An almost entirely migrant workforce of outsourced cleaners is about to embark on an indefinite programme of strike action over the LSE’s refusal to grant them simple equality with their in-house counterparts. The programme of strikes will run throughout the exam period and into the summer holidays when the university welcomes students onto its lucrative summer school programme.
The LSE cleaners, who are members of the trade union United Voices of the World (UVW), will strike one day a week, every week until their demands are met, with the first day of strike action taking place this Thursday, 11 May. (1) Strikes will then be held on the 17 and 24 May and every week thereafter if the LSE continues to refuse to meet the cleaners’ demands. (2)
The cleaners are employed on hugely inferior terms, without the same employment rights and entitlements that directly employed LSE staff enjoy. Apart from the indignity of being treated as second class workers, this has a huge impact on their lives:
- Receiving only statutory sick pay means many are forced to work when ill or injured, often exacerbating their health issues. (3)
- Minimal pensions mean they are fearful for their future, cannot plan for retirement and are forced to take on multiple jobs.
- Lack of decent maternity, paternity and adoption pay means they are being denied the same rights to care for their children as other LSE staff.
- On top of this the cleaners, all of whom are migrants and/or black and minority ethnic (BME), are often subjected to poor treatment and harsh disciplinary proceedings.
The new strike programme represents an escalation of the cleaners’ campaign following a previous two-day strike on 15 and 16 March. (4) The cleaners voted to step up their action after rejecting a derisory offer from the LSE. (5)
Petros Elia, General Secretary of the United Voices of the World (UVW), said:
“The LSE has had every opportunity to avert this action but has instead, after more than eight months, only come up with a pitiful and insulting offer. It beggars belief that the LSE, which as an institution claims to be concerned with combatting inequality, appears utterly determined to maintain a two-tier workforce and treat its low paid workers with such contempt. (6)
“Despite the LSE's lies, spin and disrespect the cleaners have remained more than patient and have repeatedly tried to amicably settle this dispute. However, they are clear that they will not be strung along with empty gestures from the LSE’s highly-paid managers and directors.”
Beverley Williams, a UVW member and cleaner at the LSE, said:
“The offer the LSE made to us is no offer - it’s just a slap in the face. The LSE know what we need and what we want, they know our demands but are treating this like a game. Well, it is not a game to us.
“We, the cleaners, are now more united than ever and we won’t stop until we get justice and equality.”
The picket will run from 6am to 5pm with a lunchtime rally. A programme of events has been organised by the cleaners and their supporters: https://www.facebook.com/events/1339098702847429/permalink/1351290478294918/
The cleaners’ full set of demands are outlined on the campaign page: https://www.uvwunion.org.uk/justiceforlsecleaners/
The cleaners only receive statutory sick pay which means for the first three days they are off work due to ill health or injury they receive nothing, and from the fourth consecutive day they get just £89.35 per week.
Photos and videos of the last strike which attracted support from large numbers of LSE students and academics can be viewed on UVW’s facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pg/uvwunion/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1330661513668751; https://www.facebook.com/pg/uvwunion/videos/
The LSE’s offer amounted to just 10% of the sick pay allowance enjoyed by in-house staff; two weeks less annual leave than in-house staff; less than 20% of the maternity/paternity/adoption leave pay scheme; and no pension increase, thus keeping the cleaners on pensions which are more than 13 times smaller than in-house staff.
21 MPs have signed an Early Day Motion (EDM) supporting the cleaners’
campaign and calling on the LSE to meet their demands: https://www.parliament.uk/edm/2016-17/1028