get to meet their grandmother. 

She spoke to two of her supervisors about her circumstances. She gave them ample notice, over two months, so cover could be arranged. She offered to take unpaid leave if she hadn’t accrued enough for the period. She presented a medical certificate confirming her mother’s prognosis. “I was told that if I wanted to go, I could leave my job and travel for as long as I wanted. But why should I have to give up my job to take a much needed family holiday in such extreme circumstances? They also said things like ‘I’d have to stick to the timetable’, which I always did without fault! I wasn’t going to let anyone intimidate me, because we are human beings and we have rights.”

She called the Human Resources department and in her beginners’ English she told them what her family situation was. She wanted to know that when saying goodbye to her mother she’d not be recorded as AWOL (absent without official leave) and that she’d have a job to return to in London. She sought advice from her union. Eventually, Maribel was granted fully paid leave to travel home for Christmas for three weeks.

Maribel’s story is a common one among migrant workers in the UK. It’s hard enough to save for plane tickets on meagre wages, and being asked to take shorter, frequent holidays is unaffordable for us. The journeys are so long that spending two or three full days on travelling leaves little room for quality family time. Or like in the case of Maribel we have dependents to look after so we can’t choose our dates. 

When bosses demand these things of migrant, low-paid workers, they show contempt for their employees and disregard for our well being and that of our families. While they claim that their business policies are equal for all employees, in reality they have a discriminating effect against migrants and low-paid and precarious workers. This is why UVW fights against what we think is structural racism or in legal speak ‘indirect race discrimination’; not necessarily overt, or intended, not necessarily in your face, but there nevertheless, with its insidious consequences.  

Maribel says “I would tell all those in my situation not to let them manipulate, trick or intimidate you. We have rights. The bosses are used to doing what they want with the workers but we must unite. We must join the union and fight. Because united, we can.”

We fight in workplaces and we fight through legal challenges in the courts. We won’t give up. 

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