‘I have to feed my children’: Cleaners at the Department for Education strike over pay and sick leave

Workers who clean and cater for a Government department building came together this week for two days of strike action over pay, annual leave and sick leave.

Cleaners and caterers formed a picket line outside the Department for Education (DfE) in Great Smith Street, Westminster on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The group blasted reggae music, sang chants and waved flags and banners as they called for delayed wages to be paid and demanded the same sick pay and annual leave as the civil servants who work in the same offices.

Speaking from the picket line, Khadija Jalloh, 49, of Old Kent Road, Bermondsey, said: “When I am ill they call me all day telling me to come in, pressuring me.

“They have no respect, management shout at us, they don’t care how long we have been working there.”

Khadija Jalloh speaks from the picket line yesterday (Picture: UVW)

Ms Jalloh has been working as a cleaner in the Government office for 24 years.

She said: “If I could leave I would but I have no choice – I have to feed my children and pay my bills.”

The DfE outsources its cleaning to a private contractor, ISS UK. The contracts are owned by the Government Property Agency (GPA).

The workers are mainly ethnic minority and migrant cleaners, represented by United Voices of the World (UVW), a trade union for low-paid migrant workers.

The union is calling on ISS UK to pay its workers wages which have been owed since October 2023. The employer’s pay rise to the London Living Wage of £13.15 per hour has now been delayed for eight months.

Glenford Dawkins stands in front of a UVW banner at the strike yesterday morning (Picture: UVW)

Glenford Dawkins, 53, from Peckham, a caterer for the Government building, said: “I’m striking today in solidarity with other workers who are due their wages.

“We also need proper staffing levels and sick pay. I have had to miss doctors appointments just to come to work because I can’t afford to lose the pay.”

Mr Dawkins has been catering for the DfE for more than 15 years. He used to work as a cleaner in the minister’s office before taking up work in the kitchen.

He said: “The people that we are serving get sick pay but we are the ones who keep the building clean and going.

“We deserve the same respect – if we don’t come and do the job no one will. 

Simona Simanaviciute shakes a Tamborine at the picket line yesterday (Picture: UVW)

“We are important like them and it’s sad to know they get the rights we don’t.”

Describing the scene at the strike yesterday, caterer Simona Simanaviciute, 25, from Woolwich, said a civil servant lawyer, joined the picket line in support of the workers.

She said: “We are ruffling feathers and doing our best to make them notice us.

“Some of our other customers have come out to tell us we deserve change, it’s been great.”

A spokesman from ISS UK said: “While we are disappointed that this industrial action has gone ahead, we value the contribution of every ISS team member. That’s why we’ve already committed to keeping pay for these employees in line with the London Living Wage, which included a circa 10% uplift in pay which went into effect on May 1.”

The GPA has been approached for comment.

Pictured top: Members of the UVW union outside the Department for Education yesterday (Picture: UVW)

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