Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Justice for Cleaners - SOAS strike for sickpay, leave and pensions equality

This morning I went to the UNISON cleaners picket line at the University School of Oriental and African Studies in London (SOAS) to pass on a message of support from my branch.

Around 50 UNISON members who are cleaners at SOAS were on strike yesterday and today.

They work as cleaners at SOAS but are not employed by the university but by the private outsourcing company ISS. After a previous fight the cleaner's now get a London Living wage rate but are still treated as third class workers at SOAS since colleagues directly employed receive contractual sick pay, 30 days annual leave and a defined benefits pension scheme.

It really is disgraceful that the lowest paid staff in such organisations will fall back into poverty if they are sick or when they retire. The taxpayer is then expected to subsidise the poverty pay conditions of employers such as ISS and the so called "elite public research university" SOAS.

I was once many moons ago at a meeting with management and HR to discuss a restructure with a consultant present who questioned why the organisation still directly employed cleaners rather than outsourcing them. I replied because we don't believe in serfdom.

I wish the cleaners at SOAS well and think they have a strong bargaining position due to their solidarity and the support of their union colleagues and students.

I still think in the long run we need binding collective wage councils for such vulnerable workers but  in this current dispute everyone who thinks it is wrong to treat such workers as serfs should demand that ISS and SOAS treat their workers with dignity and respect and pay them live able terms and conditions. 

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