Win on cleaners' sickness and isolation pay

Posted in Tubeworker's blog on Fri, 16/10/2020 - 11:07,
A cartoon figure raising their fist next to a large green tick

On 30 September, we reported that cleaning contractor ABM had withdrawn an agreement to pay cleaners at their full shift rate for periods of Covid-related sickness and self-isolation. With the agreement withdrawn, cleaners would revert to their normal contractual arrangements, which only entitled them to Statutory Sick Pay, £95.85 per week, clearly not enough to live on.

As we said two weeks ago, "if [cleaners] can't afford to follow public health guidance and self-isolate when necessary, that represents a huge infection control risk that puts the cleaners themselves, other workers, and passengers in danger."

RMT reps pressed both ABM and TfL/LU bosses to reinstate the agreement. Within TfL/LU's collective bargaining machinery, reps refused to allow bosses to play their usual get-out-of-jail-free card, whereby they insist outsourced workers' terms and conditions are a matter for the outsourced contractor only, and demanded they take responsibility for the safety of all workers working in TfL/LU workplaces.

Union branches passed motions, calling for industrial and political action to secure the reinstatement of the agreement. A social media campaign was mounted, with campaigns like Safe and Equal providing support (see this graphic). Activists in a branch of Tooting Labour Party, London Mayor Sadiq Khan's CLP, also passed a resolution calling on Khan to act, and planning for direct action to increase the pressure on him.

On 15 October, RMT London Transport Regional Organiser John Leach reported to reps that ABM had agreed to reinstate the agreement, ensuring cleaners would be paid in full for periods of sickness and self-isolation.

Forcing this 180° turn from the bosses is a significant win, and one that would not have been achieved without concerted pressure from RMT activists and supporters elsewhere in the labour movement. It means cleaners can self-isolate without worrying about missing a rent payment or not being able to buy food, which means they don't need to expose themselves and others to greater risk by dragging themselves into work if they've got Covid symptoms.

But the fight doesn't end here. We still need to police the agreement, to make sure it's implemented consistently. We need to extend to, to ensure it covers all sickness, not just Covid-related absence and isolation. And we need to make it permanent, to guarantee that ABM aren't able to simply withdraw it again a few months down the line.

An emergency motion to RMT's AGM from the Bakerloo branch calls on the union to conduct a national audit of all outsourced contracts where it organises, and demand full sickness and isolation pay wherever this is not being guaranteed. That demand needs to be levelled at the main employer as well as the outsourced contractor.

A guaranteed right to full sick pay shouldn't just be an emergency measure for a pandemic, it should be a permanent entitlement for all workers, all the time. The best way to permanently secure this would be to bring cleaning, and other outsourced work like catering, security, and protection work on the track, in house, and employ the workers on LU terms and conditions.

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