Globe, Struggles, Trade Unions, United Kingdom, Workers

Cleaners: the 21st century slaves? (III)

The topic of discrimination can cover a variety of motives: in terms of sexual orientation; resting by standing still for two minutes; or preferment according to country of origin. Whatever the case, these employees find themselves left without support from their employers.


Cleaners LSE limpian facebook (4)Virginia Moreno Molina


They are called Sam*, Mildred and Christian. They work as cleaners for the company Noonan in the London School of Economics (LSE), and all of them have experienced, harassment at work, in one form or another.

They say that although they have complained to their superiors, in many cases this persecution has come directly from their bosses. As a result, their complaints have been ignored and their accusations denied.

These workers spoke to the Prisma to reveal the truth about their cases, and call attention to their situation.

They called me a faggot

Sam* has lived in the UK for 20 years and since then has done various kinds of work. He began working at LSE in 2009, for the ISS company, in one of its big six-storey buildings.

“For three months, we worked as a group of four people with one supervisor, then just after that the whole building became the responsibility of myself and one supervisor”, he explains.

Cleaners limpiadores 2 PixabayHe says the work became an impossible task, and he began to get ill. This led him to ask for sick leave.

After three months of recuperation, “the company began calling me to return to work”, he says. And although I was tempted to leave, I decided to return.  Without fully understanding the reason, Sam began to be interrogated, in his place of work, by a group of Nigerians.

“I don’t know if it is because of how I look, or how I speak, but they began to question me about whether I had a wife, or children or family, although I have never talked about my personal life”, Sam explains.

So, when he didn’t answer them, they began to say he was gay.

The abuse got worse last December, when they asked him directly about his sexual orientation, and in reply he asked: “what problem have you got with gay people?”.

“These people had called me ‘’faggot’, and told me that gay people should be killed and burned alive”, he recalls, resignedly.

The situation, the comments, have continued, despite having informed the director of Noonan, Richard Seddon about them.

In fact, he says, the managers did not open any investigation of those responsible, “They just moved one person to work in a different building”, he explained.

However, Sam felt under pressure to continue working with the same people who had been harassing him for months, and felt he was not protected from any kind of verbal or physical assault that might occur.

Justice for Cleaners workers trabaj pixabayThey treat us like robots”

Mildred, aged 62, has been working in London for 16 years, always in the cleaning sector. In fact, since she arrived at LSE, she has worked for five companies, and says that “Noonan is the worst”.

Her shift is from 6am to 5pm, and for some time they have been moving her from one building to another. But last October, she had an accident while she was cleaning the bookshop.

“I called the manager and he arrived 20 minutes later with one of the security staff”, she explains. One of Mildred’s colleagues suggested calling an ambulance, but according to Mildred, the manager said an ambulance was not necessary and called a taxi.

After several hours at the hospital, Noonan refused to pay the costs of her journey home, but gave a her a verbal assurance that they would pay her for the lost hours of work that day.

Mildred paid the taxi, but when she presented the hospital documents at work “they refused to pay me”, she explains.

With no alternative except to carry on working for the rest of the day, needing the money, she noticed that the staff were watching her more closely.

One day, after finishing cleaning five floors, pain in her knee from the accident forced her to rest for a moment. “I sat down in a corner for two minutes, and they photographed me, she states.

Los 10 mil pasos Fotos PixabayImmediately after this she received a disciplinary email from Josette Edwards-Leigh, the manager of the buildings, for having been sitting down during the working day. Since then there have been several meetings which she describes as “attempts at intimidation”.

“We do 96% of the cleaning, shouldn’t they think of us as cleaners?”, she asks.

They should treat us as the people we are, not as what  we clean”

Cristian, aged 51, came here from Colombia seven and a half years ago, seeking work opportunities, and to join his wife and children.

Throughout this time, he has worked for the various cleaning companies which have passed through the LSE – ISS, Resource, and currently he is employed by Noonan, collecting rubbish from the bookshop and the surrounding buildings.

At the same time, and with the aim of improving his skills, Cristian decided to study English. For this reason, he says he suggested to the company on several occasions, and by written requests, that they reduce his hours, so as to allow him to attend classes in the mornings. And although they refused him on grounds of lack of space, he saw that new workers were allowed to attend.

Zapatos trabajo pixabay“There are abuses involving the question of your country of origin”, he says, explaining that, “if a manager is of a certain nationality, they give preference to others from the same country.”

“I agree that work should be given to everyone, but as long as they do work”, he says. Despite this, Cristian says that many of them “only do one shift, do things badly, and then the rest of us have to put it right”.

And although he has complained on many occasions, nothing has changed. “I have never felt supported by the company, I always have to argue”, he comments, adding: “They have never helped me to improve myself, always the threatening letters to spread fear”.

*Fictitious name at the request of the interviewee, according to him, to avoid reprisals.

Photos: Facebook y Pixabay – (Translated by Graham Douglas – Email:

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