Metronet sacks cleaning firm in row over wages

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The Independent Online

A cleaning contract on London Underground estimated to be worth more than £20m was terminated yesterday after it emerged that the company was underpaying its staff.

Blue Diamond, Britain's largest independent cleaning firm, was said to be paying employees the legal minimum wage of £5.05 an hour instead of the £5.50 allegedly agreed under a contract with the Tube infrastructure consortium Metronet.

Rentokil Initial is expected to take over the contract on Friday together with the 400 cleaners, many of whom are graduates from Ghana and Nigeria.

Jack Dromey, the deputy general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, which warned Metronet about the underpayment, said it should be praised for terminating the three-year contract, which involved cleaning 90 stations on the District, Circle, Metropolitan, Hammersmith & City and East London lines.

"Metronet have done the decent thing, acting promptly and properly to terminate the contract. The T&G is determined to end the often shameful treatment of cleaners," he said.

Andrew Lezala, the chief executive of Metronet, which includes Atkins, Balfour Beatty and Bombardier, said the contract was signed in October but workers became aware they were being underpaid only in recent weeks. Mr Lezala said Metronet had been working hard with its contractors and trade unions to make sure that staff were treated fairly and received fair rates of pay.

"We were very clear about what we wanted in this contract. We want excellent people doing an excellent job in all of our supply chain. We are prepared to pay for that and if people don't get that message, they will have to pay for it," he said.

Mr Dromey said the union was taking legal advice about lodging a claim for back pay on behalf of the workers, who had been underpaid for four months.

A spokeswoman for Blue Diamond said the company believed in higher wages for cleaners but that it was under commercial pressure from clients to hold wages down.

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