St Georges Hospital: cleaners fight for living wage

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South London Anticapitalists (SLAN) joined a lively picket line of cleaners and supporters at St Georges Hospital in Tooting London on Friday 25 May. Stuart King reports.

The cleaners are employed by Ocean Facilities Services Ltd, the company to which St George’s outsources its “non-clinical” services like cleaning. This company pays the minimum wage of £6.08 an hour and the IWW has been organising the cleaners in a fight for a living wage.

The cleaners are demanding:
1) That they be treated with dignity and respect and receive a Living Wage of £8.30 an hour instead of their current poverty wage of £6.08 an hour.
2) That St George’s and Ocean Contract Cleaning, stop threatening them with redundancy, reduced working hours and the intensification of their working day with no extra pay.
3) That Ocean provide industry standard equipment so the cleaners are protected against burns from industrial chemicals.
4) That they be allowed union representation.

Ocean, claims it has no money to pay the living wage or provide industry standard equipment. However, out of the £14,503,000 it pays annually in wages £1,327,000 goes to 10 directors, whilst the highest paid director takes over £500,000. The directors’ salaries have increased by over 158% over the last 7 years! Meanwhile, Ocean’s 1,891 other staff, many of whom are cleaners, receive an average of just £7,669 per year which has increased 0% in real terms in recent years.

Disgracefully although UNISON only has one cleaner in the section they have sole negotiating rights, have done nothing to raise pay and have in fact colluded with management against the cleaners in struggle and the IWW. When the campaign by the IWW cleaners finally started panicking the management and offers of increasing pay were made UNISON officials had the cheek to claim the credit.

At the very same time they denounced other branches of UNISON who offered support for the living wage struggle at St Georges as “not appropriate and unwelcome”. Nevertheless London UNISON members turned up in support last Friday.

Management, as a result of the militant pickets have already promised to introduce the living wage from 1 August but at the same time are demanding a cut in hours for the cleaners. The IWW cleaners are quite rightly rejecting this fraud.

The new NHS reform act will open the NHS to further privatisation and more struggles of this kind. Everyone should support the struggle of the cleaners for the London living wage.
For more information go to: http://iww.org.uk/londoncleaners

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One Comment

  1. Stuart King
    June 4, 2012 at 1:34 pm · Reply

    UPDATE

    The cleaners having won the London Living Wage (LLW) through their campaign are now waiting to see what happens on 1 August with regard to their hours. More action will follow any attempt to cut hours.

    UNISON officials had the cheek to claim the gaining of the LLW as their victory! The cleaners put out the following statement:

    “We, the cleaners at St George’s are writing to inform you that the stories that UNISON are spreading about the cleaners at St George’s are lies. I am sure you were not aware of this, though.

    UNISON did not win us the London Living Wage. In fact we won it not because of UNISON, but in spite of UNISON.

    We are members of the IWW union. Only one of our colleagues is with UNISON. We are not represented by UNISON. The IWW, an independent union that’s managed by its members on a voluntary basis, has been with us right from the start. They represent us, and they won us the LLW.

    3 months ago Ocean, the company to which St George’s outsources its services, told us that some of us would be losing our jobs, all of us would be losing hours, and all of us would be kept on the poverty minimum wage which we have been on for years. UNISON has never spoken to us or tried to help us get the LLW.

    Without hesitation the IWW said no to the redundancies, no to the cuts in hours and furthermore demanded the LLW. Once Ocean realised that the IWW weren’t going to be either pliant or quiescent and accept these brutal changes, they gave sole recognition to UNISON (with it’s 1 member!), whilst simultaneously refusing to talk to our union, the IWW. How can Ocean negotiate with a union that doesn’t represent the workers?

    The reason is obvious. As someone commented before, UNISON has been there for years and never fought for the LLW – so obviously Ocean felt more “comfortable” with UNISON.

    The IWW organised a petition that got over 300 signatures, wrote to every staff member at St George’s, leafleted the campus, staged a protest (which UNISON explicitly sabotaged), got an EDM tabled in Parliament signed by 5 MPs, and launched a huge publicity campaign involving London Citizens, the Wandsworth Guardian and the New Statesman, among others.

    Out of respect for us, the cleaner’s at St George’s, and the hard work we put into stopping the redundancies, stopping the cuts to our hours and getting the LLW, we ask you to promptly and publicly correct this gross distortion of the truth.

    This is not a wholesale condemnation of UNISON. They have done great work in many places. But I can assure you that they have not helped us at St George’s!

    Cleaners at St George’s. “

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