UK: Meta accused of breaching workers' rights over dismissal of cleaner who organised protests at London offices

Amnesty International has accused Meta of breaching its own employment guidelines and commitments on labour rights and has called on the tech giant (formerly known as Facebook) to undertake an urgent investigation into the 2021 dismissal of a trade union representative who organised protests against poor working conditions in its offices.

The call comes as Amnesty published a 23-page report - Meta, workers’ rights matter! The case of a trade union organiser dismissed after trying to improve working conditions for cleaners - which outlines the evidence in the case and the organisation’s concerns and recommendations.

Amnesty’s report comes ahead of an Employment Tribunal hearing next week (7 September) in which a former cleaner of Meta’s offices and trade union representative is seeking justice for his claim that he was targeted because of his trade union activities that led to his unfair dismissal.

Guillermo Camacho, a father of two from Bolivia, was a contracted cleaner and trade union representative who had cleaned Meta’s offices for almost seven years prior to his dismissal, with an unblemished record. In summer 2021, after cleaners denounced an increasingly excessive workload, he led and organised protests against the poor working conditions at Meta’s London office on Brock Street. Following the protests Camacho was first suspended from his job last August, and then dismissed entirely in October under the pretext of inadequate performance.

The protests were prompted by a reduction in the number of cleaners which in turn led to an excessive workload for the remaining workers at Meta’s offices, which had a major physical and psychological impact on them. In mid-2021, the number of cleaners at Meta’s worksite in London dropped from 24 to 20. Simultaneously, the size of the area to be cleaned increased from five floors to 14 floors, a near-threefold increase.

The cleaning of Meta’s buildings is undertaken by outsourced staff employed by the Churchill Group (Churchill), which in turn has a contract with Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) to which Meta outsources the management of its offices in London. Camacho has filed a complaint to the London Central Employment Tribunal against Churchill - as direct employer - for an award of compensation for unfair dismissal, detriment and victimisation due to trade union membership and/or activities.

In his capacity as the cleaners’ trade union representative with the Cleaners and Allied Independent Workers Union (CAIWU), Camacho helped organise protests outside Meta’s offices on Fridays denouncing the excessive workload and calling for fair working conditions.

Just days after the second protest was organised in August 2021, he was suspended and put on “gardening leave” after Meta and JLL requested Camacho’s removal from Meta’s building. He believes his suspension was therefore a result of what is known as ‘third party pressure’ - when a customer or client exercises pressure for a worker to be dismissed.

An investigation was opened against Camacho to evaluate the adequacy of his work as a cleaners’ supervisor and it focused on Meta staff’s allegations regarding unfilled soap dispensers, substandard cleaning of some areas, and inadequate stocking of some items leading to property damage. In the course of the investigation, Camacho rebutted the allegations, and also challenged management over the inadequate staffing levels, which had caused difficulties in cleaning to the required standards.

In September 2021, Camacho was informed that the investigation was closed, and no further disciplinary action would be required. However, despite this, the decision to remove him remained in force and Camacho was ultimately dismissed from his job at Meta’s offices.

Camacho’s dismissal has created a chilling effect on the ability and confidence of his fellow workers to collectively bargain for better working conditions.

Catrinel Motoc, Amnesty’s Senior Campaigner, said:

“We live in a society where all too often workers who dare to speak out against injustices in the workplace find themselves in the firing line. 

“This is a David and Goliath story, where a huge, global behemoth of a company has simply washed its hands of any responsibility to the people who work on the frontlines of its offices.

“Meta is very keen to distance itself from this unpleasant episode, but the buck must stop with them. You can outsource a cleaning account, but not the accountability for how cleaners are treated.

“Meta should live up to the values it claims it wants to uphold and to the commitments it has made to respect workers’ right to organise. That must start with an urgent investigation into what happened in this case and a radical overhaul of its processes to ensure that its commitment to respect workers’ rights extends to both in-house and outsourced workers.

“No worker should fear or face reprisals when speaking up and demanding better working conditions.”

Alberto Durango, General Secretary of CAIWU, said:

“Guillermo’s treatment is all too familiar to us. It’s a blatant and classic tactic to intimidate other workers by making a brutal example of a trade union leader. Third-party pressure disproportionately impacts precarious workers who are too often outsourced and allows the employer to hide behind their client as workers’ rights are eroded.

“Our members who still work at Meta’s offices tell us they continue to live under the cloud of Guillermo’s dismissal and the implicit threat that they too could be dismissed for speaking out.

“We need to see real change and that should start with an apology and compensation for Guillermo. Employers should have to justify the dismissal of their employee in a fair and transparent way and not supress the rights of workers to collectively bargain for fair working conditions.”

Amnesty’s campaign

Amnesty is calling on Meta to take responsibility for how its personnel are treated and to

  1. Respect the right of its workers to speak out and bargain collectively for better conditions
  2. Apologise to Guillermo for his treatment and provide him with adequate compensation

Take action here: www.amnesty.org.uk/CleanUpFacebook

Protest outside Meta’s London office

Date/ Time: Friday 2 September at 5pm

Address: 10 Brock St, London NW1 3FG

What: Protest in solidarity with Guillermo Camacho. People will be outside Meta’s London office holding placards and chanting ‘Workers’ rights matter, Meta!’

 

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Briefing - Meta workers rights matter! - FINAL.pdf