Justice for Cleaners : Time to End Outsourcing in London Transport – Sakina Sheikh


“Wherever we are in power, we have a responsibility to start undoing the disastrous legacy of privatisation.”

Sakina Sheikh, candidate for the Labour List for the GLA.

By Sakina Sheikh

The continued outsourcing of workers is a mark of Thatcher’s legacy and we must defeat it. The collapse of companies like Carillion and Interserve show us we should never depend on private capital to deliver our public services.  It is a scandal that unaccountable private companies have been running public services to make profit by decimating workers’ rights through out-sourcing. 

Example after example has shown outsourcing has left working class BAME folk and migrant workers at the very bottom of the pile and creating two-tier workforces. Just last week I was supporting security guards at St George’s University as they stood on the picket line calling to be brought in house. Their struggle is shared by the cleaners who do the  hard and often thankless job of cleaning London’s Underground and Overground networks. The people who clean stations and vehicles in London’s Underground and railways do so in difficult conditions, often at awkward and unsocial hours, travelling long distances to come to work. They are part of the backbone that keeps this vibrant city alive and they deserve better working conditions.

Shamefully, they are also employed by private companies and I support RMT’s call to bring them in house.

London Overground (which is actually run by Arriva Rail London) contracts its cleaners through the facilities management and construction company Vinci. The 2,000 cleaners who work to maintain London Underground are employed by the US outsourcing giant ABM. ABM won a five year contract for this service in 2017.

Many of the cleaners employed by ABM are migrant workers from Europe and outside the EEA and according to the RMT, which organises these workers, they don’t get proper sick pay, pensions or travel facilities. These workers recently voted by 98% to take strike action in pursuit of better working conditions. Tragically, they failed, by the narrowest of margins, to reach the turnout thresholds set by the Tory anti-Trade union laws. At this time, when we’re reflecting on the purpose and future of the Labour party, we need to say clearly that Labour has to be for these people and think clearly about how to support their struggle.

I’m proud that Labour has begun to call time on this failed experiment of outsourcing that creates countless degrees of separation between a worker and their original employer; breeding a toxic culture of unaccountability.

Our election manifestos in 2017 and 2019 were a big step forward in the debate over outsourcing. They set out a vision for public services run for people not profit and pledged to begin the move toward in-house delivery of public services. It’s a tragedy for this country that we’re not in a position to put it into practice nationally. However, I believe that wherever we are in power, we have a responsibility to start undoing the disastrous legacy of privatisation. In London we are in a position to end these outsourced contracts and bring these vulnerable and exploited workers in-house.

If I’m selected to be your Labour candidate in the upcoming Greater London Assembly ballots dropping soon; I can promise to take up this fight in City Hall  I’d like to see a commitment to these workers in Sadiq Khan’s Manifesto for the Mayoral election that shows Labour is on the side of workers and bringing them in house must be a firm pledge.

  • Sakina Sheikh is a local Labour councillor in Lewisham and presently shortlisted to be one of Labour’s candidates for the Greater London Assembly.
  • You can find her on twitter: @SakinaZS
  • And facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SakinaForLondon
Sakina with John McDonnell MP.

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