Cleaners at a Ferrari showroom in London's richest borough were suspended without pay this week after voting for strike action. Their union, United Voices of the World, are now preparing to take HR Owen luxury cars and Templewood cleaning agency to court for trade union victimisation.
A Saturday rally marched onto the London Ferrari showroom in support of Freddy and Angelica, the Ecuadorian couple taking on the world's largest retailer in Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Lamborghini and Bugatti cars. Several security guards flanked the store, which had been shut in anticipation of the rally. Protestors adorned its immaculate front with yellow ‘crime scene’ tape as they approached. Dancing spilled out across the tarmac and traffic was brought to a standstill for two hours as impassioned speeches by the cleaners reverberated around the leafy West London avenue.
Six multi-million dollar sports cars sat behind the shop window. Freddy and Angelica, the cleaners who maintain this gleaming facade, have been contracted to the showrooms for 5 years on zero-hour contracts. In this time, they have been consistently underpaid by Templewood cleaning agency. Finally, the couple joined the United Voices of the World union and began a formal grievance process.
They demanded withheld wages, an end to zero-hour contracts and a wage increase to match the London Living Wage. This recommended hourly wage for London workers, though higher than the UK minimum wage, remains well below the cost of living for precarious workers in the capital. Despite agreeing to pay the missing wages within a time-frame agreed upon with the union, the companies did nothing. After a two-week grace period agreed upon between the union and the companies, Freddy and Angelica voted for strike action. Templewood suspended them a day later.
Templewood’s official reason for the suspension was that Freddy and Angelica fabricated hours for extra wages. HR Owen provided evidence for this claim by trawling through hours of CCTV shift footage. The fact that Freddy and Angelica’s conduct had never been questioned before their first strike announcement, and that Templewood themselves sets hours themselves, strongly suggests that the company is simply trying to intimidate the unionised workers for fighting back.
Outsourcing often casts urban inequalities into even starker relief, placing economically vulnerable workers into elite milieus. The Ferrari showroom is located in among the most exclusive London neighbourhoods. Nearby are the Boltons, one of the UK’s most expensive streets, where one house sold for £51 million in 2015. By contrast, Freddy and Angelica’s insecure hours and low pay makes simply getting by a daily struggle.
In Kensington, the London borough where the showroom is situated, the inequalities of neoliberal London have been at fever-pitch for decades. In a pattern seen across London, private developers in Kensington are devouring social housing with the help of local councils. Gibbs Green estate, a short drive from the Ferrari showroom, has been fighting demolishers since the late 2000s. The most horrific demonstration of the borough’s inequities came in June 2017 with the Grenfell Tower disaster in North Kensington.
Many of the Grenfell dead were working-class people of migrant origin like Freddy and Angelica. As the UK government intensifies its ‘hostile environment’ immigration policy and encourages gentrification, solidarity with migrant working communities is crucial. Facing down one of the largest luxury car companies in the world, Freddy and Angelica are leading the fight.
If you want to support Freddy and Angelica, you can do so in one of the following ways:
- Write to HR Owen / Templewood to express your condemnation of this act of victmisation and call on them to reinstate the cleaners and pay them a living wage - [email protected]; [email protected]; in[email protected]; [email protected];
- Come to any future demos at Ferrari and Maserati's showrooms in South Kensington
- Watch and share this video of the cleaners filmed and published before their suspension describing why they are fighting for the living wage: https://www.facebook.com/uvwunion/videos/1520621118006122/
- Donate to their strike fund - https://www.uvwunion.org.uk/hr-owen/