Immigration officers arrested seven cleaners in a raid at the central London building of global insurance giant Willis on Tuesday of last week. All were employed by the contractor Mitie and all face deportation.
This follows similar raids on two other contractors where there had been campaigns for better pay and trade union rights. The first was at GBM Services, which cleans London Underground, in July last year. Then there was one at ISS at the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) this June.
In both these cases workers were arrested and deported.
Groups of cleaners across the capital have been organising and many have won better pay and conditions. Activists believe that companies are using the threat of deportation to cow workers into accepting poor conditions.
A protest outside the Willis building on Friday of last week saw campaigners vent their fury at the two companies and the government officials involved in last week’s arrests.
Juan Carlos told Socialist Worker, “My brother-in-law Oscar Alejandro was picked up in the raid. The company phoned him and said to come to a training course on cleaning fluids.
“When the workers got there immigration officers appeared and asked for their documents. Seven people from Ecuador, Brazil and Bolivia were arrested.
“Oscar spent eight hours in a cell in Bishopsgate police station and was then taken to a centre in Dover,” Juan added.
“He was waiting there at the beginning of the week to be deported to Ecuador. He was a member of the Unite union and the Justice for Cleaners campaign.”
Last year Mitie was the site of a successful campaign by cleaners to win the London Living Wage. But after that victory, five of those involved lost their jobs.
Edwin Pazmino was the Unite shop steward at Mitie before last December. He said, “We are still fighting for reinstatement. After our campaign won £7.20 an hour last year the company changed our shifts to ones we couldn’t do.
“They said that they couldn’t afford to employ us because of the financial crisis. It’s not right that companies take advantage of this to stop employing trade unionists.
“It seems that they don’t want people to be organised.”
Unite has withdrawn its support from the workers’ campaign for reinstatement stating that the company and the union have done all they can for the cleaners.
Alberto Durango played a crucial part in a campaign to win the London Living Wage at the cleaning company, Lancaster.
Immigration officers arrested him at work in May. He was later released as he has leave to remain in Britain. He still lost his job.
Alberto said, “I am appealing against my sacking. It seems that we win union recognition and then a few months later we have an immigration raid. The companies seem to be trying to discipline their workers.”
Both Willis and Mitie were unavailable for comment when contacted on Monday of this week.