A Tube cleaner and RMT activist spoke to Tubeworker about cleaners' struggles in the pandemic.
Being a cleaning worker during this period has been tough. We're absolutely on the frontline. As outsourced workers, many of us feel forgotten about, left behind, and ignored. Our employer, ABM, dismisses many of our demands, and TfL, who hold the contract, won't take responsibility.
Throughout the pandemic, cleaners have had to take on additional tasks such as additional cleaning of touch points and surfaces with disinfectant solution, and extra cleaning inside trains cars, including the driver's cab. Of course, that's necessary work, but often we have not received any additional training, or comprehensive information about the chemicals we're using, prior to taking on those tasks.
There is a big struggle around PPE. We have been demanding that the employer provide it, and just this week they've started distributing face masks to cleaners. They don't seem particularly effective though, really they're just face coverings. Through our union, we've sourced face shields and some additional masks. We've distributed hundreds of these to cleaners, which have been greatly appreciated. This ought to shame and embarrass the employer; this is is something they should have been providing.
Cleaners also have concerns about getting to and from work. Government advice is not to use public transport, but we're not offered mileage payments or any support to use alternative means of getting to work. Unlike directly-employed TfL workers, we don't get staff travel passes, and TfL refused our demand to provide them during the pandemic. Mayor Khan has also refused to respond to the RMT's request for him to meet a delegation of cleaners to discuss our concerns.
Early on in the pandemic, the union won an agreement that cleaners who went off sick or self-isolated would be paid in full – previously we'd only have received SSP. But now that agreement is being undermined by ABM's refusal to top up pay of any cleaner who is furloughed, meaning they'll face a 20% pay cut. We're discussing through our union how to resist this attack.
Unions organising frontline workers, and particularly cleaners, need to coordinate our demands and campaigning. It can be easy for the struggles of outsourced workers to be forgotten about. We cannot allow that to happen. We are the frontline of confronting the pandemic, we must be in the front line of the struggle for workers' rights.
Please sign and share the RMT's petition to Sadiq Khan demanding staff travel passes and full furlough pay for cleaners.