“It might look a bit like Hogwart’s,” the campaigners’ slogan states, “but the only magic they do at Virgo Fidelis is make cleaners disappear.”
And in a fight against redundancies and to improve terms, cleaners at the Virgo Fidelis Convent School on Central Hill in Upper Norwood are planning to strike on February 6.
The cuts are being proposed by the cleaners’ employers, Zing Environments, who took over the cleaning contract at the school in August last year.
Zing is proposing to reduce the number of cleaners at the vast Virgo Fidelis site from 10 to seven or eight. It has offered a pay increase to the remaining cleaners. The cleaners are determined to resist the cuts, and are campaigning for the London Living Wage. They currently earn just the national minimum wage of £7.83 per hour.
The cleaners say they will struggle to manage the extra work if their numbers are reduced. “We are already working as hard as we can,” a workers’ representative said.
“We will be worked to the point of exhaustion if these cuts go ahead. They could easily afford to keep us all on and pay us properly, they just don’t want to spend the money.”
CAIWU, the Cleaners and Allied Independent Workers Union, which represents the majority of the Virgo Fidelis cleaners, is offering its full support to the campaign.
“We’ve tried to negotiate with both the school and the employer,” said CAIWU organiser Danbert Vanzetti. “Zing have offered one or two concessions, but they haven’t budged on the redundancies or the London Living Wage. No proper business case has been made for these cuts, which are all about trying to save money.”
In its publicity material for clients, Zing boasts about “maximizing value” (geddit?!), saying “we’re always discovering new ways to bring more efficiency to what we do – managing your environment – and maximizing the value we deliver to you”.
The catholic girls’ school, which has more than 640 pupils, celebrated its 170th anniversary last year, and recently appointed Hilary Meyer as its new head. Notable past pupils at Virgo Fidelis include Su-Elise Nash, who is famous for having been in a popular singing group called Mis-Teeq, apparently.
The strike will be accompanied by a protest and rally outside the school. The cleaners are hoping for a large turnout to show that they have the support of the community.
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