Cleaners who work in six different schools in Hackney, London have been refused holiday pay at the legal rate. These 42 school cleaners are already some of the lowest paid workers, and yet their employer has not only refused to pay proper holiday pay, but has also refused to discuss other pressing issues of pay and conditions with Unite, the cleaners’ union.
The cleaners aren’t directly employed by the Hackney schools. They’ve been outsourced to a company called OCS Group Ltd. The reality of working for this company has been summed up by former employees: “Management do not care about their staff at all” said one. “You are left feeling worthless and underappreciated”. Another former employee described working for OCS as “the worst job I’ve ever had”. And yet another explained how they had early starts, long hours, low pay, no guaranteed work (zero-hours contracts), no breaks, and unpaid lunch hours.
This is the reality of life for many workers today. It’s not surprising that this latest attack on these school cleaners has resulted in them balloting for strike action until 18 December. If they do take action then the schools will be left dirty and with rubbish piling up in the new year. The small group of workers holds quite a powerful position by withdrawing their labour, because no school can function without its cleaners. Imagine what could be achieved if Unite were able to unionise all low-paid, casualised workers – huge sectors of the economy could be brought to a standstill, from restaurants and coffee shops, to retail outlets. This is the power the working class can have if it gets organised.
We support our cleaners, and we support unionisation and militant industrial action by low-paid, casualised workers, which is the only way to put an end to exploitation.