Facebook cleaners fight back against overwork and victimisation

Throughout the last few months, cleaners at Facebook’s London offices have been fighting back against an attempt to drastically increase their workload, after the number of floors they had to clean during a shift was doubled with no increase in staffing levels. Now, events have taken a more dramatic turn, as a cleaning supervisor involved in union organising has just been sacked despite having worked there for seven years with a clean disciplinary record.

In July, on the same day as Guillermo Camacho was helping to lead a protest against the change in workloads, facilities management company JLL sent an email to the cleaning contractor Churchill asking that “Camacho… be removed from the [Facebook] account” for an alleged “lack of proactiveness in managing the team and maintaining a high cleaning standard”.

CAIWU, the base cleaners’ union involved in organising the Facebook cleaners, have written that:

“JLL claims to have exercised a contractual right to request the removal of any individual from a property under its management – a so-called third party pressure removal. Churchill, having failed to identify suitable alternative employment for Camacho, has now confirmed his dismissal.

Facebook, meanwhile, has shown no concern for this glaring human rights abuse taking place underneath its own roof. The dismissal of a worker on the grounds of their trade union membership or activities is outlawed under the Employment Rights Act 1996, and such an act is in direct violation of Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Both Churchill and JLL deny that Camacho’s removal was the result of his union activities, referring instead to a series of alleged performance issues. However, Camacho can point to mitigating circumstances for each of these allegations, as well as an unblemished record during almost seven years at Facebook. The timing of his removal is also highly suspicious, having taken place immediately following the initial Facebook protests in late July.

Churchill has been determined to implement significant changes to the cleaners’ workloads ever since it took over the Facebook cleaning contract in January of this year. CAIWU has seen letters to the cleaners dated December 2020 and signed by the company’s Key Account Manager which outline plans for ‘an organisational review regarding the number of operational hours, the structure, posts and roles across all sites within the contract that may result in redundancy, change in working hours, change in structure and/or change in working patterns’.

Such sweeping changes are of questionable legality, since the workers’ terms and conditions are protected by TUPE — the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) regulations introduced for precisely this purpose…

The increased workloads have resulted in cleaners suffering from a variety of health conditions including exhaustion, stress, excruciating back pain and internal bleeding.

Now that Camacho’s dismissal has been confirmed, his only recourse is to take his case to an employment tribunal, where CAIWU intends to represent him. The union believes it has a strong case. However, according to organiser Danbert Vanzetti, ‘Even if Guillermo is successful at the tribunal he won’t get his job back. Churchill and JLL are counting on that. It looks to us as though their plan in firing him is to try and scare the other cleaners into giving up their campaign.’

The cleaners so far show no sign of being intimidated. They intend to continue their campaign for as long as necessary, until Churchill abandons its restructuring plans and their former colleague gets the justice he deserves.”

CAIWU have been organising regular Friday afternoon protests in support of the cleaners’ struggle, with the next events currently planned being:

Friday September 24th, 4pm: 10 Brock Street, NW1 3FG

Friday October 1st, 4pm: 1 Rathbone Square,W1T 1FB

~ Cautiously Pessimistic