Unionising Cleaners

Submitted by AWL on 20 November, 2006 - 12:20

'Dignity not poverty'

Railway cleaners are brutally exploited by cleaning companies such as ISS, GBM, Wettons and others. There are over 30 cleaning contractors for London Underground alone!

They are expected to work nights for a mean £6.05 per hour, and can be moved to days at the whim of the company, costing them £1 per hour. When working weeks are cut from 6 to 4 days, workers have little choice but to accept these changes. Bosses exploit the fact that, for cleaners, four days' work is better than none at all.

Other injustices include: denying sick pay, fines for sick days, and punishment by blocking overtime that would have made up the lost pay. While the companies profit from cutting staffing, cleaners are timed and pressurised to maintain the same cleanliness. Teams of 13 often operate with eight or nine cleaners. When the work falls below standard, cleaners are disciplined and the managers' money keeps rolling in!

With the cost of living in London so high, £5.05 really is poverty pay. Cleaners who were on £5 per hour in 1994 today only get £5.50: a huge pay cut in real terms. Most cleaners have to do two jobs in order to support themselves.

The answer to this exploitation is for railway cleaners to join a union, so that they can fight alongside workers in all grades of the industry for their shared goals. As an all-grades union, the stronger elements of the RMT are in a position to support cleaners to win the rights and recognition they have fought to secure. If all RMT reps begin to act as cleaners' reps, the union will recruit and the benefits of being in the union will show.

RMT has launched a Cleaners' Charter campaign, demanding a minimum of £7.05 an hour with the goal of a minimum of £10 per hour, as well as decent pensions, sick pay and prospects for career progression. It also demands an end to contracting out and all cleaners to be restored to working for a publicly-owned railway system. At a meeting to launch the new phase of the campaign on 9th October, grievances such as those cited above were incorporated.

The meeting decided to expose Ken Livingstone's hypocrisy for being publicly committed to a 'London Living Wage' of £7.05 per hour while awarding contracts that do not allow for decent wages.

RMT is submitting pay and recognition claims to all the cleaning contractors. It already has recognition with several companies. This should be the beginning of a fight that will involve workers from every grade in securing rights for the industry's most exploited workers.

The T&G's organisation drive amongst Tube cleaners has done potential harm in weakening workers' unity by introducing an extra union to the industry. But this should not stop RMT reps and members from building this into a serious, successful campaign.

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