By Sophie Squire
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2809

Royal Opera cleaners’ protest strikes a high note over pay injustice

The Caiwu union members are Verdi angry with bosses over the lack of sick pay, paid breaks and holiday entitlements
Issue 2809
Six Caiwu union members in high vis jackets protest outside the Royal Opera House, some wave union flags

Caiwu union members during a previous protest outside the Royal Opera House (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Cleaners and porters at the Royal Opera House are singing out for better sick pay, holiday entitlements, paid breaks and pensions. The Caiwu union members held a noisy protest outside the famous central London opera house on Friday. 

Worker Ronaldo told Socialist Worker that he had been working at the Royal Opera for a long time, but conditions have worsened recently. “I want three things,” said Ronaldo, “I want a pension, I want paid rest breaks, and to be paid for overtime.” 

Cleaning worker Marina added, “We are protesting for basic respect. When I caught Covid and couldn’t go to work, I had no sick pay. It was hard to live. I also want to be able to have my lunch break and be paid for it. Sometimes I work over lunch because I know I’m not being paid.

“We also don’t have places to leave our stuff or get changed like those who are directly employed by the company. It just feels like those that run the opera house don’t care about us at all.” 

Workers are outsourced by the Royal Opera House to DOC Cleaning Ltd. Caiwu has already tried negotiating with the outsourcer, but it’s tried to intimidate workers.  Workers say their break patterns were suddenly changed, and that they were disciplined if they refused to comply. 

Caiwu general secretary Alberto Durango told Socialist Worker that the Royal Opera should stop mistreating its mainly migrant and black cleaning workers and porters. “The Royal Opera House made a very nice statement about Black Lives Matter,” he said. “But it continues to treat its black and migrant workers as second class citizens.” 

“The Royal Opera House received £91 million in grants over three years—so it can afford to treat their workers better.” 

Alberto added that Caiwu members would be joining the TUC union federation’s demonstration in London on 18 June. “Protests on 18 June will be very important,” he said. “All trade unionists and campaigners need to unite our struggles. “Individual battles in workplaces are important, but we need to unite to fight those at the top who keep the system in place.” 

Workers say they intend to keep making noise until they win. And every socialist, trade unionist and campaigner should build solidarity for the struggle in the workplaces and union branches. 

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