20.12.2023 / Press releases /

“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

  • Cleaners who work for ISS UK Limited at the Department for Education (DfE) are demanding parity of terms and conditions with civil servants and are set to ballot to strike
  • 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

Petros Elia, general secretary for UVW, said:

“Our members are a vital part of the DfE team, without our members working hard to keep the buildings safe and clean, the department would cease to function. They want the same terms & conditions of everyone else working in the building. Reasonable entitlement to sick leave removes the psychological pressure and precarity that falling ill can cause workers, particularly when they have families to provide for, as all our members have. “

“Our members have decades and decades of cumulative experience cleaning Sanctuary buildings. They know every inch of the building inside out and can do every aspect of the job blindfolded. Allow them to do their jobs with reasonable levels of staffing so they can maintain the high standard of cleanliness and safety they have consistently delivered in their roles over many years.”

For more information contact the UVW comms team.

Jim: 07749 765264
Cristina: 07548 759340
Isabel: 07706 987443


Notes for editors

United Voices of the World is an anti-racist, member-led, direct action, campaigning trade union and we exist to support and empower the most vulnerable groups of precarious, low-paid and predominantly BAME and migrant workers in the UK. We fight the bosses through direct action on the streets and through the courts and demand that all members receive at least the London Living Wage, full pay, sick pay, dignity, equality and respect.

More information on the strike over the summer:


  1. Backdated pay award for the increase in the London Living Wage in October 2023
  2. Civil service parity: Sick pay entitlement
  3. Civil service parity: Annual leave entitlement 
  4. Appropriate staffing levels
  5. Voluntary trade union recognition


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