Ministry of Justice retreats on sick pay for cleaners

Victory for struggling cleaners after Emanuel Gomes’s death, who worked for a week with suspected covid and a raging fever.

Proletarian writers

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Proletarian writers

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Cleaners, security guards and other outsourced employees working at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), predominantly migrant workers, have won an important battle. They have now been promised that if they take any Covid-19 related sick leave they will receive full sick pay, backdated to April.

This concession, only granted after a two-year tooth-and-nail struggle led by their union UVW (United Voices of the World), including six days of strike action and two occupations of the MoJ’s headquarters, sadly has come too late to help Emanuel Gomes.

Emanuel, a man in his sixties, kept on working in near-empty offices for five days with suspected Covid-19 symptoms, so terrified was he that he would receive no sick pay if he failed to turn up.

In the end, one of his comrades was so alarmed about the fever he was running and his loss of appetite that he insisted on taking him home. On 24 April he passed away. Well-wishers clubbed together and raised over £25,000 to cover the expense of repatriating Emanuel’s body to his native Guinea Bissau.

Emanuel’s death was all the more tragic given the fact that most of the clerical staff had decamped to work from home, so that there was little for cleaning staff to do, but their employer insisted that they continued to attend anyway, even though this meant many workers having to travel to work on busy rush-hour trains.

Now that the bosses have reluctantly agreed to pay proper sick pay to those obliged to take covid-related leave of absence, the UVW is seeking to extend this to include a living wage and full sick pay from day one of any period of sick leave, no matter what the cause.

In addition, the union has started legal proceedings against the MoJ on the grounds that its policy of outsourcing the exclusively BAME cleaning and security staff without parity with civil servants’ terms and conditions (including sick pay) stands in breach of the 2010 Equality Act.

The outsourcing giant concerned, OCS, secured a five-year contract with the MoJ back in 2018. It is estimated to be worth £17.5m a year.