Socialist Worker

‘It’s time we started fighting back’, say outsourced cleaners

by Sophie Squire
Issue No. 2767

Protesters demand fair conditions at Facebooks London headquarters

Protesters demand fair conditions at Facebook's London headquarters (Pic: CAIWU)


“We believe in doing right by our people, our customers, our society and our planet. We embrace our responsibility to deliver the best possible outcomes by making people happier in their environments.”

These are the words that greet you when you go to the website of outsourcing giant the Churchill Group.

But cleaners who work for the group say the promises the company makes are just hot air, and that their lives are marked by dangerous conditions, long working hours and low pay.

Bella’s job cleaning train carriages for Southwest rail is ­outsourced to the Churchill Group. She is also an RMT union rep.

She said, “Churchill Group won’t pay for much outside of our contracts, so they wouldn’t pay for masks, so we had to wait a long time to get them.

“When we finally did, we were only offered two masks a day which isn’t enough when you work eight hour shifts. And getting new uniform is also a struggle, they say we’ll be able to get it every six months but that very rarely happens.

“Churchill cut every corner and attack our terms and conditions in order to grab as much profit as possible.”

Bella added that the company's position on sick pay and annual leave has been horrendous.

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Unpaid

“My mother has cancer and was shielding, I needed to take time off to care for her. All the company could offer me was unpaid sabbatical which I ended up having to take for six months.

“Churchill is a multi-million pound business that pays me £1,200 a month, I can’t believe they weren’t able to pay me any kind of sick pay.”

After a considerable workers' battle, Churchill was forced to pay its workers when they had to shield—but only 80 percent of their already low wages.

“Cleaners get nothing for travel,” said Bella, "We don’t even get staff discounts on the trains.

“I talk to cleaners in London who are spending upwards of £240 on transport. It’s unsustainable and again I think it's well within reason that Churchill could pay for travel.

“They're able to pay for managers’ travel.”

Bella made clear that she and other outsourced workers won’t be beaten down by Churchill, adding that the bosses “underestimate” cleaners.

“Cleaners are some of the hardest working people in society, we are the bedrock,” she added. “I think people have started to realise that during the pandemic.

“We have to fight to end ­outsourcing, we risk our health and our families’ health every day. It’s time we start fighting back.

“The Govia Thameslink Railway gave me a badge for being a key worker recently— I said I want much more than a badge, thank you.”


Bosses exploit migrants

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Henry is an outsourced cleaner currently working at the Facebook headquarters in London. He said that migrant cleaners such as him are often taken advantage of by the bosses.

“A lot of my fellow colleagues don’t know about the laws here and so they don’t know when the employer is breaking them,” he said.

“And of course the bosses also take advantage of those who don’t speak very good English.” Mostly migrant, outsourced workers at Facebook’s London headquarters were pushed to take action last year.

Workers outsourced to Bidvest Noonan, and cleaning staff with To Go Micro Kitchens, mounted protests against redundancies, low pay and the slashing of working hours.

After taking action, the workers outsourced to Bidvest Noonan, who were threatened with redundancy, kept their jobs.

Cleaners can learn from past victories to continue the battle for fair pay and conditions.


Cleaners protest at Facebook headquarters

Cleaners who are part of the Caiwu union protested outside Facebook’s headquarters in London to demand better conditions and overtime pay.

Henry is a cleaner at Facebook headquarters who is outsourced to the Churchill Group. He described work as “fatal”.

“Today we’re down to six people cleaning the whole building,” he said. “I asked my manager to employ more people, but he said Facebook wouldn’t pay for more.”

For Henry the risk of Covid-19, coupled with a sharp increase in working hours has changed the nature of his job completely.

“Every day we are made to hoover three floors, it’s almost an impossible task, but we are given a very limited time to do it.

Machinery

“I’ve started using heavy machinery to do my cleaning—this wasn’t in my contract. I say these new conditions and responsibilities make my current contract void.

“And of course, I’m not getting paid more for taking more on. I work eight hours with a one hour break—I don’t get paid for that break.

“My back gives me a lot of pain, and so on my break I like to lie down. I’ve been told I can’t do that.”

Henry said that the work has both a physical and psychological impact on him and his colleagues.

The web of outsourcers that Facebook employs cannot hide the terrible treatment of its cleaners.

But workers are clear—they’ll keep fighting back.


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