12 December 2014
35 outsourced cleaners have been through a long and stressful dispute over £40,000 worth of unpaid wages. The cleaners who earn on average £1000 a month, were not paid for seven weeks – an untenable situation for low-paid workers.
The company which they worked for, Consolidated Office Cleaning Limited (COC) owed more than £760,000 in unpaid tax and VAT. COC did not inform the employees of why it was not paying them for their work, but told them it was a temporary situation caused by moving from one bank to another. In November the company went into voluntary liquidation, still without having informed their employees of the reality.
The cleaning contract was then transferred to Cheshunt-Group Cleaning Services, however neither Saatchi or Cheshunt accepted liability for the £40,000. The cleaners remained unpaid until they were given a donation to initiate employment tribunal hearings and were offered free legal help by Maria Gonzalez-Merello and John Samson.
Merello told the Guardian: “New government procedures mean that getting a claim off the ground is almost impossible, particularly for foreign nationals with little or no English. The fees for starting a claim are huge, the process is almost impenetrable, even for experts, and the law is complicated. It’s exploitation of the very weakest. This happens again and again. In many instances, cleaners walk away with nothing because what else can they do?”
Samson said: “Contracting out at murderously sacrificial rates, zero hours and the minimum wage is a triple combination that has a disastrous impact on those who already have nothing while the law does little to help.”
Saatchi paid each worker 30% of what they were owed as a gift on 13 November, then retracted the offer, claiming the money was an interest-free loan. As a result of Gonzalez-Merello and Samson’s representation, Saatchi is now agreeing to reimburse the unpaid wages in full.
The case highlights the vulnerable position of the UK’s low-paid and outsourced workers who, unprotected by this government, continue to face exploitation and receding employment rights.