14 cleaners at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are being punished for signing a letter to the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond MP.
The cleaners signed a letter on the 21st July congratulating Hammond on his new role and seeking a meeting to discuss the Living Wage.
Six weeks later, they received a letter from their employer, Interserve, contracted by the FCO, initiating a disciplinary process, with the letter to the Minister attached as evidence.
The 14 cleaners have been accused of “bringing the contract into disrepute” for writing to the Minister. Three of those cleaners have been made redundant and they believe they are being victimised due to their central involvement in this action.
Katy Rojas, one of the cleaners made redundant from the FCO, said: “The Government need to take responsibility for this situation because they know how much rent is, they know how much food is, they know how much transport is. And they know we cannot live on our wage. It is time the FCO’s contractor stopped intimidating its cleaners and paid the London Living Wage.”
Revd Rosemia Brown, community leader with Citizens UK, said: “We are calling on Philip Hammond to intervene; to stop the disciplinary process and ensure no one in the FCO feels intimidated for signing a letter. These cleaners need the London Living Wage and they have the right to let him know.”
A group of community leaders from Citizens UK have written to Hammond seeking urgent withdrawal of the disciplinary action and asking him to look into the case. They are also calling on Hammond to adopt the London Living Wage for FCO cleaners in Whitehall, as have other departments including the Treasury, DWP and DECC.
Rosemia Brown continued: “Time and again we are told to take up the issue of low pay with the cleaning contractor, but we know that they work to the requirements set by the FCO. That’s why we are appealing directly to the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond and asking him to review his department’s contract and help the cleaners who have been disciplined simply for writing a polite letter. Surely he can’t agree that writing a letter is cause for disciplinary action? That’s simply not right.”
Paul Jennings, partner at law firm Bates Wells and Braithwaite, who represents a group of the employees stated: “This is a genuinely troubling case. A number of employees raised legitimate concerns with the Secretary of State about levels of pay and the difficulties they face meeting the cost of living. The letter to the minister was professional and courteous. It conveyed a very compelling and personal account of the pressures faced by people working as cleaners within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Shortly after the letter was sent, a number of these individuals were made redundant and we understand that the individuals who signed the letter have been subjected to an ongoing disciplinary process. It is extremely worrying that a group of vulnerable and low paid workers may face possible sanctions for raising their voices about the impact of low pay. It is important to note that these people are employed by an outsourced provider called Interserve. At present it is not clear whether the government department is aware of the way these people are being treated. We are currently seeking an explanation from Interserve. If that explanation is not satisfactory, we will look to issue formal proceedings.”