What started out as just another workplace dispute inside one London office for Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS) now has escalated into an international campaign led by migrant workers spanning 3 continents to picket UBSâ€™ offices in Zurich, New York, Buenos Aires, Kyiv and other countries.
As London-based Carsten Kengeter came under-fire this week for being revealed to be UBSâ€™ highest paid employee on Â£8.3 million, receiving a Â£7.8m bonus. UBS, the Union Bank of Switzerland has been also under criticism from their lowest paid employees leading a â€œJustice for UBS Cleanersâ€ campaign in response to the bank attempts through its contractors to drive down the cleanersâ€™ 2008 victory of â€œLiving Wageâ€ pay and conditions.
Miriam, a UBS cleaner with 3 years service said:
â€œI am a worker, a mother and housewife. Why are [Lancaster and UBS] trying to deny me a living wage and cut my spare time to be with my family?â€
On 1st February UBS transferred their cleaning contract at its London offices to Lancaster Cleaning Services. By law the workforce’s terms and conditions should have remained the same; the workers received commitment to TUPE in writing and a verbal promise to an increase of hourly rates from Â£7.50 to Â£7.65.
The Justice for UBS Cleaners campaign claims that the new UBS contractor Lancaster has verbally instructed the workers to accept: a 10.75% cut on a full time cleaners’ weekly wage, increased workloads, opt out of EU 48 hour working week directive. On the 4th February, Lancaster sacked union shop steward Alberto Durango for resisting these changes and so the cleaners are also campaigning for Alberto Durangoâ€™s reinstatement.
Since the 4th February there have been 2 demonstrations outside UBS Capital offices at 100 Liverpool Street where protestors vented their disgust at UBS treatment of the cleaners. Since the latest demonstration on 5th March, Lancaster management verbally threatened workers to accept the new terms and conditions or face â€œconsequencesâ€.
The move came after cleaners (majority migrant and female) refused the new hours set by Lancaster and reaffirmed their demands.
In a letter to the Chairman of UBS, Chris Ford from Unite the Union said:
â€œUBS boasts having â€˜people from different backgrounds, cultures and experiences is indispensable in today’s global business environmentâ€™. The lowest paid workers in your Banks are overwhelmingly workers of a diverse background and they are being treated like second class citizens by your Bankâ€
With recent immigrant strikes in France and Italy, this dispute has become symbolic for the fight to protect rights of migrant workers not just in London but major cities all over the world.
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