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Sacked Topshop cleaner wins ‘right to protest’ case

Tribunal rules Living Wage activist was wrongly sacked by contractor at Oxford Street store

01 March, 2019 — By Tom Foot

Susana Benavides leading a protest in Whitehall on Tuesday

A TOPSHOP cleaner was wrongly sacked by a private contractor for organising a fair pay protest outside the store’s flagship Oxford Street store, a tribunal has ruled.

Susana Benavides helped lead a United Voices of the World demonstration calling for a London Living Wage against Topshop’s contractors Britannia Services Group in 2016.

A tribunal ruled that there had been an “unjustified restraint” on the 45-year-old mother-of-three’s “right to protest”.

Ms Benavides told the Extra: “It shows we have power when we are together. It shows we have ­dignity and we need respect. Living in London is difficult for us.”

The protest led to the store, part of the billionaire Philip Green’s group Arcadia, temporarily closing down. Ms Benavides was dismissed for “gross misconduct” but an employment tribunal panel has ruled in her favour.

The judgment said: “It is clear beyond any argument that the claimant was dismissed for the reason that she had taken part in the activities of the independent trade union.”

Ms Benavides, who moved to Britain from Ecuador 12 years ago, said she made the unfair dismissal claim with the help of United Voices of the World “for woman cleaners and for justice”.

“I was living in poverty. It was my first job after coming to this country,” she said. Ms Benavides is now a full-time organiser for UVW and led a protest against outsourcing with the Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB) through Whitehall on Tuesday morning.

Independent Workers of Great Britain members and others took part in a day of action on Tuesday

The IWGB launched a landmark legal challenge at the High Court to extend collective bargaining rights for outsourced workers so it will be easier for workers to negotiate better pay and holidays.

The union says outsourced workers at University of London currently cannot negotiate their pay and conditions with the university directly.

Hundreds assembled outside University of London’s Senate House, before a march to the Royal Courts of Justice.

Rebecca Long Bailey MP spoke outside the Royal Courts of Justice in support of the workers before the march went to Parliament Square and to the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Ministry of Justice.

Ms Benavides says she now expects thousands of pounds in back pay from her former employers Britannia Services Group Ltd.

David Shaw, the managing director of Britannia Services Group Limited, said he had already lodged an appeal against the tribunal decision.

He said: “We are very optimistic that the decision will be overturned. It’s an ongoing case.

“The barrister defending was amazed at the result.”

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