Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I thought they wanted to put trade unionists in the Tower!

FIRST the London Transport Museum (or further back the Fire Service museum if you like) and then the British Museum, Now the Tower of London, scene of so much history, is the centre of a historic dispute. Behind the splendour of the Yeomen warders who greet the tourists and guard the Crown Jewels, the skivvies who keep this medieval fortress and palace clean and presentable are stepping out of the dark and miserable past to demand trade union rights and a living wage.

There will be a demonstration outside the Tower on Saturday, November 3, at 1pm

The .cleaners at the Tower of London, employed by contractor MITIE, say they are currently paid a poverty wage despite the Historic Royal Palaces seeing an admissions income for 2011/12 of £42.8 million. They are asking for the very modest London Living Wage of £8.30 p/hour. Furthermore, they are asking for sufficient numbers of workers to face the excessive and constantly changing workloads, and they are requesting copies of their contracts of employment that actually reflect their actual hours of work and holiday entitlements. The cleaners also lack facilities for changing and washing.

The company has banned the IWGB cleaners' union from the Tower of London and other sites where it has members. 

The union says MITIE is one of the government's favourite contractors, but has a terrible track record regarding the treatment of its workers. It claims some pregnant women working for MITIE were  forced by sadistic managers to carry out tasks that would endanger the life of their unborn babies nearly causing a miscarriage.

Although the Industrial Workers of Great Britain, to give its full name,  is a relative newcomer to the 21st century industrial scene, it claims a name and tradition going back to the early part of the last century when there were efforts to establish a British version of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) which was so big in the Western Hemisphere and to some extent Australia.

That first attempt gained success among women workers at the Singer factory on Clydebank. The current edition of the IWGB is claiming some success organising and fighting for low-paid cleaners, often women and/or immigrant workers, in supposedly affluent London. That might be seen as competing with, or reflecting on the adequacy of, activity by bigger trade unions.  But any differences are rightly being put aside when it comes to the basic issues of fighting for a living wage and the right to trade union recognition.

Among those who will be speaking at Saturday's rally are Steve Hedley of the RMT rail union, who has been involved in organising cleaners on the London Underground, and Chris Baugh of the public service union PCS whose members include cleaners at Buckingham Palace. Journalist Owen Jones who is a member of the Labour Representation Committee is also speaking.  

The cleaners at the Tower have also received support from MPs who have signed an Early Day Motion submitted by Labour MP John McDonnell:
That this House notes that the Tower of London has seen the highest number of visitors in over 30 years and that the Historic Royal Palaces have seen an admissions income for 2011/12 of 42.8 million; expresses disappointment that cleaners employed at the Tower of London under contract by MITIE Cleaning Services are paid below the London living wage and that the Historic Royal Palaces have failed to ensure the compliance of its contractor with the Greater London Authority rate of 8.30 per hour, which is designed to provide a minimum acceptable quality of life; further notes the Board of Trustees renewed the contract with MITIE on the proviso that rates of pay and numbers of operatives should not be varied without their approval; further notes that MITIE is an Associate Corporate Member of Historic Royal Palaces; is concerned that the cleaning operatives' conditions of employment do not meet the standards expected, the cleaning operatives do not have sufficient numbers and face excessive and constantly changing workloads, their requests for copies of their contracts of employment have been ignored, as have their request for contracts that will reflect their actual hours of work and holiday entitlements and requests for health and safety training and provision of personal protective equipment have gone unheeded; further notes with concern that cleaners lack facilities for changing and washing and that the efforts of the cleaner union IWGB to raise their members' concerns have been disregarded; and expects the cleaners to be treated with respect, paid fairly and employed in sufficient numbers to meet the demands of the Tower of London.

Industrial Workers of Great Britain:

Early Day Motion 538

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