Blog: Cleaners - the unsung heroes during the pandemic
Published: 18 Dec 2020
Cleaners do incredibly important work: they keep us safe from infection. During a pandemic, this work becomes more important than ever. These key workers are risking their lives daily to ensure that areas are disinfected and safe from the virus, for the rest of us to go about our lives. Despite this, cleaners are not treated with the dignity and respect they deserve, or given the time and resources they need in order to carry out this important work.
"I have begun to build a new organisation called the Centre for Progressive Change, which is building an alliance of trade unions and community organisations that work with low-paid migrant cleaners." - Amanda Walters, Fellow
For six years prior to the pandemic, I had been working to ensure that cleaners receive the Living Wage. As part of my work, I witnessed first-hand the terrible working conditions that they faced. Low pay, short- or zero-hours contracts, bullying, sexual harassment and more. Now during the pandemic, their working conditions are deteriorating. Being forced to work without appropriate PPE, being wrongfully told they don’t have access to sick pay, having their terms and conditions changed overnight - these are just some of the things that cleaners are currently experiencing.
To get out of this pandemic we need to ensure that our workplaces, places of residence, shopping centres and public spaces are clean and free of the virus. This means it is time that we invested in our cleaners.
For the last year, I have begun to build a new organisation called the Centre for Progressive Change, which is building an alliance of trade unions and community organisations that work with low-paid migrant cleaners. The aim of the alliance is to create a unified force that can organise for the interests of cleaners and ensure their protection as key workers.
During my time organising cleaners for the Living Wage campaign, I rarely saw trade unions and community organisations coming together effectively to unite workers, their communities and trade unions. As a result, my Churchill Fellowship focused on learning from organisations in the USA about how we can bridge the gap between community organising and trade union organising. One of the things I witnessed during my time there was labour and community groups coming together by using a combination of organising, political strategy, research and communications. Inspired by this, I am now beginning the process of piloting this method in the UK to create an effective Labour Community alliance.
In June this year, I was awarded a Covid-19 Action Fund by WCMT, to begin a listening campaign to understand the concerns of cleaners nationally and find out the key issues they face. With the results of this listening, the alliance will identify the key issue to focus on and then target decision-makers in government and business to support our campaign. By doing this, we hope we will be able to make a difference in at least one key aspect of a cleaner’s working life.
One of my key reflections in this time of uncertainty is that organisations are much more willing to work with each other. We are facing unprecedented times with a pandemic, a recession and the unknown effects of Brexit. So it is crucial that organisations wanting to achieve the same aims come together, think strategically and create alliances on the issues that matter to the most vulnerable. Only then will we be able to ensure that we are all in this together.