8th AUGUST 2018 – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MINISTRY OF JUSTICE OCCUPIED IN SUPPORT OF CLEANERS STRIKING AGAINST GOVERNMENT’S POVERTY PAY; KENSINGTON AND CHELSEA COUNCIL FORCED INTO MORE CONCESSIONS
The Ministry of Justice was occupied by supporters of its own cleaning staff today, as part of their ongoing struggle to be paid the London Living Wage.
Dozens of protesters streamed through the ministry’s entrance doors in Petty France, central London, blowing horns, blasting music and waving banners demanding fair pay, dignified employment, and parity in benefits with in-house staff.
The cleaners, who are currently employed on behalf of the Ministry of Justice by outsourcing giant OCS and paid £7.83 per hour – significantly below the widely-recognised minimum pay rate to live a secure life in London – are on strike as part of a series of actions this week taken by low-paid cleaning staff across the capital organised by United Voices of the World (UVW).
UVW is a small but increasingly high-profile union whose members are largely precarious migrant workers, and which has already racked up a series of concessions from prominent employers ranging from the LSE to the Daily Mail. The union has launched an unprecedented series of coordinated walk-outs across London in recent days which has hit the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC), Britain’s richest council, as well as major government departments.
Fatima Djalo, 54, said that strike action was a last resort after repeated attempts by the cleaners to raise their concers with managers fell on deaf ears. “Our wages only increased by £1 since 2009,” she commented. “I hope the strike will help us to win a pay rise and dignified working conditions. Everybody deserves a dignified life.”
Security guards and police watched on as supporters of the striking cleaners, most of whom are Latin American migrant workers, set up a sound system in the reception area of the ministry and danced to smash hits like ‘Despacito’ – refusing to move until a minister negotiated with them. Eventually Susan Acland-Hood, Chief Executive of the HM Courts and Tribunal Service, agreed to meet with staff.
“For too long, those with power and influence in the country have ignored the lives and working conditions of those that tidy their desks, sweep their floors and clean their toilets,” said Blair Buchanan, a UVW organiser. “The strike and occupation today show that major public institutions can no longer hide behind outsourcing companies as an excuse for paying their staff poverty wages. Workers are getting organised, making demands and linking up across the country to show cabinet ministers like David Gauke what justice really looks like.”
The occupation of the Ministry of Justice came just hours after a dramatic showdown on the picket line outside Kensington town hall, where the borough’s chief executive emerged to promise striking cleaners a face-to-face meeting with council leader Elizabeth Campbell.
Barry Quirk, who was brought into Kensington and Chelsea’s leadership team last year in an effort to stabilise the council following the Grenfell disaster, appeared with three other leading councillors to hear about the living conditions that RBKC’s cleaners face as a result of their low wages – and expressed his personal support for raising their pay to meet the London Living Wage.
Since strike action began, RBKC had already announced it would be ending its contract with outsourcing firm Amey. But after a council meeting was disrupted last night by UVW, councillors were forced to promise they would come down to the picket line and negotiate directly with cleaners in the open.
UVW have announced a further day of strikes tomorrow at both the Ministry of Justice and Kensington and Chelsea council, and say that their actions will continue to escalate until the cleaners’ demands are met.
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Pictures by Gordon Roland Peden