Cleaning contractor ABM has informed RMT reps that will be furloughing some cleaners, possibly including those on long-term distancing from work and some part-time staff. While it has guaranteed to protect jobs, it does not intend to top up the additional 20% of cleaners' salaries, meaning that any cleaner furloughed faces a 20% pay cut.
This is an utter scandal. Cleaners are some of the lowest paid workers on the Tube, earning just £10.75 per hour. A 20% pay cut could leave many of them facing severe financial hardship.
It's not yet entirely clear how this plan will intersect with the existing commitment that cleaners isolating or off sick would be paid in full (they were previously only entitled to Statutory Sick Pay). If ABM intends to furlough staff who are isolating or distancing at home, that could lead to cleaners who are symptomatic coming back to work before it's safe, because they can't afford to remain at home. This move is therefore not only profoundly unjust, but potentially utterly reckless and a danger to public health.
ABM is a multibillion pound, multinational corporation. The idea that it cannot afford the 20% top up takes some believing. Nevertheless, and without wanting to let ABM bosses off the hook, the responsibility should ultimately lie with TfL and LU. They are the contract holder, and as such are ultimately responsible for the conditions of those who work on their network. ABM should open its books to verify its claim that it can't afford the top up, and if so, TfL/LU should step in to pay it instead, a demand which RMT has already made. Or, better still, LU should employ cleaners directly, ending the two-tier regime that treats these frontline workers doing some of the most dangerous work to confront the virus like second-class citizens.
The announcement comes just days after TfL wrote to the RMT to tell them it did not “deem it appropriate” to provide cleaners with staff travel passes... and advised them to catch the bus instead! (See here for TfL's letter to the RMT.)
All directly-employed LU staff have travel passes, and will be paid 100% of their salary if furloughed (TfL has committed to topping up the 20% not covered by the government). Yet again, cleaners – who are overwhelmingly from migrant and BAME backgrounds – are being discriminated against.
Although official disputes and ballots are challenging in current circumstances, RMT reps will no doubt be exploring every available channel to fight for full furlough pay for cleaners.