Robin Birley is the owner of an exclusive Mayfair club, Loulou’s (aka 5 Hertford Street).
Membership (by referral or invite only) costs around £1800 per year, and includes billionaires, celebrities, politicians and royalty. Mr Birley is known to have donated more than a quarter of a million pounds to what was then Nigel Farage’s UKIP party and has recently contributed £20,000 to Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign.
The club was the venue for a recent meeting held by Nigel Farage and attended by Arron Banks, Priti Patel, and DUP MP Ian Paisley Jnr. to discuss a potential electoral pact between the Brexit Party and the Conservatives.
Given Mr Birley’s obvious openness towards an anti-immigration stance, it’s notable that his kitchens are cleaned and maintained by porters who are mainly Latin Americans on EU passports. And given UKIP’s claim that immigration brings down wages, along with Mr. Birley’s apparently selfless generosity, it’s ironic that these staff only receive £9 per hour – well below the London Living Wage which his friend Boris Johnson has claimed to support.
Back in May, the club was paying just £8.65 per hour, but after a very brief ‘consultation’ outsourced the kitchen porters to ActClean – it was during this time that
19 kitchen porters joined the Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB), a grassroots member-led union representing precarious workers across many sectors. Although ActClean raised the hourly rate to the current £9, according to some workers their hours have shortened so they are no better off. CORRECTION 9th Aug: Only 9 (not all 19) of the KPs joined the union. One of those left their job recently, leaving 8. This represents union representation of around 40% which is high for this kind of precarious sector. The initial contracts from ActClean included changed hours and shift patterns, but under pressure from the campaign were amended to retain the original conditions. (Workers not signing new contracts faced dismissal).
“Outsourcing is problematic” says Max Dewhurst (Vice-President of the IWGB) “because the club is now the client, not the employer, so they can make a complaint about any member of staff and ActClean can just remove them – a typical way that outsourcing companies operate”.
IWGB have held several protests outside the club in support of the kitchen porters (who mainly clean the kitchen equipment, pots, pans and dishes), and each time, the club has hired more security guards (reputedly at £300 a time). This week there were more than a dozen besuited guards along with several police officers waiting for the IWGB supporters to turn up with their whistles, drums, flags, banners, megaphones, and lots of leaflets.
The security staff had set up barricades at each end of Shepherds Walk, which is a public highway. Real Media has contacted Westminster Council who have at the time of publishing been unable to find any request for a Temporary Closure Order. Only one member of the security staff was displaying an SIA license (which properly-registered door staff are required to display by law). So it appears that 5 Hertford Street employed unidentifiable staff to prevent members of the public from using Shepherd Walk for several hours. AMENDMENT 9th Aug: A representative of the club has since been in touch with Real Media to confirm that all staff were SIA-approved and that the police, not Westminster Council, had given permission for the highway closure. We are trying to find out why almost all of those staff were not displaying licences and therefore remained unidentifiable.
Some of those security staff were quite hands-on, pushing protesters away and preventing them from leafletting and lobbying club members approaching or leaving the premises. AMENDMENT 9th Aug: Representatives of the club have said that security staff were there to assist members in and out of the club, claimed that the union is “aggressive and obstructive to members”, that their staff used reasonable force within SIA guidelines where applicable, and that police were satisfied with their conduct.
The reaction of club members was varied – some complaining, or even insulting the protesters, many simply ignoring them, with others agreeing to take leaflets, and a couple willing to consider boycotting the club once they knew what the issue was.
Henry Chango Lopez (President of IWGB) said “We will not stop until they enter into negotiations with the union that is representing the workers. This is only going to escalate with possibly a strike very soon”.
The union is demanding negotiations over London Living Wage (currently £10.55), proper occupational sick pay (rather than the current statutory minimum), and a return to direct employment to bring the workers back in-house.
For more information and to support future planned protests, follow IWGB Cleaners and Facilities Branch on F*c*book or @IWGBCleaners on Twitter