Cleaners in PFI schools work for private companies, as do the premises staff. However, many premises staff were TUPE’d over from the local authority when their employer changed. This means that they took their local authority wages and conditions with them.
Cleaners come and go very quickly, which means that those who date back to local authority employment are fewer. Those that joined the staff under the private employer work under different and worse conditions than the rest.
There are twenty seven PFI schools in Tower Hamlets in East London. Until recently the cleaners in those schools were employed by Blue Diamond, the same company found over a year ago to be cheating on their contract with Railtrack. They were telling Railtrack that they were paying their cleaners £5.50 an hour while actually paying £5.05.
It gives an indication of what working for Blue Diamond must be like when a large number of the cleaners, many from Latin America or Eastern Europe, did not feel able to join the union to defend their wages and conditions.
Recently, however, Blue Diamond’s contract was not renewed and the cleaners were brought under the same employer as the premises staff, GSL, retaining their conditions. All of a sudden the union seems a more acceptable idea and cleaners in one school are planning to hold a meeting soon to join up. Unison activists will be working to spread the membership to other PFI schools in the borough.