Consuelo Moreno Yusti
Colombia
London
Justice for Cleaners Soas, Unison Representative

I am cleaner and I help to organise hundreds of workers and create a safe environment for thousands of students.

I am a migrant worker living in London and this is my experience.

Migrant workers are crucial to the running of this country. I personally believe that as a cleaner I contribute to this country in two ways. On the one hand, as a cleaner at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), I help to create a suitable and safe environment for the students. Cleaners play a crucial role in the running of this institution. The university will not be able to function, if we have not done the cleaning before student arrives. This was shown during our three days of strike when part of the university was closed due to health and safety reasons. On the other hand, as UNISON representative, I help to organise hundreds workers, improving the standards of leaving of migrant and non migrants low pay workers alike. We do not put wages down, but the opposite it’s the case. Thanks to our campaign, we won mayor improvements to our contractual terms such as the London Living Wage in 2008 and 35 days of holidays, sick pay from day one of employment and 7% pension contribution in 2014.

This is my personal story:

My name is Consuelo Moreno. I am Colombian and I arrived in London in January of 2002. I came to the UK with my husband and my daughter. I wanted to work to be able to support my family and I was looking for better opportunities for my daughter. Back home, I started studying law but didn't have the chance to finish my degree.

I am currently working for three different cleaning companies, in three different places. I have to do so in order to survive. I wake up at 2.50 in the morning. I work from 4am to 9am in my first job, from 11 to 1pm in my second job. Then I go home, clean my own house and do some cooking. From 3 pm to 5 pm I see my husband. My daughter comes home at 4.45 but then I have to leave at 5 pm to do another job from 6 pm to 8 am. Then I go back home and we all eat together. When I have time, I like watching movies, going on the seaside and dance salsa.

This is my experience working as outsourced cleaner at SOAS. In January 2004 I began working at SOAS as a cleaner for 5 hours per day. In August of 2005, another company took over the cleaning services at SOAS and it was at that time when all the problems began. The new management wanted to reduce my working hours by 2 hours per day. I refused to accept this reduction and then I began to be victim of workplace harassment and intimidation. I felt deeply stressed and began to feel fear every day I went to work. It was like a living nightmare.

A friend of mine who knew about my situation advised me to go and talk with UNISON. I went to see the SOAS UNISON representative and he helped me to initiate a grievance procedure against my manager for his attempt to unilaterally reduce my salary and workplace harassment. It was a success. They did not reduce my working hours and they stopped harassing me. However, new problems emerged. We began to have problems with payment to the extent that some colleagues did not receive any pay for 3 months. UNISON once again intervened and the company paid the salaries very quickly.

In 2006, I was elected as worker representative and I began, with my co-representatives, to actively organise our workplace. We formed the Justice for Cleaners SOAS’ campaign. We started to demand union recognition, the London Living Wage, and equal pension, holiday and sick pay to those working directly for the university. In 2008, we achieved 2 of the demands, union recognition and the London Living Wage.
Despite winning the London Living Wage and union recognition, this represented only a partial gain since we were still working under inferior and less favourable conditions than those employed directly by the university. Moreover, we still suffering from injustices and felt that we were being exploited. We continued fighting to improve our working conditions. In 2009, immigration officers raided SOAS and nine of our colleagues were deported due to their immigration status, including pregnant women. These are only a few of the many problems that we faced here at SOAS. These problems could have demoralised us, weakening the campaign, but this was not the case. It actually encouraged us to continue fighting against injustices.

I am proud of being with my co-workers fighting for dignity and respect. Since 2011, we began to demand to be brought back in-house. I am proud of leading the Justice for Cleaners Campaign alongside my co-workers to bring to an end the two tier workforce, to stop being treated differently than those working directly for the university. We aim to stop being outsourced workers. During this time, we have planned demonstration, meetings, forums, referendums and finally we began the legal procedure to go on strike. The ballot result is possibly one of the most important in British trade unionism with 100% voting YES for strike action.
We went on strike for 3 days on March 2014 to receive the same equal working conditions as those working directly for the University. Thanks to all this effort, we won! We now enjoy 35 days of holidays, sick pay from day one of employment and 7% pension contribution. This was a mayor improvement for us.

I can proudly say that we fought for better working conditions and we won! I am glad and very grateful for the support of the whole SOAS community, students, staff, and academics. Thanks to this, we are not longer invisible neither vulnerable. We have lost our fear and we know now what we are capable to achieve when we believe in ourselves and get organized.

However, La Lucha Continua! The struggle continues! We are still working for a cleaning company which means that we are still outsourced workers. This means that we are still being treated different than those working directly for the university and this is unacceptable. It has to stop. Hence, Justice For Cleaners SOAS campaign was re-launched for dignity and respect at the end of 2014 and still an ongoing struggle.

Do migrants contribute to this society? We certainly do. Migrants bring a lot to the UK society. Our contribution is positive. We do jobs that are important for the running of this country such as contributing with the day to day running of universities; and fighting to improve the standards of living of those working with us, consequently, to the community as a whole.
I hope that all workers get organised and fight for equality and justice. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.