Pots and pans, dustbin lids, whistles and voices created a wall of noise outside the ‘Nanofinance 2008’ event, held at the Institute and attended by representatives of the NPL, as activists handed out leaflets and talked to participants, including NPL staff, some of who expressed solidarity with the cleaners.
The action comes as five cleaners at the NPL wait for the results of a disciplinary hearing after they were suspended for the crime of, er, being in a union and trying to let other NPL staff know what has been going on in the cleaning department. This is the latest in a series of measures taken against the cleaners since Amey, which is owned by Spanish multinational Ferrovia, took over the cleaning contract in May 2007 and found itself faced with a largely Latin American migrant workforce that had recently unionised and was taking steps to gain recognition – something afforded to all other NPL staff. The first came last year, when the company invited workers to a ‘training session’, only to bolt the doors behind them and leave them in the care of the Home Office, which promptly deported three of them, one to Colombia and two to Brazil, for not having official documents.
Since then the number of cleaners has been reduced from thirty-six to fifteen as Amey looks to cut costs as much as possible. The current suspensions are a direct result of the remaining workers’ attempts to protest against this trend. Amey, which posted a net annual profit of a tidy £75 million, is well versed in these tactics. It is a majority shareholder in Tubelines, which cleans parts of the Underground. Tube cleaners who went on strike for a living wage this summer were faced with a corporate response consisting of paper checks, immigration raids and deportations to Sierra Leone and the Congo.
The protest, called by the Latin American Workers Association and the Campaign Against Immigration Controls, with activists from groups including the Colombia Solidarity Campaign, Hands Off Venezuela, London Coalition Against Poverty, and the Solidarity Federation was to demand that the suspended cleaners be reinstated immediately and that the NPL gets Amey to clean up its act.
This will be the first in a series of future actions depending on the result of the disciplinary hearing.
It comes as part of a wider movement demanding that all migrant workers, whose work produces millions in profits for Amey and other mega corporations, be regularised and given the documents they need.