Bullying sparks cleaners dispute

A scandalous secret recording reveals abuse and intimidation suffered by low-paid cleaning staff on Canary Wharf.

Managers of the cleaning service contractor, Rentokil Initial, subjected their staff to insults and threats of dismissal.

Management assembled the staff after cleaners petitioned the client company’s employees at media firm, Thomson Reuters, for the £8.30 per hour London Living Wage (LLW).

Concerned the pay demand would lose Rentokil Initial their contract, management forced cleaners to sign a contract amendment never to speak directly with the client.

The manager in the recording says: “In a minute you are going to sign a form. Every single one of you.

“That form says that if you ever go to the client over my head, ever, you will be bringing the company into disrepute, and you will be committing gross misconduct.

“Do you all understand what gross misconduct is? You can be sacked for gross misconduct. Dismissed.”

Later in the recording, as the cleaners defend their claim to better pay, the manager says: “I don’t want to know your problem. I want you to come to work, do your work, go home. End of.”

“You’re never going to get the London Living Wage. You’re living in a bloody dream world.”

When the cleaners question the new contract terms the manager says: “Oh Jesus Christ it’s an amendment. You are so ignorant you don’t know anything.

“I am sick and tired that people in this contract cannot just come in, do their job and go home. I am not the only one. Shut up a minute because you are just getting on my nerves.

“We are decent people in this contract. We don’t want this rubbish that you are spouting.”

A cleaner replies: “This is not rubbish. It is our life.”

The cleaners are demanding the Greater London Authority (GLA) recognised LLW and the removal of the bullying managers.

Carlos, 22, joined a protest on March 16 outside Thomson Reuters’ Aldgate High Street offices carrying a placard which read, ‘Give my mum back her health.’

He said: “My mum became ill because of the bullying. We do our best to support her, but the stress and the bad treatment made her really sick.”

When confronted, a Rentokil Initial spokeswoman said: “We were made aware of this recording some time ago, immediately started an internal review and have taken appropriate steps.

“We have a strict code of conduct that we expect all our employees to abide by.”

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ), which threatened action against Thomson Reuters in February, winning a 2.5% pay rise, is now backing the cleaners’ cause.

General secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “These cleaners are working in the heart of the city where some bankers will earn more in their yearly bonus than they will in their lifetime.

“Thomson Reuters must take responsibility for the way the people who clean their offices and empty their bins are treated.

“It is a disgrace that they are not being paid the modest London Living Wage of £8.30.”

Mike Roddy, an NUJ shop steward at Thomson Reuters, said: “Even if the company is not their direct employer, we would urge Thomson Reuters’ management to work to resolve this dispute and to see to it that some of the abuses described by the cleaners are not repeated.”

John McDonnell, MP for Hays and Harlington, also backs the cleaners’ case, raising Early Day Motions in Parliament in support of the LLW.

He said: “We’ve had enough. Right the way across London this has happened.”

“We’ll be exposing this company and in that way we’ll affect their profits if they don’t pay the London Living Wage. That isn’t a threat, it’s a promise.”

“We’re going to use this as an example to bring other companies to heel.”

Around 11% of London’s full-time and part-time workers receive less than the £7.25 poverty threshold wage.

One in six receives less than the £8.30 Living Wage and around 3% earn less than the National Minimum Wage of £5.93.

London Mayor Boris Johnson believes the LLW makes good business sense.

He said: “What may appear to a company to be an unaffordable cost in a highly competitive market is more appropriately viewed as a sound investment decision.

“I believe that paying decent wages reduces staff turnover and produces a more motivated and productive workforce.”

The cleaners plan to protest again at Thomson Reuters’ Canary Wharf offices on March 30.

An extract of the recording and the full transcript can be found at www.tmponline.org.

 

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