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“They don’t treat us cleaners like human beings, they treat us like rats”: Department of Education cleaners to strike

Exhausted cleaners struggling to pay for the basics of working at the Department for Education’s (DfE) Sanctuary Buildings are asking for a living wage, equal sick pay, annual leave with civil service workers, appropriate staffing levels, and union recognition.

The DfE cleaners, United Voices of the World (UVW) members, have given their bosses at ISS UK Limited (ISS) until 8 January 2024 to reply. If there’s no reply, members have instructed UVW to declare a dispute and issue a notice of intention to ballot for industrial action.

 “You get the bare minimum if you’re sick. They don’t give decent sick pay. They don’t do all these kinds of things for us. We are dying silently in the building. They don’t treat us cleaners like human beings; they treat us like rats. They don’t know how to talk to people. Since this complaint was made, no one has come to address us. Nobody came, nobody talked to us. They just sent a pamphlet with the terms and conditions. We are not happy at all. How can you pay your rent? How can you pay your bills? When they are not paying you correctly.”

 ~ Kadijatu Jalloh, a cleaner for the DfE and UVW member.

 The cleaners demand their wages be increased to the new London Living Wage in the January payroll, and this rise be backdated to November 2023. The cost of living crisis is making it harder for workers to keep warm in their homes due to the increased cost of gas and electricity. Food prices are still higher than they were two years ago. Workers are running out of food and finding themselves unable to afford more. Not increasing the cleaners’ pay has a drastic impact.

Despite working in the DfE’s buildings, the cleaners get worse sick pay than the civil service workers they clean up after. Workers say they should not be compelled to force themselves into work when sick by the threat of financial hardship.

The cleaners also get worse annual leave. Many UVW members are parents and grandparents and should receive the same entitlement to family life as any other DfE colleague. Accordingly, they are demanding parity with civil service annual leave entitlement. 

 There has been a considerable increase in workload over recent years due to cuts to staffing levels. This has left some of the cleaners feeling exhausted after their shifts. The cleaners are demanding appropriate staffing levels.

 “Our members are a vital part of the DfE team; without our members working hard to keep the buildings safe and clean, the department would cease functioning. They want the same terms & conditions as everyone else in the building. Reasonable entitlement to sick leave removes the psychological pressure and precarity that falling ill can cause workers, particularly when they have families to provide for, as all our members have. “

“Our members have decades and decades of cumulative experience cleaning Sanctuary buildings. They know every inch of the building and can do every aspect of the job blindfolded. Allow them to do their jobs with reasonable staffing levels to maintain the high standard of cleanliness and safety they have consistently delivered in their roles over many years.”

~  Petros Elia, general secretary for UVW.

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