Cleaners protested outside Downing Street on Friday in fury at the contempt for low paid workers detailed in the Sue Gray report. After Boris Johnson and his chums had their fill of partying, it was down to undervalued cleaning workers to clean up their mess.
The Gray report detailed multiple occasions where cleaners and security guards were shown a “lack of respect” at Downing Street events. Gray said the treatment of workers was “unacceptable.”
Sometimes the treatment by bosses in government departments during the pandemic was fatal. Emanuel Gomes, a cleaner at the Ministry of Justice, died in April 2020. As an agency worker, he wasn’t entitled to sick pay and when he caught Covid he continued to work.
His family believes if there had been proper sick pay, he might not have gone to work, and his life could have been saved. “The conditions that led to Emanuel’s death continue at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). We continue to suffer, fortunately we’re with a trade union helping us fight back,” said Vicente Mendes, Emanuel Gomes’ cousin, who is also a United Voices of the World (UVW) union member and MoJ cleaner
Cleaner Marta, one of those on the protest, told Socialist Worker, “We are at the frontline, and we need to be protected. I don’t think people like the prime minister believe we are human. They don’t care at all about the working class” she added.
Susana, who works for UVW that organised the protest, told Socialist Worker, “ I felt terrible and angry when I saw that Johnson had partied while we were in lockdown. Cleaners’ pay is too low. It’s impossible to live, and many struggle to pay rent and feed their families. And add to that workers weren’t given the proper safety gear like gloves and good quality masks.
“So many companies don’t pay workers any sick pay. That’s why people like Emmanuel are forced to work through illness. There are so many Emanuels. So many people that are scared to speak about and demand more out of fear that they will lose their jobs.” Workers from the IWGB and PCS unions also joined the protest.
Addressing parliament on Wednesday, Boris Johnson said rudeness towards staff was “absolutely inexcusable” and that “whoever was responsible” should apologise. One PCS union member, who works in the Cabinet Office, responded, “The prime minister’s apology is too little, too late. His empty words will be no consolation to the hard-working cleaners and security guards who have suffered under his leadership.”
Both Marta and Susana pointed out that outsourcing has led to cleaning workers receiving more mistreatment and faced extra bullying.
Workers laid flowers and lit candles for Emanuel outside Downing Street. They chanted “Justice for Emanuel” and “No justice, no peace.” Activists held a banner that read “They partied, workers died.”
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