The Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council workers are hoping strike action will pressure the council into paying staff the London Living Wage of £10.20 per hour, and introducing adequate sick pay. Staff are currently not paid for the first three days of absence when they are unwell.
Union representatives said that if successful the strikes could lead to a 25% increase in wages for 1,000 staff.
Kensington and Chelsea Council had initially said it would cancel the contract with Amey, and bring workers in house. But it later retracted this statement. It is unclear whether the council is now planning to employ the cleaners directly, or if ending the contract will lead to better pay.
In a statement, the council’s chief executive Barry Quirk said that it is looking to end the contract with Amey 'as swiftly as possible' and to improve pay.
'To be clear, we are bringing our contract with Amey to an end as swiftly as possible, once we do we will be looking at, and reviewing, the current situation and seeing how we can make pay fairer,' he said.
'This includes a fairer deal for our cleaning staff. It may take time to do this across every other contract we have and we will look to do it in a phased way as contracts end or come up for renewal, but the London Living Wage will be foremost in our minds.'
He added: 'We are looking at all options for the cleaning service and, whether we bring back cleaning in house or not, my priority is fair pay whether staff are on an employment contract or a service contract.'
However, Amey claimed that Kensington and Chelsea had the opportunity to introduce the London Living Wage as part of the contract but hadn't requested to. 'Amey is committed to the wellbeing of its employees, and is fully compliant with the National Minimum Wage and the National Living Wage […],' a spokesperson said in a statement.
'We have a number of agreements with London councils to pay the London Living Wage, [but] the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea made no such request and so the staff on this contract currently receive the National Living Wage. As we have said on several occasions, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea can at any point vary the contract with us to accommodate the introduction of the London Living Wage.'
The strikes were organised by trade union United Voices of the World. Speaking to HR magazine, founder and general secretary Petros Elia said that the cleaners were exhausted and struggling to meet rising living costs on their current wages.
“It is back-breaking work. Shifts can go from eight in the morning to 8.30 at night, and they are all working on the minimum wage in buildings that can have as many as 4,000 users per day. Most of them do not feel they are able to take sick pay,” he said.
The walkout is being described as the largest organised strike by UK cleaners. Elia said that the workforce, which is largely made up of migrant workers, had been galvanised by the union’s previous successes.
In 2016 the City of London agreed to pay cleaners the London Living Wage following 58 days of industrial action.
“While there are laws in place to protect workers, many still feel intimidated about joining unions. We’ve had success with other campaigns and have worked hard to end that fear and allow workers to speak up,” Elia added.