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20.12.2023 / News / /

“They don’t treat us cleaners like human beings, they treat us like rats”: Cleaners at the Department of Education poised to strike for a living wage

Exhausted cleaners, struggling to pay for the basics, working at the Department for Education (DfE)’s Sanctuary Buildings are asking to be paid a living wage, equal sick pay and annual leave with civil service workers, appropriate staffing levels and union recognition. Cleaners at the department took three days of strike action over the summer as part of a mass strike by UVW members demanding dignity, equality and respect.

The DfE cleaners, who are members of United Voices of the World (UVW), have given their bosses at ISS UK Limited (ISS), until 8 January 2024 to reply. If there’s no reply, members have instructed UVW to declare a dispute and issue a notice of intention to ballot for industrial action.

The cleaners demand their wages be increased to the new London Living Wage in the January payroll and this rise be backdated to November 2023. The cost of living crisis is making it harder for workers to keep warm in their homes due to the increased cost of gas and electricity. Food prices are still higher than they were two years ago. Workers are running out of food and finding themselves unable to afford more. Not increasing the cleaners’ pay has a drastic impact.

Kadijatu Jalloh, a cleaner for the DfE and UVW member, said: “You get the bare minimum if you’re sick. They don’t give decent sick pay. They don’t do all these kinds of things for us. We are dying silently in the building. They don’t treat us cleaners like human beings, they treat us like rats. They don’t know how to talk to people. Since this complaint was made, no one came to address us. Nobody came, nobody talked to us. They just sent a pamphlet with the terms and conditions. We are not happy at all. How can you pay your rent? How can you pay your bills? When they are not paying you correctly.”

Despite working in the DfE’s buildings, the cleaners get worse sick pay than the civil service workers they clean-up after. Workers say they should not be compelled, by threat of financial hardship, to force themselves into work when sick.

The cleaners also get worse annual leave. Many of the UVW members are parents and grandparents and should receive the same entitlement to family life as any other DfE colleague, accordingly they are demanding parity with civil service annual leave entitlement.

There has been a considerable increase in workload over recent years due to cuts to staffing levels. This has left some of the cleaners feeling exhausted after their shifts. The cleaners are demanding appropriate staffing levels.

If you want to fight for a living wage at your workplace, get in touch with UVW now >>

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