Socialist Worker

Unionising Canary Wharf cleaners

Issue No. 1941

A freezing morning but a warm response to the campaign for decent pay and conditions (Pic: Jess Hurd

A freezing morning but a warm response to the campaign for decent pay and conditions (Pic: Jess Hurd

THE BOSS gets $17.5 million a year. The workers who clean his offices would have to slave for 1,647,446 hours to get that — 188 years, day and night!

This scandalous inequality goes on at Canary Wharf in east London.

The New Labour government announced an increase in the minimum wage to £5.05 an hour this week.

But this will do very little to tackle the growing numbers of “working poor” — people on poverty wages.

The campaign by cleaners in the T&G union at Canary Wharf shows the reality of workers struggling to get by, even though they already earn more than the minumim wage.

The cleaners of the Morgan Stanley building staged a protest for a living wage on Wednesday of last week. Morgan Stanley is one of the biggest financial companies in the world.

Around 50 people gathered outside the building at 6am in the snow to support their campaign. A few days later the HSBC bank announced profits of £9.8 billion. Yet the cleaners at its Canary Wharf building are also having to campaign for a living wage.

The T&G began working with the cleaners in Canary Wharf last year.

Companies such as Morgan Stanley and HSBC use agencies to employ cleaners for their buildings. By doing so they try to place the responsibility for the poverty wages onto the agency.

The cleaners who work in the Morgan Stanley building are contracted to ISS Mediclean.

But the Canary Wharf cleaners are focusing their campaign on the multinationals who have ultimate responsibility for their workers.

The president of Morgan Stanley received a pay increase of 17 percent last year, bringing his salary to $17.5 million.

The cleaners’ pay rose by 2 percent and they now earn £6.07 per hour. They want £6.70 an hour immediately. They are also demanding sick pay, paid holidays and a pension scheme.

They have sent an open letter to Phillip Purcell, the chief executive of Morgan Stanley. They also planned a meeting outside Canary Wharf tube station at 8pm on Thursday this week.

Emanuel Sillah is one of the union shop stewards at the building. He told Socialist Worker, “The cleaners feel that they are not treated fairly, that they are not respected and that they are not valued for their work.

“Cleaning is very hard work and we feel we are being exploited. When I started working here we operated with 67 staff. That is now reduced to 40. But we are still performing the same job that 67 were expected to perform.

“Before the union came, if you raised any issue they would say to you—if you don’t want to work the door is always open for you to move on to find another job.

“But now we have the union, and we are more than 80 percent unionised.

“The cleaners are beginning to speak out when they are not happy. Before they were too scared that they would lose their job. A lot of the workers support a family and they need the security.

“Some people work here from nine in the evening until six in the morning. Then within an hour they are starting their second job, with no rest.

“We play a key role for Morgan Stanley. If a manager arrived in the morning, and their desk had not been cleaned they would not be able to work because the place would stink.”

Shaliwa Makkera works nights at Morgan Stanley and studies pharmacology during the day.

She says, “The wages are so small. The work is very heavy. Some people are doing two people’s jobs instead of the company employing another person.

“If you complain to a manager they will say that nothing can be done. The protest was so good. The managers were so surprised that we could do it.”

Another of the cleaners, Godfrey Dean said, “The protest went really well, and I am waiting for another.

“These jobs involve anti-social hours. I know you have shift work, but this job is constant nights.

“It can be very stressful and difficult. Some days you go home and you don’t really get the adequate amount of rest you need, and you’ve still got to face the night work. When we don’t work we don’t get paid, and the work is making us sick.

“When they give you this excess work, and you’re grinding your body away, day after day, eventually you end up with backache or some other part of you begins to ache. And when you can’t come to work you lose an attendance bonus.”

Marcia Carradice said, “I’ve been working with ISS at Morgan Stanley for a year now and I don’t think it’s improving, because each time we come the work is more and more.

“We haven’t got any social life. The money isn’t enough to take care of our children, our family. It’s very, very difficult because after my rent there is very little left. If it wasn’t for my mum then I wouldn’t cope at all, it’s very hard.

“The protest was great. I’m looking forward to a strike at any moment if the management don’t do better.”

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Sat 5 Mar 2005, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1941
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