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School Cleaners Win Wage Increase and Sick Pay After Strike

School Cleaners Win Wage Increase and Sick Pay After Strike
29 March 2021 | Updated 19 April 2021
 

Outsourced cleaners at La Retraite Roman Catholic Girls’ School are celebrating what their trade union has described as a “historic victory” after winning full pay sick pay equal to what teachers get. 

Alleged “unlawful wage deductions” and alleged “institutional racism” meant that the South London school’s cleaning staff, all of whom are Latin American migrants, planned to strike for forty days and forty nights. However, strike action ended after just two days, as the outsourced cleaners have achieved total parity in sick pay with in-house teaching staff, plus “a backdated London Living Wage” and “improvements to health and safety”.

The cleaners are all employees of La Retraite’s contractor Ecocleen, and the strike would have been the “longest school cleaners strike in UK history”.

The strike was organised by the trade union United Voices of the World (UVW).

 

 

“After struggling for so long against La Retraite and Ecocleen for something as basic as a living wage and sick pay, I feel relieved that justice and common sense finally won. I am incredibly grateful to United Voices of the World and to all those who supported our struggle”.

–Magaly Quesada

Striking Ecocleen Cleaner at La Retraite Roman Catholic Girls’ School

 

Wage Cuts and Health and Safety Concerns

 

The dispute erupted after the cleaners’ hours were cut in the run-up to Christmas and their wages withheld after a month-long walkout in February over COVID-19 health and safety concerns. Negotiations between the two sides broke down a fortnight ago after the school rejected cleaners’ demands.

The threat of a 40-day strike was also accompanied by various separate legal claims, including the threat of a report to the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The claims related to  “institutional racism” in the Employment Tribunal over unequal terms and conditions between White and BAME workers, another was a Judicial Review in the High Court over the school’s decision to deny the cleaners equal sick pay and yet another was a claim in the county court and Employment Tribunal against the school's contractor for “wage theft”. 

Speaking after the victory was announced Roberto Hernández Díaz, one of the striking workers, said the following: 

“I want to thank all the members of United Voices of the World for supporting us and helping us to win in our fight for the dignified payment and sick pay that all cleaners deserve. We joined UVW to fight for our rights, thanks to them we have now managed to be treated like the rest of the staff at school. We should never have had to fight for equality, but we were no longer going to allow ourselves to be treated like the dirt we clean. I feel incredibly proud to belong to this union”. 

Magaly Quesada, another striking cleaner, said the following: 

“After struggling for so long against La Retraite and Ecocleen for something as basic as a living wage and sick pay, I feel relieved that justice and common sense finally won. I am incredibly grateful to United Voices of the World and to all those who supported our struggle”.

Petros Elia, UVW organiser and Executive Committee member added: “This victory is yet another testament to the power of strike action. If our members hadn’t been willing to strike they never would have won. I am in awe of their courage and determination and I hope other workers take inspiration from them and start to strike in their workplace too. Striking is the only thing that ever has or ever will allow workers to win the dignity, equality and receipt they deserve.”

Picture: a photograph of some empty school chairs

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 29 March 2021

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