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27.03.2024 / News /

Choose kindness over ruthlessness

“I went to visit my 87-year-old sick father who has an amputated leg. When I got back I found out I had been sacked.“

Alejandro Chalen, sacked cleaner and UVW member

What would you do if you had been asking your bosses for months to approve your leave to visit your elderly and sick father across the world and your requests had been ignored? Alejandro didn’t want to risk not seeing his father again, given his age and condition, but when he returned he found he had been sacked for going AWOL (absent without official leave) because of a series of misunderstandings.  

Alejandro, a 62-year old outsourced migrant cleaner from Ecuador and UVW member, was shocked. In July 2023, he put in a request to take December off. He needed to book the time off early so he could afford the expensive flights as well as to give the company he had been part of for almost 6 years, ABM UK, time to arrange cover. As with the majority of cleaners on low wages, Alejandro couldn’t book shorter trips at short notice. 

“I kept asking via Whatsapp, which is the way we normally communicated with our managers, but there was no response. Then a new manager came in November who kept telling me verbally to resign from my job, go on holiday and come back to be rehired. I was confused. Why did I have to resign to be able to go and see my dad? I had a right to holiday and my father was ill, he had a leg amputated the year before because of diabetes. He is 87 years old,” Alejandro recalls. In the absence of any response via Whatsapp, he understood he could leave. As the old Spanish saying goes, ‘silence is consent.” 

Upon return, he was told he had been fired as he had disobeyed an email sent in November  refusing him leave.“I didn’t see the email because I don’t really use email. I don’t know much about computers.I have never received any training and we had always communicated via Whatsapp before” he told us. When UVW reviewed his email we saw that his bosses appeared to not have given him the proper notice for the rejection, which according to the government digital service should be double the number of days requested plus one day, or even stated an operational reason for turning the request down.

Learn all you need to know about how to ask for leave, your rights and duties.

“I have never studied anything. I was 11 years old when I started working with my father picking up wood to sell” he remembers. Years later he moved to Spain where he lived for 24 years working in construction and eventually to the UK, where  he’s been for 11 years, working as a cleaner. Alejandro wants and needs his job and salary. He sends money back to support his father who needs expensive medication. At 62 it won’t be easy for Alejandro to find alternative work that will keep him housed and fed. 

While we understand his leave was not granted, given the confusion over the leave, the late notice of rejection, Alejandro’s computer literacy skills and the lack of an operational reason to deny him the holiday, Alejandro should be reinstated. 

Under the guise of efficiency, the outsourced cleaning sector is cut-throat and often lacks care, compassion and humanity. Alejandro’s case is a clear example of this ruthlessness. ABM has the choice and the power to do something differently and restore Alejandro’s employment. We expect them to do the right thing.

The fight for better treatment and working conditions starts with us, workers, knowing our rights. Come and join UVW, our courses and workshops and arm yourself with the knowledge to fight back!


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