The cleaners at the Barbican Centre, which is owned by the City of London Corporation, protested on Saturday to demand the London Living Wage (LLW) and contractual sick pay.

The cleaners are organised by the union United Voices of the World (UVW). Over 60 people attended, armed with flyers, flags, drums, megaphones, air horns and vuvuzelas. UVW members from sites such as the British Musuem, the LSE University, Prudential, Sotheby’s, M&S and Topshop were in attendance and fantastic solidarity was shown from representatives from SOAS University Unison branch and from Unite Hotel Workers Branch.

The LLW, currently set at £9.15 per hour, is merely meant to afford people the opportunity to provide for themselves and their families.

The City of London Corporation, which has £1.3 billion in its “cash account” is officially registered as a Living Wage employer with the Living Wage Foundation. However, the cleaners are still not paid the current rate of £9.15 per hour which was introduced on 1st November 2014.

Through a successful campaign in 2012/13 the cleaners were awarded the London Living Wage. Their campaign, which involved several protests and a strike is the subject of film called Waging a Living in London which premiered on the TV channel London Live.

The cleaners are currently only paid Statutory Sick Pay. This means for the first whole week they miss due to illness they will only receive £35.38 which leaves them little choice but to work sick.

One cleaner injured his knee at the Barbican and needed a crutch to support himself. He was instructed to go home but refused because he knew he would not be paid if he did. MITIE, the cleaning contractor at the Barbican, responded by calling the police to have him thrown out.

After submitting a collective demand, through their trade union United Voices of the World, for the LLW and sick pay MITIE sent in the head of Employee Relations to tell the cleaners that if they protested they would be fired.

The right to protest is enshrined in Articles 10 and 11 European Convention of Human rights and UVW is currently seeking legal advice on best to respond to such threats.

A cleaner that wishes to remain anonymous says: “we work so hard at the Barbican, and are proud of what we do. All we ask is that we receive a fair wage and some sick pay so that we don’t need to choose between our health and our home.”

The cleaner also says: “I couldn’t believe it when instead of talking to our trade union, UVW, they told us we would be dismissed if we protested. I am a human being and I have human rights. That’s why we are protesting today.”

Petros Elia, the General Secretary of UVW, says: “Both MITIE and the Corporation of London could easily afford to pay the London Living Wage, and provide the cleaners with contractual sick pay. They don’t pay it because they don’t care, not because they can’t. It’s about priorities. For example, the CEO of MITIE was given an annual bonus of 144% her salary which is already well over £1 million.

Petros Elia adds: “MITIE’s threats of dismissing the cleaners for protesting is despicable but is unfortunately very common in the cleaning sector. Protesting is not a crime. It is a human right and we will be making that point loud and clear during our protest.”

UVW is a new, grassroots union with no paid officials and almost entirely comprised of low paid migrant workers in London’s service sector.

UVW recently won the the London Living Wage at Sotheby’s auction house and represents migrant cleaners all over London including at Topshop, St George’s University, Burberry, LSE University, The Gherkin, Slaughter and May, Rolls Royce, Fortnum and Mason, British Museum, Ministry of Justice, Network Rail, Reuters, and M&S.

UVW is currently launching a Living Wage campaign for its trade union members at Marks & Spencers.

UVW flyers

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Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

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