Home > Loach pitches in for low-paid cleaners

Loach pitches in for low-paid cleaners

by Open-Publishing - Tuesday 12 October 2004

Edito Cinema-Video UK Tania Branigan

Film-maker lends support to campaign for improving lot of back-up workers at
Canary Wharf, but injunction scotches protest march

by Tania Branigan

He has spent his life documenting the struggles of the poor and excluded, in films ranging from Cathy Come Home to last month’s Ae Fond Kiss.

Now Ken Loach is taking on the might of Canary Wharf in a row that mirrors his acclaimed 1998 film Bread and Roses, fighting for the rights of cleaners in the lucrative financial institutions on the Docklands estate.

The film-maker will premiere the director’s cut of Bread and Roses in London next Thursday to promote a campaign to improve cleaners’ pay and conditions.

But plans to march on the Canary Wharf estate the next day have been axed after its owners applied for an injunction to ban the protest, pointing out that it was privately owned and there were no public access rights.

The T&G called off the demonstration after the Canary Wharf Group threatened to go to the high court to stop the march, claiming it would "severely compromise the security of the estate".

Bread and Roses celebrated the Justice for Janitors campaign in the US, which won decent wages and working conditions for thousands of low-paid workers. It also helped to inspire the current campaign by the Transport and General Workers Union and the East London Communities Organisation (Telco).

"This is the first of what will be a long war with many battles," Loach said yesterday, adding that he had planned to join the march. "I feel connected to this issue after Bread and Roses. I hope the employers will be forced to pay them a living wage and give them proper contracts."

He said: "The situation in Los Angeles was very similar. People are very vulnerable, but office cleaners there really did get organised and made sure offices couldn’t function unless they were treated fairly.

"I would have thought everyone would think this is a very just cause."

The union says workers earn as little as £5.20 an hour, with the statutory minimum of 12 days’ holiday and eight public holidays a year and no sick pay or pensions.

It argues that a minimum living wage in London would be £6.70 an hour, and believes that all workers should receive sick pay, pensions and greater holiday entitlement.

Neither the Canary Wharf Group nor companies based on the estate employ the cleaners directly. But the union argues that companies should ensure all workers receive a living wage.

"The people ultimately responsible are those who deal out the contracts. The buck stops there," said Loach.

The campaign has already had some success. Last week Mitie Cleaning, which manages workers at the law firm Clifford Chance, agreed to raise wages and holiday entitlement. In June ISS, a multinational cleaning company which has cleaning contracts for Morgan Stanley and Citigroup, agreed to recognise the T&G.

In a statement the Canary Wharf Group said yesterday: "The whole of the Canary Wharf estate is privately owned and there are no rights of access over it which are enforceable by the public. Canary Wharf Group is very conscious of its relationship and obligations to its tenants and is concerned with the effect of any demonstration on private property. We believe the event will severely compromise the safety and security of the estate."

It added: "This decision does not reflect any view of Canary Wharf Group on the merits of this march." But police had raised no concerns about the demonstration, which was arranged to coincide with the European Social Forum (ESF), a four-day global justice conference starting on Thursday.

Hundreds of leaflets advertising the event had been distributed across Europe prior to cancellation of the march.

The Guardian is media partner of the ESF, which is expected to attract at least 20,000 delegates from trade unions, charities and community groups across Europe.