Rail cleaners employed by outsourcing firm Churchill struck for 48 hours across London and the south east of England this weekend. Workers are battling for a minimum wage of £15 an hour, and have launched the largest rail cleaners’ strike in history.
Cleaners in London currently earn the minimum wage of £8.91 per hour. They struck solidly for 24 hours last month. But despite making a profit of £39 million in 2020, Churchill has made no pay offer. As well as a pay rise, strikers are demanding the right to company sick pay, free travel and to be made direct employees of rail companies. In a recent survey of these cleaners, their RMT union found that 61 percent reported that they struggle to get by.
Marie has been a cleaner with Churchill for around two years. She told Socialist Worker how the job is challenging and exhausting. Often Marie works into her break because the bosses expect hard jobs to be completed quickly. She said often the tasks are “impossible”. One worker said, “It is really hard. During Covid, we worked extra hard because our managers added saloon sanitisation and cab cleaning to our duties as they got a contract from Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR).
“We, the low paid staff, did not get any pay increases for doing extra jobs and staff numbers were not increased to help us to do the extra work. I take home an average of £1,250 a month and with a family of five you can imagine how hard it is to survive on that.”
The second round of strikes hit Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern, Southeastern, Eurostar and HS1 services. An inflation-busting pay rise is urgently needed. Workers on the National Minimum Wage are more than £20 a week worse off in real terms now than a year ago due to rapidly increasing inflation.
The workers at Churchill would need at least £1,252 more a year to prevent a real terms pay cut. Some cleaners have been struggling so much that they resort to going to work when sick. One worker said, “I have several chronic conditions that leave me in pain. “When I’m in pain I have to work, so I survive on paracetamol to get me through the pain, and when I have hospital and doctors’ appointments for blood tests and so on I have to use my holidays to cover my appointment.”
Reports from disputes around Britain
Security services were involved
Move will increase police racism
Johnson could enrage all sides