‘OUR battle will go on until we get justice for our people,’ said the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) General Secretary Tony Woodley on the picket line outside parliament on Wednesday.
He was addressing the press as TGWU members who clean parliament staged their first ever strike against poverty pay.
‘Low pay no way!’ the cleaners chanted outside the entrance to the House of Commons, where they were joined by more than 60 MPs who came out to show their support for the strike.
Over 140 TGWU members took part in Wednesday’s strike after a ballot returned a 100 per cent vote for action.
The strikers said: ‘£5 an hour is not acceptable. No sickness pay, no pensions, is totally unacceptable.’
Woodley condemned MPs and peers for not acting to make sure the cleaners get their demand of a minimum wage of £6.70 an hour.
He said: ‘It is nothing short of a disgrace.
‘I don’t know how MPs can raise their heads when they walk past these workers today.’
One of the strikers, TGWU member Philip Tia, a nightshift supervisor, told News Line: ‘We have been waiting a long time for this day to show everybody, especially the MPs, how the workers, the contractors, have been treated in the House of Commons and the House of Lords, throughout parliament.
‘We work in the night for a wage of £5 an hour.
‘We’ve no sick pay, only two weeks’ holiday a year, no pension.’
Jose Vallejo, a TGWU organiser, said: ‘The importance of the campaign is the four points: first: to get a minimum wage of £6.70 an hour; second: 28 days of holidays; third: sick pay, and fourth: to get a pension.
‘But the most important part of this campaign is to get respect from the company for the cleaners. The company is MITIE.
‘We hope the MPs will make sure that we get our demands.’
Tony Woodley told News Line: ‘MPs should treat working men and women with dignity and respect and pay a decent living wage and make poverty history in the House of Commons.
‘If they treated the cleaners the way they treat themselves, and paid them accordingly, then we wouldn’t have to be here today.
‘It’s a disgrace we have to go to these lengths,’ he said.
Labour MP Dennis Skinner said: ‘The problem is privatisation.
‘Everybody should be employed by the House authorities, with everybody being paid the same.’
In their Manifesto the striking cleaners pointed out that ‘Cleaners or Housekeepers directly employed by the House of Lords start at £7.89 per hour, and move after one year’s service to £8.08 an hour.
‘Those same Housekeepers enjoy 30 days holiday a year, in addition to the Public Statutory days, up to twelve months paid sick absence and membership of the House of Lords Staff Pension Scheme.’
TGWU Deputy-General Secretary Jack Dromey said: ‘Parliament has washed its hands of responsibility and the cleaners have had enough.
‘Their message is absolutely clear: they want justice and if they don’t get justice, they will strike again and again.
‘If there is no justice, MPs will have to get used to cleaning their own offices, toilets and building, because there won’t be cleaners there to do the job for them.’
Dromey told News Line: ‘MITIE is sub-contracted by the Houses of Parliament Authorities.
‘Parliament must now revise these contracts so the contractors can pay the cleaners a living wage.
‘Parliament’s the problem here. It has got to put more money into that contract.’
Labour MP Harry Cohen told News Line: ‘Immediately there should be proper wages and a change of the conditions.
‘I have been to visit where the staff have to hang out and it’s outrageous, such a place would have been closed down under health and safety anywhere else. Parliament has got Crown immunity.’
He continued: ‘There’s got to be proper accommodation so the cleaners can work to a high standard in decent conditions.
‘But beyond that, they should get a living wage.
‘Ken Livingstone has said that a proper wage on which workers can live in London would start at £6.70 an hour.
‘These workers who do a fantastic job for parliament should be receiving that, at least.
‘I fully support their strike.’
Cohen said that ‘MPs can lean on the House Authorities about the accommodation issue.
‘I’ve spoken to Frank Doran, chair of the administration committee, and he himself is saying the accommodation has to change.
‘The pay issue is between the contractor and the employees, but it is the House that runs the contract.
‘It would be better if the contract was brought back in-house and that would put it back into the hands of the administration committee and the faceless officials would have to answer to the MPs, and through them to parliament, over how they treat their staff.’
Cohen said that the Parliamentary Labour Party should be supporting the cleaners’ strike.
Another striking TGWU member, Edward Hill, told News Line: ‘I work on a compactor and a bottle stall inside parliament, taking away rubbish and empty bottles, and I get paid about £5.00 an hour.
‘It’s not enough to live on in London.
‘There is rent, rates, gas, electric and shopping to pay for.
‘At the moment our campaign is going quite well.
‘We are going to get a raise but I still say we need a pension.
‘Everybody needs a pension when they retire.’
He added: ‘£6.70 an hour is the minimum we’re demanding. I think we are worth more, the amount of work we do here.
‘I start at six in the morning and finish at two in the afternoon.
‘I’ve worked here for four and a half years.
‘Some people are treated differently because they are employed directly by parliament.
‘We should all be given a decent wage.’
Robert Dumbuya, a TGWU steward, also said: ‘It’s very hard for us on £5 an hour because prices are rising on most essential items – transport, food, Congestion Charge – everything is up.
‘Parking, electricity is up, gas is up, Council Tax is up, rent is up – while we’re living on the same wage.’
One of the strikers said: ‘The most annoying thing for us is that we are working in the House of Commons, the most rich and privileged place in the world, and our pay doesn’t reflect that.’
He added: ‘There are two contractors, MITIE and Emprise.
‘It would be a good idea if we were all employed by the parliament authorities.
‘We think if we were employed by the House, we would have more rights, like six weeks’ holiday for example, whereas we are only allowed 12 days.’
Another striker, Yaa Adu Gyamfi, a TGWU member who has worked at parliament for three years, said: ‘When people ask us where we work and we tell them the Houses of Parliament, they assume we get good money, proper holidays and proper facilities and rights, but as a matter of fact we are no better off than someone who works in a corner shop.
‘We thank MPs for coming out to show support. We are waiting for something to be done, some action.’
TGWU member Ainslee Richard said the cleaners were prepared to strike again if they don’t get a minimum wage of £6.70 an hour.
Meanwhile, the TGWU said over 250 MPs and peers had expressed support for the cleaners’ campaign.
An Early Day Motion tabled by Dewsbury Labour MP, Shahid Malik, has been signed by 129 MPs, urging the parliamentary authorities ‘to reach agreement with the two contractors on making available the necessary resources to ensure that cleaners earn the London living wage.’