Justice for Topshop cleaners

AROUND 200 people, including Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, staged a demonstration last Sunday in the heart of London’s West End demanding a living wage for cleaners at the retail giant Topshop and the reinstatement of two workers who have been sacked for joining a union.

The company claims it has no responsibility for the cleaners’ wages because the work is subcontracted to the cleaning company Britannia Services Group. But Topshop does have a responsibility to hire subcontractors that pay their workers a London living wage.

Topshop, owned by retail entrepreneur Philip Green, is worth £4.3 billion. It can afford to use a respectable cleaning company that pays workers a fair wage.

For the past six-and-a-half years Susana (Maria Susana Benavidez Guaman) has cleaned Topshop’s flagship store for a living. The Ecuadorian single mother of three reported low pay, bullying and excessive workloads.

At one stage she was hospitalised for stress after bullying from a manager. She works five hours per day for six days a week for £6.75-per-hour, just above the minimum wage but £2.65 below the London living wage — not enough to cover rent, childcare and travel.

She is now a member of United Voices of the World, the trade union that has organised a series of protests including last Sunday’s. Now she and 11 other cleaners are fighting back. But Susana and another cleaner have been suspended from their jobs for joining the union.

Roberto, who has worked as a cleaner in Topshop for over three years, said: “It makes me feel miserable that a company that earns so many millions doesn’t want to share even a little.”

The protesters brought London to a standstill as they occupied Oxford Circus road junction for around half-an-hour, chanting: “Topshop shame on you.” They were carrying banners and let off colourful smoke flares.

They then marched swiftly down Oxford Street, rushing towards the entrance of a John Lewis store where they staged another protest. John Lewis also uses Britannia services for its cleaning.

The protest was also reported on HispanTV.