Tag Archives: UVW

Topshop protests over Living Wage and suspensions

Cleaners at Topshop are sub-contracted to a company, Britannia Services Group, that made £1.34m profit after tax. Philip Green, worth nearly £5bn, runs the Arcadia Group that owns Topshop. Arcadia made more than £250m profit last year, but it is registered to Philip Green’s wife, who lives in the Monaco tax haven. Mr. Green recently bought a £100m yacht.

The cleaners pay all the tax due on their £6.75 per hour poverty wages, leaving them without enough money to cover London rent and food.

Despite a workplace culture of fear and intimidation, some cleaners have been campaigning and organising to raise awareness and push for a London Living Wage (http://www.livingwage.org.uk/what-living-wage). As a result of their lawful activities, two have been suspended and a third is under threat. Susana, an Ecuadorian single mother, has worked at Topshop for several years, and despite being bullied at work, shows great courage, along with Carolina and Luz, in standing up to the corporation.

They are all members of the grassroots union United Voices of the World (www.uvwunion.org.uk), which has had some notable successes despite running on a shoestring budget made up of small subscriptions and donations.

04 UVW Top Shop protests ©2016 @indyrikki

Today’s protest began at the Strand branch of Topshop, as the People’s Assembly march and rally drew to a close in nearby Trafalgar Square. The UVW received solidarity from Class War activists who unfurled a large banner in front of the doors to the Strand shop and later set off smoke bombs. UVW organiser, Petros Elia addressed the crowd.

01 UVW Top Shop protests ©2016 @indyrikki

02 UVW Top Shop protests ©2016 @indyrikki

Perhaps expecting major public disorder during the austerity protest, or perhaps buoyed by a new financial year, the demonstration was notable for the excessive policing, with several vans of riot police, two sets of evidence gatherers, and the attention of a Chief Inspector, all for a small industrial dispute with a few dozen protesters.

05 UVW Top Shop protests ©2016 @indyrikki

06 UVW Top Shop protests ©2016 @indyrikki

After a short speech from Susana, the decision was taken to march to the Oxford Circus flagship store, and there, as news spread, more people joined the protest swelling numbers to around a hundred or so, although the many bystanders and bemused shoppers soon blocked roads around the store.

03 UVW Top Shop protests ©2016 @indyrikki

Again, police resources seemed limitless, with at times, nearly as many officers as protesters. Ironic that most of the protesters pay tax, which covers police salaries and overtime, and yet the police were deployed to assist the private security of a huge corporation that aggressively avoids contributing to the UK tax system.

07 UVW Top Shop protests ©2016 @indyrikki

08 UVW Top Shop protests ©2016 @indyrikki

Police claimed that the demonstration (mainly on the pavement in front of the shop) was ‘wilfully obstructing the highway’, and they aggressively pushed people away from the shop, but because they didn’t facilitate the protest by providing a space for it to continue, this led to a walkabout and a short visit to the John Lewis store (which also pays its sub-contracted cleaners far less than the Living Wage).

09 UVW Top Shop protests ©2016 @indyrikki

Topshop used to have a paragraph on their ‘code of conduct’ web page, which stated that they “fully subscribe” to “the concept of a living wage”, but publicity surrounding this vague declaration led to its removal last month.

10 UVW Top Shop protests ©2016 @indyrikki

The IVW have a great track record and won a major victory in similar actions against Sotheby’s recently. On today’s showing, this powerful campaign looks to continue, and morale and optimism is high that Topshop will have to relent to save public face.

11 UVW Top Shop protests ©2016 @indyrikki

UVW post info about future protests on their Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/uvwunion)

Current petition: https://www.change.org/p/sotheby-s-london-reinstate-your-cleaners-and-pay-them-the-living-wage/u/16116671?recruiter=187171441&utm_source=share_update&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=share_twitter_responsive

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Protest at TopShop over London Living Wage

01 UVW TopShop ©@indyrikki

Yesterday afternoon saw the launch of a new campaign by the grassroots union, United Voices of the World, which represents key workers in London’s outsourced economy – the porters, cleaners, shop assistants, security guards and so on – jobs characterised by precarious contracts and low pay.

 The UVW union has no paid officials and runs on goodwill, solidarity and small subscriptions. It represents mainly Latin American migrant workers, but is open and welcoming to all. For such a shoestring enterprise it has an astonishingly successful track record in defending workers at numerous Employment Tribunal cases, winning its members tens of thousands of pounds in settlements and also gaining living wage agreements for hundreds of workers in just a few short years.

 Its biggest victory has been a historic agreement for sub-contracted staff (security and cleaners) at the world-renowned Sotheby’s auction house in Mayfair. After UVW’s series of boisterous and embarrassing protests during public auctions, an agreement has been reached committing Servest (the company contracted to provide services to Sotheby’s) to not only pay the London Living Wage, but also to offer Occupational Sick Pay, the first time outsourced private sector employees have been offered anything more than the far smaller Statutory Sick Pay. (my Sotheby’s reports and pics 1 2

 So, UVW have now turned their attention to London High Street retailers, beginning at TopShop with a 100-strong protest at their flagship Oxford Circus store yesterday afternoon. This will be the first living wage campaign targeted at a fashion retailer in the UK.

02 UVW TopShop ©@indyrikki

 With drums, horns, cowbells, a megaphone and loud chanting, the crowd drew much attention from passers-by and shoppers.

08 UVW TopShop ©@indyrikki

After some short speeches from Union organisers and TopShop cleaners, a good-natured attempt to enter the store was repelled by security staff, and then a line of police helped block the main entrance.

03 UVW TopShop ©@indyrikki

06 UVW TopShop ©@indyrikki

The drumming and chanting created a carnival atmosphere in the Spring-like sunshine, and at times the road was filled with interested onlookers. Volunteers handed out hundreds of leaflets highlighting the disparity between the massive profits reported by Philip Green’s Arcadia Group (registered under his wife’s name in a Monaco tax haven), and the poverty-inducing wages paid to staff (expected to rise in line with minimum wage to £7.20 per hour from April).

05 UVW TopShop ©@indyrikki

07 UVW TopShop ©@indyrikki

The campaign is pushing for a London Living Wage of £9.40 per hour (based on scientific methodology and the true cost of living). This is not to be confused with George Osborne’s promise of a ‘living wage’ by 2020, which is actually merely a rebranding of the minimum wage and is not related to the cost of living.

Many of the workers are actually sub-contracted and work for Brittania Services Group, but despite TopShop’s own Code of Conduct claiming to subscribe to the concept of the “living wage”, the retailer has not taken any action to promote this “concept” for its staff.

After a couple of hours, the protest went on a walkabout, briefly blocking Oxford Circus before visiting and briefly invading John Lewis.

09 UVW TopShop ©@indyrikki

Despite a campaign involving comedian/activist Mark Thomas a couple of years ago, this supposedly ethical store still sub-contracts its cleaners at rates impossible to live on in the capital.

The UVW is planning to target the Science Museum and the Daily Mail in a series of further actions this year.

They have launched this petition relating to TopShop.