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04.07.2023 / News /

School cleaners return to the picket line to fight for their jobs

“I’m fighting for the many injustices committed against me for being a trade union member and I believe this is trade union victimisation… I’m simply going to fight for my rights, for me and for my colleagues.”

Patricia Medina Gallego, sacked cleaner at the La Retraite Roman Catholic Girls School and UVW member

The outsourced cleaners at La Retraite Roman Catholic Girls’ School in south London are returning to the picket line on 5 and 7 July, for the second time in three years, alongside striking National Education Union (NEU) teachers.

The striking cleaners are demanding that the school withdraw plans to change their working hours that would lead to several cleaners losing their jobs. They are further demanding the reinstatement of a cleaner, Patricia – a 21 year old Spanish national – who was fired without due process or right of appeal. UVW has filed an application for interim relief with the Employment Tribunal on her behalf. 

Patricia is determined to fight for her job. “I’m fighting for the many injustices committed against me for being a trade union member and I believe this is trade union victimisation. I have felt humiliated as they fired me with no reason, arguing there were many complaints against me, which I have never been provided with any examples or evidence for. I had an anxiety attack and they didn’t even call a doctor! So I’m simply going to fight for my rights, against injustice, for me and for my colleagues,” Patricia says.

Three other UVW member cleaners, including Patricia’s mum, were suspended for several days, and UVW has launched legal proceedings in response, alleging trade union victimisation.  

Roberto Hernandez Diaz, who has worked at the school for 18 years and was suspended, says the group is ready to fight all the way, starting with a picket at the school gates on Wednesday 5 July at 3pm. “We have been humiliated because of unfounded accusations against us and we believe this (their suspension) is trade union victimisation. So we are going on strike to fight for our rights and we are going all the way because we want to be respected. The change in our timetables affects us all. I work from 5.00am until 5.30pm, if they change the hours, they extend my working day and I don’t get enough rest. So we are going all out.”

Montserrat Gallego Herida, also suspended, says they also want to clear their names: “This situation is having a huge impact on our lives, it has turned our world upside down. Some of us are having to take antidepressants because they have slandered us, they have criticised us, they’ve told our colleagues that we are confrontational and that we have bad manners and that we shout at people, when we’ve never done anything of the sort to our colleagues. So what we are going to do is fight for our rights. And we also want to clear our names because they have dragged them through the mud. We are going to strike for our rights.”

The low-paid and migrant cleaners had called off the planned strikes they had planned in June after a proposal to avoid redundancies was agreed to. The school later reneged upon this agreement. 

Sandra Luz Pérez Gallego, suspended cleaner and Patricia’s mum, says the impact is devastating for her: “The change in hours is disastrous for me because I’m a single mother with two teenagers and I can’t finish work at 7pm to arrive home by 9pm having to get up the following morning at 4am to go to work. All of this has caused me a lot of anxiety and all I want is justice. I am fighting for our rights because we, the cleaners, are human beings, we are people, not the dirt we clean. We are entitled to fight for our rights.”

The La Retraite cleaners are the eighth and latest group of UVW low-paid migrant workers to join the wave of strikes across the public and private sectors this summer.

You can support these brave workers by joining their picket:

5 July, 3pm

1-4 Atkins Road, Clapham Park, SW12 0AB

or posting your support using #uvwstrikes.

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