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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 November 2005, 21:28 GMT
Cleaning the Commons
By Marie Jackson
BBC News, London

Cleaners picket outside the Houses of Parliament on Wednesday
A lot of cleaners have two full-time jobs, says Nestor

Nestor Barona left school for a job in the corridors of power four years ago.

But it was not to become an MP on a basic salary of 57,485, nor to work as

a researcher on well under half that.

Instead, he was employed by a contractor on 4.25 an hour to clean the Houses of Parliament.

Starting an 11-hour shift at 6am, Nestor would scrub and polish the chambers in the House of Lords and Commons, as well as committee rooms, offices and toilets before heading off to the West End to start his second cleaning job at 6pm.

"Many of the cleaners come from Africa and South America and many have families here as well as families whom they are supporting back home," said Nestor, 23, himself a Colombian who came to England 11 years ago.

"They have to take on two full-time jobs, so many work as kitchen porters or cleaners in the West End as well."

'A living wage'

He is one of the 140 who joined Wednesday's strike to call for a pay rise from 5.20-per-hour to 6.70, as well as sick pay, a pension, and an extension to their 12 days of annual leave.

"We are just asking for a living wage," he told BBC News website.

The pay and conditions have forced colleagues to take on extra work to bring in enough money - some are working as many as 80 hours a week, which takes its toll on their health and family life, he added.

One of his colleagues has been in hospital with breast cancer for more than a month, with no sick pay while another has been cleaning the Houses for 25 years and knows full well there will be no pension come retirement, he said.

We are not doing it just for us - there are 20,000 cleaners around London
Nestor Barona

The irony, according to Nestor, is that within the chambers there are those who make life-changing decisions all the time, but on this matter no-one seems to be able to resolve it.

As the strikers wielded banners calling for an end to poverty pay for the second time this year, Labour MP Kate Hoey said: "This could be ended immediately by the prime minister's office saying that this is not acceptable.

"Most MPs thought that this would be sorted out in the summer but it hasn't and I think we will now see more direct support from politicians."

But the House of Parliament Commission said the dispute is between the contractor and its employees.

An offer was made to increase the pay to 6-an-hour but it would involve 30 job losses and a reduction in cleaning standards, said the Transport and General Workers' Union. According to the commission, the offer is still on the table.

For Nestor, now 23, married and promoted to cleaning supervisor, the offer is nowhere near good enough.

"We are not doing it just for us - there are 20,000 cleaners around London.

"We would strike a third time if necessary, and will consider taking all sorts of action."

MPs face cleaners' picket lines
20 Jul 05 |  London

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