Cleaners at a prestigious south London academy have won a victory in a dispute with their cleaning company bosses after a VICE News investigation revealed that a manager had suggested that she may only provide them with personal protective equipment (PPE) and a wage increase if they disaffiliate from their union.
In a recording, Ridge Crest Cleaning regional manager Emma McNabola can be heard saying: “If we end this now, we can get face masks on site and speak to Jo and get that pay rise [to London Living Wage] in January, which she’s committed to doing, but can’t right now because of the budget.”
The cleaners at Ark Globe Academy in Southwark, which uses Ridge Crest Cleaning’s services, had been in a bitter dispute over missing payments, some of which amounted to five weeks’ worth of wages. During a walk-out as part of the dispute, the recordings of McNabola suggesting that the cleaners should drop their union were made.
In a letter dated 16th of July, sent to the cleaners’ union, United Voices of the World (UVW) and seen by VICE News, Ridge Crest managing director Simon Wrenn announced that the cleaners had won a London Living Wage.
In the letter, Wrenn states: “I write to thank you for you hard work over the summer term. It is clear that cleaning of schools has never been more important and I am delighted with the hard work that each of you have undertaken to ensure the pupils and staff at Ark Globe Academy have been able to work and learn in a clean and safe environment.”
He goes on to confirm that, from the beginning of the September term “the rate of pay for all cleaners at Ark Globe Academy will be the London Living wage rate of £10.75 an hour”. The letter also announces that cleaners will receive occupational sick pay in parity with in-house staff at the academy. Wrenn also acknowledges concerns around health and safety raised by the cleaners, announcing an improved process for carrying out risk assessments which will be individual for each member of staff.
Wrenn confirmed to VICE News over email that McNabola was still in post. He also said that a company-wide training in relation to “managing disputes and working constructively and professionally with trade unions” had been organised.
In a statement given to VICE News, Wrenn said: “Ridge Crest and Ark Globe Academy are proud to announce the enhancement of the cleaning team’s wages to London Living Wage and the provision of full sick pay benefits. There has never been a time where standards of cleanliness and hygiene are more important or highly valued and we believe that this increase reflects the commitment of both Ark Globe Academy and Ridge Crest to recognising this.”
UVW have confirmed plans to bring a collective tribunal claim against Ridge Crest for trade union victimisation.
Petros Elia of UVW said: “This victory will be celebrated, but the fight continues for full equality. And Ark Globe academy will not be forgiven for having forced the cleaners to get by on poverty pay and no proper sick pay for so long. We will make sure that Ark holds their contractor to account for having flagrantly engaged in vile union-busting antics with an expressed intent to ‘shut the union down’ and literally force the cleaners to choose between their health or their human rights. We are very clear: we will not be going anywhere, not until these workers are brought in-house and Ark comes to the negotiating table.”
Julio Fernando Mier López, a strike leader, said: “We were underpaid, undervalued, badly treated and often humiliated. All of us were not being paid properly – I had one colleague who worked 69 hours and they [Ridge Crest Cleaning] paid her nothing. She had a ‘0’ on her pay slip. I’m not a confrontational person, but I knew enough was enough and that we had to take action. We tried to tell them so many times about the problems and they just didn’t care. After the recordings came out and everyone knew they had bribed us with PPE, they threatened me with a letter as a way to intimidate me. But we aren’t backing down, we’re happy we’ve won the battle, but we know we still need to win the war.”
A spokesperson from Ark, the multi-academy trust that runs Ark Globe Academy, told VICE News: "As the employer of the cleaners, Ridge Crest has resolved the issues raised by their employees. As previously stated, Ark Globe Academy hoped for a timely conclusion to the dispute and is delighted that the negotiations have reached a satisfactory conclusion for all involved."