The Independent Workers Union (IWGB) has today begun balloting cleaners at the world-famous Royal Opera House in London’s Covent Garden for strike action. The 30 union members are calling for the London Living Wage of £8.80 per-hour.

The Royal Opera House hires cleaners and porters through a sub-contract with the facilities giant MITIE.   The contract valued at £19 million was awarded to MITIE in December 2010, for a five-year period.  At present the cleaners earn a mere £7.00 per-hour, they have been subjected to cost-cutting exercises which even saw the cleaners tea break abolished under threat of disciplinary action.

MITIE have been condemned in the House of Commons over their treatment of cleaners organised by IWGB, following Early Day Motion 772 by John McDonnell MP, MITIE have apologised for their behaviour.

The ballot at one of the UK’s premier institutions is part of the campaign for the London Living Wage of £8.80 per-hour.

The cleaners and porters at the home to the Royal Opera and Royal Ballet earn beneath what is considered by the Greater London Authority to provide “the minimum acceptable quality of life”.

The last annual review of the Royal Opera House recorded an income of £109.8 m, taking in £39.2 m at the box office.  With a net surplus of 1.4 m – the cleaners believe their contribution to the success of the Royal Opera is being overlooked.

IWGB General Secretary Chris Ford said: 

Yet again we see that those who are good enough to clean the toilets are being treated like second class citizens.  This is not Downton Abbey; it is real life with real working people trying to survive on poverty wages at a prestigious cultural centre.  It is a scandal and a national embarrassment that this strike means to address. Let’s see some Justice at Christmas for the Royal Opera Cleaners’.

On Saturday 12th November the IWGB Justice for Cleaners campaigners held a protest at the Royal Opera and demonstrated to a warm welcome from the Covent Garden public.

Despite assurances given at talks held at ACAS initiated by the IWGB, our trade union has received no response from the Royal Opera or MITIE.

The first strike days will be announced on Tuesday 31 December 2013 when the ballot ends.  

In the last GLA election over two-million Londoners voted for parties that stood for the living wage.  Scrooge employers like Royal Opera House and MITIE need to accept the voice of London.