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Manchester Airport hit by cleaners strike

May 10, 2013 Leave a comment

Around 100 members of the Unite union took part in a 24 hour strike last week, walking out from 06.00 on Friday 3 May until 06.00 on Saturday 4 May.

From Manchester Evening News.

Unite says staff are angry at MITIE’s plans to slash their hourly paid lunch break to half an hour, amounting to a cut of £69.50 a month. They are also fighting proposals to chop their £20-a-month attendance bonus and are urging MITIE bosses to meet union leaders over their concerns. Staff will join picket lines outside terminals one, two, and three.

Dave Kennedy, Unite regional officer, said: “Low-paid cleaners, who work so hard to keep Manchester Airport clean for the travelling public, certainly cannot afford to lose almost £70 a month.

“Unite has remained committed to resolving this dispute, yet despite Acas’ involvement the company is still not willing to take the concerns of its loyal workforce seriously.

“Strike action is always a measure of last resort but our members have had enough – they are determined to stop this attack on their livelihoods.

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IWGB cleaners occupy the Barbican Centre for a Living Wage.

May 2, 2013 Leave a comment

The Industrial Workers of Great Britain (IWGB) has been campaigning for respect and a Living Wage for cleaners at the Barbican Centre for the past 8 months. The cleaners earn poverty wages of £6.19 p/hour and have been racially abusded. and regularly insulted, threatened, and intimidated by MITIE’s aggressive management team.

MITIE, the cleaning contractor at the Barbican, and the Corporation of London (owner of the Barbican) have been unwilling to negotiate.

That’s why the cleaners held regular protests, organised the first strike in the history of the barbican on the 21st of March 2013, and that’s why they decided to occupy the Barbican on Saturday 27th April 2013.

They will continue to fight until justice is served!

Flying Low: Grad opportunities working lates

May 6, 2012 Leave a comment

Philip Stott continues The Commune’s series on casual work with an essay on his experience as an airport baggage-handler and aircraft cleaner

After graduating from university, I immediately started working for an agency who specialise in providing workers for the aviation industry. I thought I would write about two of my ‘assignments’.

Servisair are imposing redundancies on Liverpool baggage handlers, as the job becomes increasingly casualised

The first of these was as an aircraft cleaner for Derichebourg Multiservices at Liverpool Airport. I was part of a group of people in our twenties, some of whom travelled from as far away as Bury, who were taken on in order to work through the busy summer period. We worked a shift pattern, 10pm-6am; four days on, two days off and were paid an agency rate of £6.68 an hour (pretty bad for night work). Refuelling operators were the best paid and worked shifts, 8pm–8am, four days on, four off. There had been no pay rise at all for five years.

Although the work was not glamorous, this was to be expected. What really struck me was the condition of the equipment. For example, the company’s catering van had been saved from the scrap yard, each cleaning van had a door that was jammed shut and they were prone to breaking down. This could mean we would have to walk across the airfield in the wind and the rain carrying our vacuum cleaners, mops and cleaning equipment. Also, the airport did not have enough working Ground Power Units, so we would sometimes have to radio someone from Servisair to bring one round for us. Not great when you were rushing to get home so you could try and get in bed before it got light.

One of my favourite things about this job was the amount of stuff you would find left behind by passengers. Especially during the school holidays, when under the piles of rubbish, euro notes and iPods were common finds. Once I found 100 cigarettes and a litre of Bacardi – this made a nice supplement to our crappy wages.

A new supervisor had taken over a few months before I started and had made an effort to stamp her authority. Although efforts had always been made to make people work more for less money, it was her arrival that had turned ‘a nice little job’ into one that everyone hated. This had caused one of the team leaders to become obviously depressed, whilst the other developed stress related health problems, both left whilst I was working there.

Agency workers were almost segregated from working with the older staff. We would usually clean Ryanair planes with the supervisor whilst the permanent staff would clean EasyJet. We were constantly told how lazy the older staff were. This had its effect on people and on one particular night, a young woman got in such an argument with the supervisor that she felt she had to run off the plane and flee down the airfield, never to be seen again. There was some talk of members of airside security co-signing a letter of protest in relation to the way she was treated, but this did not get anywhere. When I did work on the EasyJet planes I found out that the lads worked just fine, it was only that they hated the supervisor so whenever ‘she’ was on a plane with them they would go on a go-slow.

Life got much easier once the two team leaders had left. A temporary team leader was brought in from London. He kept complaining how he had never worked in such shoddy conditions and would always let us do a half arsed job. Airside security were going through pay negotiations whilst I was there, some people enquired to their union rep about taking industrial action, but the GMB had signed a no strike agreement and they were told this was not an option.

The other cleaning lads made a formal grievance to the company about pay, but I have not heard of any developments since. It was an open secret that the company wanted to get rid of the old hands, I have since learned that the new team leader (who was used as a scab during the 2009 baggage handler strike and is the son of the airport’s chief firefighter) fabricated stories in order to try and get two of my old mates sacked.

A note on the manager. He had previously been the manager of a Sainsbury’s store and had been taken on by Derichebourg for crazy money. He was hardly ever on site but spent most his time at work doing what was no doubt crucial paperwork. We were often understaffed as agency workers were not replaced, this would involve Derichebourg having to fork out for a 60 day security pass from the airport and was not going to happen. The manager would sometimes help out when we were understaffed. Now, I did not mind that he worked slower than us but he did not even know what we had to do and I would have to instruct him on what our job was. For the money he was paid I found this bizarre.

Whilst writing this I have heard that the Derichebourg workers at Liverpool airport have not been paid their wages for the last month’s work.

Handling baggage

I was rewarded for my obedience with a job as a baggage handler for Swissport International at Manchester Airport. The hourly rate for agency was £7.20. The worst thing for me about this job was the hours, with shifts starting as early as 4am and finishing as late as 11:30pm. For the first month I was rostered an average of thirty hours a week, easily enough to survive off, but these were cut the next month. Many people made up their hours through overtime, but as a sleep lover, I did not fancy only eleven hours between shifts. Many of the workers also did foreigners outside of work hours.

Most agency workers were a mixture of guys in their early twenties living at home and those in their sixties who had been made redundant from their skilled jobs and were working for a few more years before they retired, some people were so desperate for work that they drove from Southport. It will be no surprise to readers of The Commune that people are earning less now than they have ever earned in their lives, in fact, the hourly rate for a baggage handler at Manchester Airport is about the same as it was in the 1990s.

Although I got on with most of the guys, there was a significant amount of people who made it clear that they did not want agency workers there and would not give you the time of day. Despite the fact that I could understand this, it was I who felt hard done by when I was working next to people earning more than three times as much as me, as I worked all the public holidays over Christmas.

The work itself was incredibly easy. Swissport seemed to have chosen a strategy of having a large, low paid and casualised workforce, so that unlike in Liverpool, I was not rushed off my feet. This meant we had lots of down time with nothing to do. Although this produced the effect of making me extremely bored and always looking for work to do, one guy I knew would leave the airport and make the long walk in-between airport terminals just to make himself look busy. This was very different guys working for Menzies: they got paid more but actually had to work hard every day. Swissport saved their money on equipment. Whereas the bag halls at Manchester Airport are full Servisair trailers, I frequently had to drive around the airport looking for Swissport trailers to load flights onto. The only times I had to exert myself was when loading flights to Pakistan: as these are not holiday flights, most bags weigh about 32kg; however, you work in a team of two, which really helps deal with the boredom. Loading a flight usually involves sitting around waiting for three or four hours whilst the passengers check in, there is a bit of a rush near the end but this is easily dealt with. Loading the large Airbus A380 Emirates flight to Dubai was hard due to the different amounts of classes involved, but this responsibility was rarely given to agency workers.

The young women taken on to work on the check in desk were treated particularly badly, though. After all the security checks they had to go through to get the job, they would be lucky to work twenty hours a week and would sometimes even be sent home once they arrived at work as they were not needed. This meant that they would be much better off claiming JSA, although some of them had their eyes on becoming air hostesses in the future and saw this as a way into the job.

I later learnt that Swissport were paid by the government to take people on, in order to reduce unemployment figures, so they had no incentive to give you any more hours and would not need to replace you if you left.

One of the biggest concerns for agency workers was the way we paid tax. Our agency used some dodgy payroll company that kept changing its name and every week we would pay less than a pound in tax, as the payroll company would claim large amounts of ‘expenses’ for us. Although some people received large tax bills for this, many people thought it was actually better to remain an agency worker than to sign on with the company as we were taking home more money.

Power in a union?

During the training period at work the shop steward was invited round and gave each of us a form to join Unite, he openly bragged with the other rep about how great it was to go down to London and drink lots of free beer. The new bag-hall manager was the old union rep who had been rewarded for his militancy with a nice manager’s job. There was graffiti throughout the bag hall depicting the steward as a jelly fish with no backbone. I did sheepishly ask when branch meetings were held and was laughed at in response and told not to ask. As the biggest handling company at the airport, a Servisair worker held the branch secretary’s position. Happy with this, he had decided not to hold a branch meeting for months.

The Liverpool baggage handlers’ strike that lasted two months started shortly after I started work in Manchester. I was glad to hear that my old friends in Liverpool were visiting the picket lines but there was very little discussion of it in Manchester, except that people would not mind being called ‘scab’, if the rumours were true about getting £100 for a single day’s work.

A rare piece of good news is that after months of putting it off, agency workers who have worked for more than 12 weeks now receive the same amount of pay as permanent staff, in line with a new EU law. Unfortunately, perhaps pre-empting these developments, in summer a new grade of workers was created and all workers taken on permanently are employed on a new contract with inferior terms and conditions.

Iain Duncan Smith’s cleaners leave letter on his desk asking to be paid the living wage

May 3, 2012 Leave a comment

Channel 4 News speaks to the contract cleaners at the Department for Work and Pensions who demanded a pay rise from the politician at the top, saying they can’t live on the minimum wage in London.

Click picture for video

Iain Duncan Smith says it is his mission to make work pay. He wants to end ‘in-work poverty’ So it must have been a shock to find a letter left on his desk from 64 of the people who clean his office, complaining that they cannot live on the wages they are paid by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Today I met one of the cleaners who signed that letter. She was frightened that she might get sacked if we identify her – she can’t afford to lose her job, even if she can’t survive on her low wages. She told me it is always a struggle to pay the bills:

“As soon as the money comes in on Friday, every two weeks, on Monday there is no money in the bank. I feel tired and depressed .. I prefer not to think about it because I want to cry.”

The letter she signed said:

“Every morning we clean these offices and these hallways. Our hard work helps you to do your job properly and comfortably .. However because of our pay, we are struggling every day to buy the things we need.”

The people who clean inside the DWP are employed by a private contractor, Mitie, who pays most of them the minimum wage of £6.08 an hour. But to earn what is considered a “living wage” you have to earn at least £8.30 in London, or £7.20 outside, which is what the cleaners are asking for. Mitie declined to comment on the cleaners’ pay.

Felix Ojo left his job cleaning at the DWP yesterday. He let me see some of his pay slips and bank statements to show how he couldn’t survive on £6.08 an hour, telling me: “at times I borrow to buy a bus pass and borrow for food. If you’re borrowing how can you back it back? That is the problem – I have a lot of bad debt.”

The cleaners’ letter was co ordinated by London Citizens who campaign for a living wage of £8.30 for all employees in London. Matthew Bolton, a campaigner at London Citizens says:

“We believe that IDS does want to make work pay, and a lot of his policies are committed that way, to improve the incentive to work and make sure people can provide for their families. So adopting the Living Wage would be a clear demonstration of that commitment, and that would help us encourage other government departments to do the right thing too”.

The cleaners asked Iain Duncan Smith for a meeting. They have not yet had a response. The Secretary of State is said to be quietly sympathetic. But the department say it would cost millions of pounds to raise the cleaners’ wages.

All the staff who clean the Houses of Parliament are paid the London living wage. As are all staff at the Greater London Authority. But most government departments still pay only the minimum wage to contract cleaners. Campaigners say its time the DWP took the lead on poverty wages and finally make work pay for the people who work for them.

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More on Dutch cleaners

April 23, 2012 Leave a comment

A more in depth article on the recent cleaners’ dispute in Holland, written by Peter Storm.

The strike was an important and impressive one. The deal, presented by trade union and left wing groups as a victory, leaves quite a bit to be desired.

The strike started on January 2, after negotiations between the union and the bosses broke down. The strike was suspended within a week, ‘to give the bosses time to think’, but soon resumed, and continued until this week. All in all, the strike lasted 105 days, which makes it the longest sector-wide strike in the Netherlands since 1933. The number of strikers was about 2000 in the beginning, but rose to around 3000. The number of workers in the cleaning business, however, is 150.000.

The strike was combined with a whole number of actions. There have been ten ‘Marches of Respect’, by 1.500 to 3.000 strikers and sympathizers, in one city after another. There have been impressive sit-ins by strikers at the University in Utrecht, in Amsterdam, and a smaller one at an university building in Nijmegen. In these sit-ins, students and others participated, links between them and the striking cleaners were built, and the dismissal of a few cleaners was successfully opposed. Public opinion moved to the side of the strikers, a group of low-paid workers whose demands were broadly seen as reasonable and whose slogan of ‘respect’ resonated widely. A famous talk show host and even a right wing business columnist expressed sympathy with the cleaners.

The union demanded, among other things: a serious wage rise, better regulations for travelling from home to work, measures against the excessive work (a consequence of less and less cleaners doing the same work), and paid sick leave from day one (up to now, cleaners who get sick have to pay the first two days themselves, which is worse than in other branches of employment). On a number of issues, the deal that was reached granted the unions’ demands, at least partly. The payment of sick leave, however, became a sticking point: a bosses’ representative talked darkly of ‘grey absenteeism’, implying that people calling in sick just do it for fraudulent reasons. In the deal that was reached, there will be an ‘experiment’ for some workers with payment from day one, combined with ‘better’ policy regarding absenteeism and sick leave. For most cleaners, however, nothing will change for now. The fact that this was a main demand and was not granted makes the deal even less satisfactory than it already is.

Left wing groups and the trade union itself – and many strikers, probably – see the deal as a major victory. They point to the much higher wage rise granted than in other sectors. One should, however, keep in mind that the cleaning wages ware comparably low; the fact that the rise is relatively high, only brings it somewhat closer to wages in other sectors. Besides, this is a 4.85 percent wage rise in TWO years, which is enough to keep pace with inflation but certainly not much more. That the agreement reached is relatively good says something about all those other agreements which are considerably worse, with wage ‘rises’ below inflation. Still, while this was not the ‘major victory’ some leftists see in it, it was not a defeat either. If the bosses had their way, the agreement would have been much worse. The main gain, however, was the experience of the strike itself, of its collective militancy, of the links of solidarity built among strikers, and between them and other groups in (potential) struggle.

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Victory for Dutch cleaners

April 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Dutch cleaners have called an end to their 105 day strike.

staking_Zwolle_100302X02

On strike in 2010

 

From UNI Global Union.

Cleaners will get a pay increase of 4.85%, better training, regular workload measurements and there is more security for temporary workers. There is also an important step towards the treatment of sick cleaners. The strikers voted to accept this offer and go back to work today.

On 1 May the cleaners get a 2% pay increase. In December, they’ll get a further 1.6% year-end bonus. As of 1 January 2013, they will receive another 2%. If the cleaning contract changes, everyone goes longer than 1.5 years on the object and then find no changes instead. Money has been put aside to help 500 cleaners learn Dutch and 6000 will get skills training.

All temporary employees will receive a permanent contract of employment with their cleaning employer after one year of employment. Employers will pay 1.4% more pension contributions.

“Nobody can do more around us. We are in times of economic storm and climbed up the ladder. We are far from over, but we are no longer in the cellar.” said a proud Khadija Tahiri (pictured on left). Tahiri is a hospital cleaner and the elected President of the Union of Cleaners. “We have won perhaps one of the highest wage increases in the Netherlands, but we are most proud of the respect agreements on workload, training, and treatment of sick workers.

This follows a nine week strike in 2010 over wages.

Any comments offering additional info are welcomed.

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Swindon Great Western Hospital cleaners’ strike on TV

March 27, 2012 Leave a comment

Cleaners who have taken strike action for 18 days in response to racist bullying at Swindon’s Great Western Hospital were featured on regional TV at the weekend. (Skip to 42 minutes)

Click picture for link.

The cleaners, who are mostly immigrants from Goa, have a achieved an early victory as one manager has already stepped down. Locals are reporting of scabs being hired in Bristol and being bussed into Swindon.

Jerry Hicks (Sparks’ rank and file committee is on immediately after).

This video may only be available for seven days.