‘Common practice’ to take leftovers, says cleaner sacked over tuna sandwich

<span>Gabriela Rodriguez said she was ‘thankful’ for protests on her behalf by the United Voices of the World union.</span><span>Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian</span>
Gabriela Rodriguez said she was ‘thankful’ for protests on her behalf by the United Voices of the World union.Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

The cleaner sacked for taking a discarded £1.50 tuna sandwich from a meeting room at a top City law firm has said it was “common practice” for staff to take leftovers for their own lunches.

Gabriela Rodriguez was let go by contractor Total Clean for taking “client property … without authority or reasonable excuse” after she was accused of taking a sandwich from the offices of Devonshires Solicitors from a platter after a meeting.

She said she had been “thankful” for the protests on her behalf by the United Voices of the World (UVW) union, and is overwhelmed by the widespread public outrage.

“I feel listened to, protected and supported, and I’m thankful because the union has poured themselves on to this situation to support me,” Rodriguez said.

She added: “On a normal day some sandwiches were left in the canteen after meetings of lawyers; it was a common practice for people to help themselves for lunchtime.

“It was almost at the end of my shift – quarter to two in the afternoon – and I took one and put it in the fridge.

“A week later, I was called 15 minutes before the end of my shift. I was then suspended without pay pending further investigation.”

The UVW contends that the request for Rodriguez’s removal from the site was discriminatory and is taking Total Clean and Devonshires Solicitors to an employment tribunal for unfair dismissal.

Rodriguez intends to study English and complete a health and social care university qualification. She now feels a duty to “work like crazy” to support her 10-year-old daughter and her elderly mother due to the rising cost of living.

Ecuadorian-born Rodriguez, who has Spanish citizenship, has lived in London since 2008, having been a human resources administrator at a big corporation in Spain.

Since the tuna affair, she has been working as a cleaner in other office spaces. She still sees England as a “land for opportunity”, she said.

Rodriguez currently works from the morning until late evening with a “small gap” at 3pm. Her mother helps her with childcare but that has not prevented her from dreaming of overcoming what she describes as a “temporary” situation.

“I have to work really hard as a single mother,” she said. “I am indignant about the way they have treated me. People are too scared, they have fear [and] don’t look for help.

“Because they don’t join a union, they have left their job when they have been treated badly and … there has been no punishment for treating people like this. I told myself I’m not going to be like that – I’m going to speak up and this is my right.”

A Total Clean spokesperson said the company would be making no further comment on the matter.

Devonshires Solicitors said it had not made a formal complaint against Rodriguez and had expressly told Total Clean not to take any action against her. The firm would not object to Rodriguez working on its premises if Total Clean changes its position, a spokesperson said.