London Underground cleaners protest over ‘exploitation’ by private contractors


RMT members staged the protest on Friday.

By Lewis Garfield

London Underground cleaners desperately seeking equality in the workplace demonstrated outside the Transport for London headquarters this weekend.

Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) cleaning members claim they are being exploited by “greedy” private contractors who offer “poverty pay” while creaming off the profits.

RMT members staged the protest on Friday, kick starting a national campaign which centred on a 48-hour staff strike across seven major rail cleaning contractors.

RMT members demanded the TFL, under the leadership of Mayor Boris Johnson, adopt a policy of “justice” for cleaners and security staff by securing contracts for a living wage, free travel and improved pension and holiday pay.

Bob Crow, RMT general secretary, said the RMT is launching an unprecedented, coordinated national campaign for pay justice for cleaners and security staff across the transport industry.

He said: “This campaign will involve industrial, political and public campaigning that will drag the exploitation of cleaners out of the shadows and into the spotlight.”

He added: “These are all long-running disputes in which the train operators and the authorities have sought to wash their hands of the issue and have refused to take any responsibility for the gross and brutal exploitation of cleaners that is taking place on their watch.”

RMT firmly believe the best way securing decent pay and conditions is by bringing all of the cleaning and security work in-house and out of the hands of private contractors.

London Transport Regional Council Secretary, John Reid, said it was a disgrace that members in the rail industry are being paid as low as six to eight pound an hour, well below the London living wage of £12.50.

He said: “We demand decent conditions and living wage, not only for cleaners in our industry, but for low paid workers throughout London. We will fight until we have these basic rights.”

Joseph Yin, 50, a Walthamstow underground cleaner, said that contractors show little concern for their workers welfare with cleaners often undertaking tasks without the correct equipment or safety measures, for example the cleaning blood without the necessary hepatitis B vaccinations.

He said: “We are fighting not only for ourselves, but the generations of cleaners to come. I am willing to take months off work to bring an end to this injustice.”

He added: “Nobody appreciates the work that we do. We work hard, unsociable hours and often act as the first line of communication for the public, helping with questions and concerns. But we find ourselves treated like second class citizens.”

Cleaning staff working for ISS London Underground and Initial Transport Services have also taken action, starting their 48-hour strike at 5.30am on Friday morning.

RMT member Glenroy Watson said privatisation led to the end of underground cleaners entering the workplace as grade 1 employees, which gave them the privileges and responsibilities comparable to the modern day underground station assistant.

He explained this has created a division within the workforce, between those working in-house and employees working for private contractors.

He said: “One cleaner I know was not even allowed to sit and take his break in the underground staff room with the other employees, a room that he cleans every day.”

He added: “It is this kind of inequality that his led to this much needed action. Cleaners often work seven days a week to make ends meet with more and more being forced into second jobs.”

To step up the political support for the fight the RMT has called a National Lobby of Parliament for Cleaners in the Transport Industry scheduled on 11th December at 3pm at the House of Commons.

This will be bolstered by a demonstration on the same date taking place outside the Trade Unions Congress on Tottenham Court Road at 9am.

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