On 5 August, ABM cleaner and chair of the RMT London Transport Region Cleaning Grades Committee Mohamed Said addressed a virtual strike rally for outsourced cleaners in HMRC offices in Merseyside, striking from 3-28 August to demand living wages and full sick pay. The cleaners are employed by ISS. This is a transcript of Mohamed's speech.
My name is Mohamed Said, ABM Tube cleaner, RMT industrial rep, and RMT London Transport Region Cleaning Grades Committee chair. It’s an honour to be asked to address you in this great event.
Firstly, I’m proud that trade unions are working as closely together now as we ever have. We are the greatest force for progressive change in workplaces. So thank you to every single one of you for what you do, for your members and for our society.
The PCS union have approached HMRC several times to urge them to meet their members’ very simple demands - better pay , sick pay scheme and job security agreement - but HMRC has declined to do so. Going on strike is a very tough decision, however it is the only way left to defend your rights over their failure to meet your demands.
We know all about ISS on London Underground; prior to 2017, when the cleaning contracts were consolidated, ISS was one of several contractors employing cleaners on the Tube. They were notoriously exploitative, routinely short-paying their workers. After strikes in 2008, ISS invited cleaners to a work meeting; when they got there they found UKBA officials waiting for them, and some cleaners were deported. Their immigration status wasn’t a problem for ISS when they wanted to exploit them; it only became an issue when they started to stand up for themselves.
In 2013, ISS attempted to impose a biometric booking on system which used biometric data from cleaners’ fingerprints. Given the history, cleaners were understandably concerned about this data being shared with immigration authorities. Industrial action by RMT members to refuse to use the system led to cleaners being locked out of work for months, but the system was eventually scrapped.
Today, London Underground cleaners are in a similar situation to cleaners at HMRC. Wherever you find outsourced companies, there is always injustice and discrimination of employees.
Your demand for full sick pay is not only a demand for basic justice, but a vital safety and infection control measure in the ongoing pandemic. We all know Statutory Sick Pay is not enough to live on. If workers can not afford to self-isolate or take time off sick, the virus will continue to spread.
The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport workers has supported always Tube cleaners. As part of the Justice for Cleaners campaign, RMT is fighting to end the outsourcing of cleaning work on London’s underground and overground rail networks. RMT held several demonstrations outside Parliament, where MPs joined our members and supported the campaign by tabling a motion in Parliament calling on the Mayor to bring cleaning workers on London Underground and the Overground network into direct employment. We even involved Tube passengers to back the campaign.
As well as the demand for direct employment, our main demands are for full sick pay, better pensions, and staff travel passes. Currently, only direct employed workers receive staff travel benefits, meaning we as cleaners have to pay to use the service our labour helps to function. We want equality with our directly-employed workmates who we work alongside on stations, depots, and offices every day.
During the pandemic, RMT pressure secured a temporary commitment that cleaners would receive full pay for self-isolation and sickness. This was an important step forward, which we would not have achieved without our existing organisation and campaign. But it’s only a partial victory, as the commitment is temporary and only covers cleaners for a maximum of 12 weeks. We’re fighting to extend this gain and to make it permanent, and for cleaners who have been furloughed to receive the 20% salary top up, which ABM and TfL have so far refused to pay.
This fight for workplace justice goes on and we will be stepping up the pressure on the outsourcing companies like ISS to end the scandal of cleaners exploitation.
Solidarity to your heroic strike, and let’s continue to work together to fight for more rights and power for workers.