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Posted on 17 July 2013 at 17:14 GMT

Churchill cleaners' strike, July 2013, Photo Paul Phillips

Churchill cleaners' strike, July 2013, photo Paul Phillips   (Click to enlarge)

Two weeks of strike action by Churchill cleaners

Lizi Gray

Churchill cleaners for the Tyne and Wear Metro have mounted a serious escalation in their industrial action.

They began two weeks of strike action on 13th July to coincide with the Durham Miners' Gala, as part of their ongoing battle against their company that is not providing them with a decent wage and working conditions.

The workers are currently on the minimum wage and many are still not on permanent contracts after years with the company. This latest action is their longest strike to date.

"Value for money for the taxpayer" is what Nexus director Bernard Gardner believes he is delivering for service users by contracting out these workers to the lowest bidder and investing in the Metro system.

Yet Gardner himself has seen a salary increase of 18% to 155,000 over the past five years, while the Churchill workers see no sick pay, no pensions and do not even receive travel allowances on the Metro.

RMT shop steward Stuart Roberts told the Socialist: "The decision to escalate strike action was one made by the cleaners themselves, since no movement has come from the company or any of the local politicians.

"Our dispute is said to be the longest-running in thirty years and if there is still no movement we will consider increasing it once again - possibly to a month.

"Our contract was sold off to the worst of the worst companies and the Labour government allowed this privatisation to take place, they have turned their backs on ordinary people. It is disgraceful that the Labour Party are overseeing this and doing nothing."

Another worker, currently on maternity leave, commented that the company need to buck their ideas up; all of the workers just want it to be done with but you've got to do what you've got to do.

She also went on to say that she is only receiving statutory maternity pay, while other companies offer full pay for at least the first three months.

There was another case of a female worker having to take a day's annual leave to attend a pre-natal scan, which should be covered under the 2010 Equality Act that states that pregnant workers should still receive payment when taking time out for these appointments. The union threatened to take the company to tribunal over this act of discrimination and the worker was rightly given the time off without it reaching that stage.

Regarding the next increase to the minimum wage, Churchill worker Jimmy 'Salou' Walker pointed out that they will not see this pay rise until the end of October.

Nightshift workers are paid no more than daytime staff either, at a time when there is little security presence on the Metro system. "The councillors don't want to talk; they're burying their heads in the sand hoping this will all go away.

"DB Regio don't want to know, Nexus don't want to know. But we're a strong union, we're prepared to keep coming out until we win this."

This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 17 July 2013 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.

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