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Blackheath Prep cleaners

08.05.2024 / News /

Private school cleaners vote YES to strike over poverty pay

“I am ready to strike because our demands are fair. We need a pay rise but we’ve been denied. So the time has come to do something about it.”

Santa Pérez, Dominican cleaner at Blackheath Prep and UVW member said:

In early May, a group of cleaners and UVW members at Blackheath Prep returned a unanimous yes vote to take strike action for improved terms and conditions at the private school in South East London. The migrant workers from Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Spain and Colombia who clean the school for the wealthy are struggling to put food on the table with a salary of £11.44 per hour. Meanwhile Blackheath Prep charges over £15,000 per year per pupil.

“Migrant cleaners face exploitation because we don’t know our rights or speak English fluently. We are not being paid the LLW, and we don’t get sick pay although we are highly exposed to diseases as school cleaners. We end up working while sick because we don’t get paid if we need to take time off. ” says Ecuadorean cleaner Judit Morales.

The cleaners are outsourced to contractor, Westgate Cleaning Services, which have repeatedly refused their demands for improved terms and conditions including the London Living Wage (LLW) of £13.15 per hour.

UVW contacted both Westgate Cleaning Services and Blackheath Prep on 7 March 2024 in order to negotiate the following demands: a call for the London Living Wage, the same sick leave as directly employed staff, a paid 30-minute lunch break for shifts of six hours or more and the same contracts for all cleaners regardless of their start dates. At present, new cleaners are being offered inferior terms and conditions when they join.

Santa Pérez, from the Dominican Republic said she was “overcome with emotion and glad about the results of the strike ballot. I am ready to strike because our demands are fair. We are going to strike because we need a pay rise. As a single mum with four small kids I find it near impossible to make ends meet on such a low salary. We’ve been asking for the London Living Wage (LLW) for sometime now, but it’s been denied to us. So the time has come to do something about it. I’m not scared.”

Blackheath prep are in a healthy financial situation and the school leadership holds the power to make a difference by opting to become a LLW employer and insist their subcontractors apply the same dignified terms and conditions to their cleaners. It’s disheartening to see a private school boasting idyllic facilities for the rich while nearby migrant workers, paid poverty wages, struggle to provide the same nurturing environment for their families. No one should have to choose between their health and putting food on the table.

UVW is working to ensure fair treatment for all and avoid strike action if possible, but the cleaners are resolute that if no agreement is reached they will walk out. “Voting to go on strike wasn’t an easy choice – explains Judit – but change is overdue and I feel we are being supported by a community in UVW that is there for us. We need to be seen and respected,” says Judit.

Strike dates will be announced in the coming weeks.

Get ready to join them on picket line and/or support their struggle with a contribution to the strike fund,

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