Cleaners to protest outside Downing Street over ‘culture of disrespect’

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Nearly 20 people have been named in the report as attending gatherings (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Wire)
Nearly 20 people have been named in the report as attending gatherings (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Wire)

Security guards and cleaners, who work in government offices, will protest against Whitehall’s “culture of disrespect” towards low paid workers outside of Downing Street.

The demonstration will take place from 5:30pm on Friday, according to United Voices of the World (UVW) union which also confirmed that most of these workers are from Black, Asian and minority ethic backgrounds.

This follows revelations in Sue Gray’s Partygate report of multiple examples of “unacceptable” treatment of security and cleaning staff.

She wrote: “I found that some staff had witnessed or been subjected to behaviours at work which they had felt concerned about but at times felt unable to raise properly.

“I was made aware of multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff. This was unacceptable.”

The UVW represents outsourced cleaners at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) who are still fighting for full pay sick pay and the London Living Wage; some cleaners from this department will be joining the protest.

One cleaner and former UVW member, Emanuel Gomes, died with suspected Covid-19 in April 2020 without having access to a sick pay scheme which would have given him entitlement to paid leave while being unwell.

Consequently, the union says he was “forced” to turn up for work despite being ill because he could not afford to take a sick day.

Emanuel Gomes died of suspected Covid-19 while cleaning the Ministry of Justice HQ in London (Supplied)
Emanuel Gomes died of suspected Covid-19 while cleaning the Ministry of Justice HQ in London (Supplied)

Florencio Hortago, a cleaner at the MoJ and UVW member, said low paid workers are routinely subjected to disrespect by the government while there’s a lack of regard for their health and safety.

“Cleaners are disrespected on a daily basis, even working for the government. When the pandemic hit we didn’t have sick pay. I have been working at the MoJ for 18 years and I still don’t have full sick pay,” she said, adding that she worked with Mr Gomes prior to his death.

“I also was very ill during three weeks at the beginning of the pandemic, when we didn’t know whether our symptoms were Covid-19 or not and I still had to go to work feeling unwell because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to pay my rent. When we asked for masks, they said no.

“We, the MoJ cleaners with the help of UVW fought against this and managed to get the MoJ to cover our Covid-19 related absences but we are still fighting to get full pay sick pay.”

Ms Hortago, who has three jobs, said cleaners are “on poverty wages and barely paid pennies above the minimum wage”.

“I have just finished working a 12+ hour overnight shift cleaning three different buildings,” she added. “This is the situation of most of us in the cleaning services and that is what is truly disrespectful.”

Petros Elia, general secretary for UVW, said that the poor treatment experienced by many of these workers is tantamount to racial discrimination.

“We’re not in the least bit surprised by the revelations in the Sue Gray report. We have thousands of members who work as cleaners and security guards and these workers face disrespect and discrimination on a daily basis in offices and government buildings across London, not just in Downing Street,” she said.

“It is outrageous to have rowdy and illegal parties during the pandemic but to then expect cleaners to mop up after you and to pay them, as well as porters and security guards poverty wages, and deny them full sick pay is abhorrent. Most of the cleaners and security guards out there are ethnic minority workers, Black, brown and migrant people, who are disproportionately impacted by poor working conditions and racialised inequalities.

“What many of these outsourced workers face is racial discrimination, which an Employment Tribunal recently found in the case of London’ Royal Parks cleaners.”

Former chancellor George Osborne, who was in charge of public spending between May 2010 – July 2011, tweeted a tone-deaf tribute to lower paid workers amid the Gray report fall-out.

“One of the things I remember most about living in Downing Street was how amazingly friendly, generous and kind the team who keep the place going are – the cleaners, custodians, front of house and the police,” he said. “Working all hours, not very well-paid but always there for us.”

This comes as a leading official of the cleaning industry is calling for a meeting with the cabinet secretary following revelations about how cleaning staff were treated at No 10.

Jim Melvin, chairman of the British Cleaning Council, said he was “appalled and upset” at revelations in Sue Gray’s report.

The prime minister “apologised in person” to cleaning and security staff in No 10 who were treated poorly during partygate, Commons leader Mark Spencer told MPs at Business Questions in parliament on Thursday.

A No10 spokesperson said: “The Prime Minister has been appalled by the findings in Sue Gray’s report around behaviour towards and treatment of security and cleaning staff.

“He has personally apologised to these dedicated members of staff, expects anyone who behaved in that way to apologise, and we are committed to addressing the full findings and recommendations in the report.”

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