Cleaners and security guards demonstrated this week against the “disrespect and discrimination they face on a daily basis” at government buildings across London.
A protest outside Downing Street highlighted how the mainly black and ethnic minority workers are “disproportionately impacted by poor working conditions and racialised inequalities,” said the United Voices of the World (UVW) union, which represents them.
The UVW announced the demonstration following the publication of Sue Gray’s report on widespread breaches of lockdown rules at the heart of government during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The senior civil servant’s conclusions, finally released on Wednesday after a four-month police investigation ended with Prime Minister Boris Johnson among more than 80 ministers and officials fined, detailed multiple examples of a “lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff” in No 10.
UVW general secretary Petros Elia said he was “not in the least bit surprised” by the revelations.
“We have thousands of members who face disrespect and discrimination daily in offices and government buildings across London, not just in Downing Street.
“It is disrespectful to have rowdy parties during the pandemic and expect cleaners to mop up after you, but it is also disrespectful to pay [them] poverty wages and not give them sick pay.”
The union represents outsourced cleaners at the Ministry of Justice who are still fighting for full sick pay rights.
One of those workers, Emanuel Gomes, died in April 2020 with suspected coronavirus symptoms after being denied financial support to stay at home.
His cousin Vicente Mendes said: “I feel very sad. Government employees receive sick pay, but cleaners do not.
“We are working just like them and we don’t deserve to be treated any differently.”
Pat Harrington, general secretary of Solidarity, said: “No worker should be treated with disrespect. There is a toxic culture throughout government, from the sexual harassment of staffers down to the way cleaners and security guards are treated that unions need to confront. We stand with our brothers and sisters and are progressing cases ourselves to address this.”