Cleaning staff on strike outside the Ministry of Justice, Tuesday 7th August. Photo: Twitter/@UVWunion

Cleaners have begun three days of coordinated strike action for a living wage and sick pay, and have won one victory already reports Jonathan Maunders

Cleaners at the Ministry of Justice and Kensington and Chelsea council are taking strike action this week in their battle to receive the London living wage and acceptable sick pay. 

Workers from 5 different sites will walk out on Tuesday for three days, in the first coordinated strike by the large number of poorly paid, mostly migrant, cleaners in London. They’re hoping that their strike action will force public institutions to take responsibility for the derisory pay given to outsourced cleaning staff.

The strike has been organised by the United Voices of the World union, which has been disappointed by each employer’s lack of willingness to discuss the details of the pay dispute.

The strikers have already achieved an early victory with Kensington and Chelsea council announcing that they will be looking to bring cleaning services in house rather than “pay more for a contract with a private sector company which has a turnover of billions and which clearly has the resources to pay staff appropriately.” UVW called the announcement unprecedented and said that this is the first time a council has brought cleaners in house due to strike action.

Many of the cleaners have struggled to live on the £7.83 an hour they are currently given, with rents in London far exceeding what someone on that money could afford. Some have been trying to support children with little more than £1000 a month.

They are demanding a pay increase to match the London living wage. The strikers are also hoping to force the issue of sick pay, which they don’t currently get for the first three days they are absent and, thereafter, they receive miserly statutory sick pay of £18 daily, leaving many in fear of getting sick.

In addition, cleaners from eight private hospitals and health-care centres, run by HCA UK, are looking to join further action at the end of August. They are also paid below the London living wage but also have more specific complaints about what happens inside their workplace.

While being a relatively small union, the United Voices of the World union has so far won a number of victories on behalf of workers, winning the living wage, sick pay and holiday pay for cleaners elsewhere in London, including at the Daily Mail, Sotheby’s and the London School of Economics.