We asked the King’s Cleaners why they protest
Servest have been told to clean up their act
On Thursday 26th and Friday 27th January, the King’s College cleaners went on strike against Servest, the company that King’s have put in charge of administrating the cleaning staff.
Workers protested after claiming they are understaffed, with one cleaner expected to do the work load of three cleaners for the same pay. They further campaigned as the excess in work is driving them to health problems in which they receive no compensation for.
The cleaners currently earn £9.40 per hour, and have yet to be moved up to the London Living Wage, which was raised to £9.75 in December. However, Servest have a six month margin to increase the pay in alignment with the London Living Wage.
The Tab King’s attended the strike to hear the stories first hand from the cleaners who work here.
The first cleaner we spoke to, who wanted to remain anonymous, told us: “I was rushing to get all my work done as I had to clean two buildings in one shift on my own. I was carrying a bin bag and a mop and slipped on the stairs injuring my ankle. I had to be off work for two weeks and I was blamed for my own accident. I got no compensation or paid rest for this.”
With the company before Servest, cleaners were entitled to four weeks paid leave if it was an emergency but this is no longer the case. One of the cleaners we spoke to, who also preferred to stay anonymous, told us her mother was dying and she had to go back to Columbia. She said: “They gave me two weeks holiday, but we only have a 28 day holiday including bank holidays (which is by law), meaning we only have 20 days we can choose to take. I had to take two of these weeks when my mum died and they gave me two weeks unpaid leave.”
Another member of the cleaning staff we spoke to said he just wants his own rights respected. He told The Tab: “I clean two whole buildings, they’re both six floors and one of them doesn’t even have a lift. It has 19 bathrooms, with nine classrooms, it’s 14-15 offices per floor, I also cleans part of the terrace. I have to do all this in one shift, which is seven hours. I also have to work events and which I do not get paid extra for.”
Despite all this, his hard work goes unrecognised. There has been two letters commending him on his work, sent by staff to the management of the cleaners. He has seen these letters but Servest state that they have not seen them nor do they recognise his work.
The cleaners interviewed wanted to stay anonymous out of fear of the consequences. Before the strike there was a letter sent by Servest saying that anything that has already been negotiated would be revoked if the strike took place.
We spoke to Alex Nightingale, the Branch Secretary of the King’s Unison Branch, who helped to spread some further light on the situation. “We began with writing a collective grievance with over 90 members signing it and the way they responded to this grievance was the writing of a single paragraph, making promises that the issues would be resolved (which they weren’t) and they did not speak to the people. We then went to the ACAS (The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service), once again, none of the promises were kept to.”
Alex said most of the problems that the cleaners have to overcome is due to a lack of fundamental procedures and lack of communication through the management staff, such as arranging cover staff and equipment, which all can be easily fixed but aren’t. Alex added: “The number of students attending King’s is increasing but the number of cleaning staff isn’t, the workload is simply impossible.”
When the Tab King’s put forth the above allegations to Servest, they responded:
“At Servest we value our employees highly and respect their rights and entitlements. Servest has a good record of positive engagement with our team and we encourage an open dialogue with each and every member of staff. Where changes are proposed, our staff are always consulted at every stage and are given every opportunity to share their views with us so that informed decisions can be made.”
A King’s College London spokesperson said: “Staff from King’s College London’s cleaning contractor Servest took strike action on Thursday 26 January and Friday 27 January 2017 due to an ongoing dispute with their employer over staffing levels and a planned restructure.
“Our cleaners play a critical role in the operation of the university and we value their service. This was recognised in the employment terms, which King’s ensured Servest included in its employees’ contracts at the start of our working relationship. These included paying the London Living Wage, full-time hours for the majority of staff and employing people who live locally. Estates & Facilities managers at King’s are working with Servest to offer advice and support to help reach resolution.”
Photography by Eleanor Osborne