Sue Gray found cleaners were subjected to ‘unacceptable’ rudeness, so they gathered to tell the government what needs to change
The protest was called after Sue Gray’s report into illegal parties at Downing Street found that No 10 staff had treated cleaning and security staff “unacceptably” on several occasions.
Workers told Den uavhengige that the problems with respect went beyond No 10 and raised issues relating to insecure, outsourced contracts and low pay.
Ernie Williams, a cleaner at the London School of Economics, sa: “Whatever cabinet you sit on, you are not above the law of this land.”
She went on: “We want support for the cleaners and we want higher wages because they look down on us like we’re the dirt that we clean.”
United Voices of the World (UVW), a union that represents cleaners and security guards in government buildings, called Friday’s protest.
The union said it was protesting against the culture of disrespect towards low-paid workers, such as cleaners and security guards, in government buildings and offices across London.
Workers also said safety was a concern for them. Protesters paid tribute to Emanuel Gomes, a cleaner at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), who died from Covid-19 in 2020 after working while severely ill because his contract did not grant him sick pay.
Vicente Mendes, a cousin of Gomes who also works as a cleaner for the MoJ, attended the gathering outside Downing Street in memory of his late cousin and colleague.
He said through a translator that he works for £9.50 an hour. “I was on holiday when Emanuel died, but when I came back and found out, they did not give me any time off.
“It was just work, arbeid, arbeid. It always is.”
Kate Byrne, a London Underground worker who came to the protest to show solidarity with cleaners, said she was “outraged” when she heard of the treatment of low-paid workers in Downing Street. She said she had had a similar experience of colleagues dying in lockdown.
“I’m here because in [the London Underground] we’ve had the same problems with being forced to work in lockdown when it was dangerous.”
Mer enn 50 Transport for London staff died from Covid-19. Ms Byrne said she thought many would be alive today had they not had to come in to work.
Boris Johnson apologised for the treatment of cleaning staff during lockdown, saying rudeness towards them was “absolutely inexcusable” and that “whoever was responsible” should apologise – but workers said it was “too little, too late”.
Soon after the protest started, Owen Jones, a left-wing columnist and activist, made a speech to protesters. Han sa: “We’re here today to call for low-paid workers to have a genuine living wage. To have the statutory sick pay they deserve, to have the pensions they deserve, and to have the working conditions they deserve, not where government advisers can treat them like the dirt on their shoe.”
Andre steder, Steve Bray, also known as Mr Stop Brexit, made an appearance in solidarity. Han sa: “It’s absolutely shocking how cleaners are treated in most places, for å være ærlig, but to hear cleaners were treated in No 10 like that, that did come as a surprise.”
Away from the protest, a leading official from the cleaning industry called for a meeting with the cabinet secretary over the way cleaning staff were treated in Downing Street.
Jim Melvin, chair of the British Cleaning Council, said he was “appalled and upset” at the revelations in Sue Gray’s report.
Han sa: “What cleaning staff need is support and recognition from the government and civil service, not to be treated with any level of disrespect.”
In her report into Partygate, Ms Gray said: “I found that some staff had witnessed or been subjected to behaviours at work which they had felt concerned about but at times felt unable to raise properly.
“I was made aware of multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff. This was unacceptable.”