‘SERVEST OUT!’ shouted striking cleaners and supporters at King’s College London during a lunchtime rally on Friday.
The cleaners, members of Unison who work for contractor Servest, went on strike on Thursday and Friday in protest at cutbacks, after 98% of workers balloted voted in favour of industrial action.
More than 50 academics at King’s, which is ranked among the top universities in the world, have signed a letter in support of their colleagues, protesting at how the cleaners are being treated. The strike action follows a long-running dispute with Servest over its plans to reduce working hours and cut jobs.
There are also concerns around ongoing staff shortages and increased work loads.
Servest informed all cleaners working at the university of the changes in November 2016. Staff either face a reduction in the hours they work or redundancy.
Cleaner Janet Monte-Alegre told News Line: ‘We are striking because of the injustices of the company. We are overworked. If someone leaves the company, there’s no-one to replace them. We just have to keep working more. It’s the same when someone goes on holiday or if people are off sick. There are so many problems – for example, they don’t pay you the correct amount. Obviously, I think we would be a lot better to work directly for King’s university.’
Fellow striker German Alberto said: ‘We need everybody to strike because the company don’t employ enough people. We have to work to replace people who are off sick. This is very hard on us. The salary is not enough. This problem is very important.’
Unison London regional organiser Colin Inniss told News Line: ‘There will be further action.’
He told the rally outside King’s College in London’s Strand: ‘Servest workers are part of our family. We say it’s no way to treat family members.’
King’s College Unison branch secretary Alex Nightingale arrived at the King’s rally from one at Guy’s Hospital. She told the cheering crowd: ‘Guy’s was fantastic, not a single worker went in. We need to build support for the cleaning staff there. We have some ideas. This is just the beginning. We’ve had fantastic support here at the Strand.’
One of the strikers Martha Appiah told the rally: ‘When Servest took over they made redundancies. We are pleased with your support. We don’t want Servest, they don’t care. They put the money in their pocket, they don’t care about us.’
Striking cleaner Peray Yunganisa added: ‘They showed they don’t know anything about cleaners. That’s why we have to stand up to them. Servest expect the same standard before they made redundancies. You do your best but they keep putting pressure on you.’
Striker Marcia Morillo told the crowd of mainly students: ‘Thank you for supporting us.
‘The future wasn’t very clear but now we are happy we have the support for us. It’s most important this strike. Servest must think about us as human beings not machines. Thank you for supporting us, we hope in the future we’ll get something out of this.’
Unison regional organiser Matias Jalacan said: ‘We have noticed a change in the King’s community. How can you ask a cleaner to do the work of three, it’s not possible. Enough is enough. They put worker against worker. It is asking too much. We ask for enough workers, there’s too high a work load. We mean to stay out, we mean to fight and say enough is enough. Servest expect cleaning staff to do the impossible.’
SOAS Unison branch secretary Sandy Nicoll said: ‘I bring solidarity and support from our cleaners. They are 100 per cent in support of what you do. Eight years ago we fought for a London Living Wage, we are now fighting for them to be treated with dignity. It’s disgraceful that our colleges let them be treated as second-class citizens.
‘Companies like Servest shouldn’t be allowed through the door. We fought for all cleaners and catering workers to be brought back in house. These cleaners at King’s are fighting, we need to stand in their support because if we do we will win.’
King’s College Unison branch chair Dot Pearce declared to the cleaners: ‘Your fight is our fight. If King’s does this and gets away with it, they will do it to us. We all need support of lecturers and students. We want to make sure it doesn’t go away. We are inviting cleaners to speak at our meetings.’
Unison NEC rep for Higher Education Elizabeth Baptiste said: ‘I’ve just attended a rally at Guy’s. It’s so unfair for the women to be treated unfairly. Excessive working hours is a hazard to health. Servest should not be allowed to carry on its unreasonable behaviour. In terms of health and safety, Servest say they provide equipment and training. This is not how they are treating their workers.
‘Workers should be treated with dignity and respect, they should not be undervalued. Servest say they are a reputable company, they need to take a good look at their values because this does not reflect how they are treating our members.’
King’s College student Eleanor Osborne told News Line at the rally: ‘When I found out the conditions our cleaners were working in, I was appalled. It’s a disgrace that King’s allows that to happen. We’ve collected over £100 for the cleaners strike fund.’
Roisin Moreau, a King’s second year student, said: ‘I didn’t know much about the cleaners struggle until a few days ago. I found out about their problems and just think it’s disgusting that they have to work so hard. A lot of them have had work-related accidents and they get no compensation for them. This is one of the top medical schools in the UK. It’s disgraceful that they should allow this kind of treatment.’
Student Julio Ordax said: ‘I’m supporting the cleaners. I’m Spanish and they are Spanish speakers. I spoke to them at a demonstration and they told me how unreasonably they are treated. When Servest got the contract they fired ten people. Now the cleaners are doing two or three times the work that they are supposed to do.
‘This is affecting their health. They are having injuries because of the overwork and they don’t even get the proper sick pay. And their pay is not enough to meet the cost of living in London. Many of them come to work when they are sick because they need the money. Students and other staff must support the cleaners because they make our study environment to our benefit.’