The employees are paid just £7.18 an hour.
It is one of the country’s wealthiest areas, but Kensington and Chelsea cleaners are protesting against their low salaries and vowing strike action if they are not given the London Living Wage.
The cleaners are employed by OCS, a multi-national services company on behalf of Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO).
They are paid just £7.18 an hour, although the recommended London Living Wage (LLW) is £8.55.
One cleaner, Jamaican Christopher Rodney, said: “The wage is horrendous. It is like slave labour. It means I can’t really afford to pay rent.”
Last week, the cleaners unanimously rejected a pay rise of 2.5% over two years.
They work eight hours per day, six days a week, mainly in the borough’s council housing buildings, such as Trellick Tower, a grade II listed building.
Marcos Matos, a 32-year-old cleaner from Brazil, lives in New Cross with his wife and three children. He takes two buses to get to work, which can take an hour and a half, but it is cheaper than taking the tube.
Andrew Campbell, a 48-year-old Jamaican, said: “We’re fighting for equal rights. We deserve to be treated like human beings, not animals.”
A motion in support of the cleaners was introduced by the Kensington and Chelsea Labour Group in 2011, and again last month.
Councillor Judith Blakeman, a Labour Councillor said: “Their poverty pay means the difference between being able to put food on the table for their families or getting the bus to work.”
However, the Council’s Conservative majority voted down the motion, with Councillor Joanna Gardner arguing that many of the cleaners may have a second job or have family members bringing in an additional wage.
She said: “There are good reasons for believing that a LLW could have a negative impact on the levels of employment which are critical to our national recovery.”
OCS originally bid for the contract in 2006 and based labour costs on the National Minimum Wage. The contract stated that any other increases needed to be funded by the TMO.
In a statement, OCS said: “OCS has a good record of positive engagement with our recognised trades unions. We appreciate the work of these unions and value the productive relationships we have. We are sorry that we have ended up in dispute on this occasion.”
The TMO believe that OCS should fund any increase from their profit margins.
“These types of lowest bidder contracts are increasingly becoming unsustainable because people cannot live on these rates of pay,” said Gary Carter, a GMB union officer.
TMO have said they will review the existing contract in 2014, but say any salary increase will be charged back to their tenants.
Yet many tenants have signed a petition in support of the cleaners, and meanwhile, anger amongst the cleaners continues to grow.
“I’m angry. I’m ready to strike. I will not stop fighting,” said Mr Campbell.
Photo courtesy of Eyes on Rights Humanitarian Photography, with thanks.
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