Cleaners going on strike today are among women working on the Covid frontline who have spoken out about the need for an EU pay transparency directive to end the undervaluation of their work.
Some 600,000 cleaners, 70% of which are women, working in Italian hospitals, nursing homes, schools, universities, factories and offices are staging a one day walkout over their employer’s refusal to negotiate a collective agreement on pay and working conditions.
Women taking part in the joint strike organised by the FILCAMS-CGIL, FISASCAT-CISL and UIL Transporti unions are among those who have recorded testimonials about why the European Commission’s promised pay transparency directive is so urgently needed. They include:
Loredana del Duca : Video
“The Covid Crisis has highlighted something which was crystal clear even before: the cleaning workers have always been essential workers. Today we just came out from the shadow but we turn invisible again when it comes to wages. For two main reasons: first, wages are unequal compared to the risks we are facing every day; second, we are waiting for the renewal of collective contract for 7 years.”
Paola Battistello : Video
“During the pandemic, I have been asked to sanitize some COVID intensive care rooms. It was not easy. Sanitising a COVID environment means working with all protections: they reduce your movement, they prevent you from breathing and you are psychologically anxious, as you fear to make some errors.
“Despite the fact that we have been praised as being essential workers, our work has not been revalued during the pandemic: we earn 5 euros per hour but no company has decided to give us a bonus or a pay increase.”
Jessica Sambrunone: Video
“Our service is an essential one, but it is underpaid. Despite trade union actions, contracts are not renewed, and our work has been continuously undervalued. A cleaning worker gets an average wage of about 600 euros per month, regardless the gender. We are essential workers, and we fight for our rights, we fight against the gender pay gap and to end pay secrecy.”
Cleaners in Spain who are members of the CCOO union have also spoken out over the need for pay transparency:
Raquel Hijosa: Video
“I work in a hospital in Madrid. During the pandemic, I’ve been working as a cleaner in intensive care units. As we’re not considered as high-risk staff, we have difficulties to find the right protective equipment. What has become clear during this pandemic is that cleaners are essential and indispensable. We fight for our rights.”
Pepi Montero: Video
“I’m a cleaner, I work in an archive. During the pandemic we have worked disinfecting at 200%. We do not think our salary is fair and we’re not valued as we should be. We are key workers, and we defend our fundamental rights. We want pay transparency and gender pay equality.”
The testimonials will feature in a video published today by the UNI Europa and ETUC in a further effort to push Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to deliver on her promise of “binding pay transparency measures.”
The Commission said this week it will "soon propose binding measures on pay transparency" but trade unions call on them to name a date for the measure which was marked as “tbc” in its calendar.
Without action, women across the EU will wait until 2104 for equal pay at current rate of change.
UNI Europa Regional Secretary Oliver Roethig said:
“Working women have been at the forefront of efforts to contain the pandemic. Yet, the work of essential workers like cleaners, has been consistently undervalued.
“Today women and their unions in Italy are taking a stand. We support their strike. While they battle the virus every day, they are also taking on the systemic discrimination that suppresses their wages.
“Pay secrecy is an aberration that helps to keep their wages down. The same situation is repeating itself across EU countries.
“The EU can help give millions of workers the recognition and pay they deserve. The European Commission has an opportunity to give women across the continent a real boost by bringing in meaningful pay transparency legislation.”
ETUC Deputy General Secretary Esther Lynch said:
“These powerful testimonials show clearly how essential jobs usually done by women have been completely undervalued. It’s time to put that right.
“Women have worked tirelessly to keep people safe in hospitals, nursing homes and schools during the pandemic but are still being paid poverty wages.
“It’s truly incredible that after being declared essential workers, some cleaners are being forced to go on strike to get their employer to just sit down and talk about pay.
“It could not be clearer why the European Commission must make it a priority to deliver a pay transparency directive that includes support for unions to negotiate pay with employers.”
UNI Global Union is leading a worldwide campaign to win essential rights for essential workers, including cleaners. For more information, check out #EssentialRights.
Broadcasters are free to use the original testimonial videos which can be found here.