“This is beyond politics, this is humanity!” – J4C Protest Report

J4C Protest Article as seen in Roar’s January/ February Issue

The KCL Justice for Cleaners campaign will continue this year in earnest, after efforts in December saw the highest student and staff turnout in support of the cause since its conception.

KCL Justice for Cleaners has been spearheaded by the cleaning staff of King’s College London for over three years, and was set up to bring cleaning staff in-house and end their current employment by third-party organisation Servest. The campaign also seeks to offer contractual parity for cleaners when compared to directly-employed staff.

A right for rights

The latest move in the campaign saw a wide-scale demonstration held outside of the main facade of the Strand Building, with over 150 people taking part in an event which was described as an ‘incredible feat’ for the campaign. Supporters of the cause came together to raise awareness of the poor working conditions and lack of workers rights that many cleaners have said they have suffered from whilst working under Servest.

Responsible for the employment of cleaners at the College, Servest has been put under intense scrutiny by the KCL Justice for Cleaners campaign, who have argued that the company has not delivered fair working condition for its employees.

Support for the campaign goes back three years, with the scheme hoping to bring ‘justice’ to cleaners who have cited persistent problems with health and safety, lack of equipment and an unfair allocation of work and overtime.

Protesters who made their opinions known during the demonstration, brought up issues surrounding workers rights, such as sick pay, holiday leave, pensions and maternity and paternity leave under their employment.

Equality is Vital

KCL Justice for Cleaners is now determined to make the university provide equal opportunities for overtime work, fair recruitment to new vacancies, as well as the formal recognition of the cleaners’ UNISON representation. The campaign hopes to emulate the success of similar cleaners rights campaigns at a number of other London universities, with both SOAS and LSE running similar schemes since 2006 which have taken significant steps to improving workers rights at their respective institutions.

Many now state the KCL Justice for Cleaners campaign is at a critical point. The latest negotiations held with the university, allegedly promised ‘nothing concrete’, according to an official spokesperson, and the campaign appears no nearer to bringing outsourcing to an end.

Tackling Opposition

Efforts from the campaign have not been without controversy. Despite the December rally proving to be entirely peaceful, King’s student Lana Majeed was seen to be attacked by an elderly gentlemen with a crutch whilst she protested with a megaphone outside of Strand. The anonymous attacker in question was unavailable to comment, but shouted “This should be illegal” after attacking the protester and exiting the Strand.

Roar spoke to Ms. Majeed who stated: “You can see from how he reacted, that something is not right here. We are just peacefully protesting. Most of these people suffering are people of colour. King’s may be a world-class university, but if we don’t stand up to this, then it is unacceptable. It upsets me that there are people leaving the King’s building and ignoring it.”

In attendance at the protests were a myriad of staff and students from varying backgrounds who expressed their solidarity for the campaign. Simon Gomez, a Columbian student at the College, who has served as a translator for Spanish-speaking cleaners, said: “We are not asking for anything unreasonable. We are asking for decency. This issue goes beyond politics and into the realm of humanity. Outsourcing generates instability, insecurity and stress for the worker. This is our fight, we support the cleaners in any way we can. They are leaders.”

Alongside those who demonstrated support for the campaign, a number of cleaners who have been under the employment of Servest were present, with many voicing their opinions on how they felt they had been treated, and how the campaign provided help.

Marcia, one of a number of cleaners who spoke openly to the crowd, said: “We want Kings to support us. We need sick pay. They didn’t pay me when I was sick and that is wrong. We are not machines. They don’t want to pay us. We need more holidays.”

‘We need action’

Another cleaner who spoke, Javier, translated by Simon Gomez, talked about the importance of a united movement: “We the cleaners feel the need to come to the protest because ten months have passed and nothing has been accomplished. They haven’t accomplished what they agreed and this cannot continue. That’s why we know that united with the student support, we will succeed.”

Others passed by the protest to ascertain more information and establish their opinions from then on. Antonio d’Amico stated: “I know a bit of stuff about the cleaners’ campaign . It’s a fair campaign of course, and has been a deep problem for too long. Though I’m not sure about the protest. I don’t really have an opinion on it but if they think it’s necessary then go ahead.”

Ha Hong, a member of the public who witnessed the protest, said: “It’s certainly a good thing, everyone has the right to say as they want. Though I do think it’s a bit small, it is a shame there couldn’t be a bigger group. I’m not sure what they are protesting though.”

However, not everyone at the protest appeared in favour of the cause. Fasiha Choudry, a College student presented a very different opinion: “It’s really weird what’s going on here. They are saying the cleaners deserve the same rights as lecturers. I get a minimum wage of £7.05 an hour, and yet they get the London Living Wage.

It’s f*cking b*llsh*t. They all signed a contract, so they have no right to protest because they are getting what they signed up for. Does that mean I should get the same as my manager? If they get what they want, there will be no zero hour contracts and then they would have no work at all. The protesters here had no answers for my questions, they were unwilling to say anything.”

Despite some outcry, and indeed levels of questioning, the campaign is keen to continue in earnest, and with the support of the general population of King’s for the Justice for Cleaners campaign growing steadily, the organisation is sure it can achieve its aims.

Simona Alexandra, the student at King’s responsible for communication between Unison and College students involved, said in an official statement: “The cleaners struggle will be won by their determination and restless fight and they are the driving force of the campaign. But as students we have a vital role to play in all workplace disputes at our university. The cleaners struggle is our struggle.

“Our university uses progressive statements and talks about issues like injustice, inequality and human rights but absurdly, we’re reproducing these problems in the walls of this prestigious university and that is unacceptable.”

While it is clear that much is still to be done to achieve the goals the campaign set out for itself, the scale of the December protest, coupled with the efforts from various groups across the university show that support for this cause will inevitably grow stronger. It appears the cleaners will not be silenced, and the campaign will not stop until justice is truly served for the cleaning staff at King’s.

– Roar’s coverage of the Cleaners campaign began in 2014, and in 2016 featured a video which gained significant attention. For more information, visit roarnews.co.uk

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