Cleaners Who Protested Working Conditions at Sotheby’s London Barred From the Building

The sale is due to take place at Sotheby's London in November
Photo: courtesy Sotheby's

Cleaners who protested at Sotheby’s London last week have been “barred from working” and were turned away on arriving to work following the protest.

The workers in conjunction with United Voices of the World (UVW), their independent trade union staged a protest outside the auction house during a sale on July 1. The sale saw an Andy Warhol work featuring a dollar bill fetch $32.8 million at auction.

On returning to work the following day, the protesters, who are arguing for sick pay and back pay for their recent increase to the London living wage of £9.15 an hour, were greeted by a representative from their employer, the cleaning contractor Severest.

Andy Warhol, One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate), 1962, casein and pencil on linen. Photo courtesy Sotheby's.

Andy Warhol, One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate), 1962, casein and pencil on linen was sold for $32.8 million at auction on July 1.
Photo: courtesy Sotheby’s.

“He stopped them at the entrance and said ‘give me your passes, you’re no longer welcome at Sotheby’s–we’ve been instructed by Sotheby’s to not allow you on site’, ” said Mr. Elia of UVW. “Our argument is that Sotheby’s is a massively, extremely wealthy company. Contractual sick-pay is not a crazy thing,”

Until March 2013 the contract had been held by firm CCML who had been in negotiations regarding sick pay and back pay of the living wage. They then were replaced by Severest.


The protest took place on July 1
Photo: Simon de Pury’s Instagram

A spokesman from Sotheby’s told the Independent that the workers had not been sacked but “suspended,” claiming protesters had assaulted people attending the auction.

“Sotheby’s cleaners have not been sacked. Four Sotheby’s cleaners who participated in a 1 July 2015 protest in which demonstrators attempted to assault clients have been suspended,” the statement reads. “The contract between Servest and Sotheby’s cleaners clearly states that those employed on Sotheby’s premises shall have appropriate qualifications and competences.”

“Sotheby’s retains the right to restrict access to protect clients and property from cleaners participating in inappropriate behavior,” they added.

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