This week, cleaners ended their sit-down action at Utrecht Central Station after employers had said that they were willing to resume negotiations. However, these negotiations soon broke down when it became clear that the employers refused to make any significant improvements to the offer that was already on the table.
The cleaners have emphasized from the beginning – in a white paper, for example – that contractors control the cleaning sector and must take responsibility to improve conditions. At first, contractors insisted they were no party to the conflict, but the union has convinced them that such an attitude is not acceptable. Major players Dutch Railways and Schiphol Airport have announced last week that they intend to play a mediating role. Dutch Railways had already indicated it wants to develop quality standards for cleaning, in an attempt to reverse the race to the bottom.
In yet another parliamentary debate on the cleaning strike, Minister Donner reluctantly promised to look into quality standards the national government might apply in its cleaning contracts. There are indications that the Amsterdam Municipality may adopt the Clean Enough covenant, dealing with conditions of employment and the right to organise.
Employers seem to have been ill-prepared for the cleaners’ strike. Their website still contains an announcement of the collective agreement negotiations that were to take place from 10 November to 8 December 2009. In a belated and downright hilarious attempt to discredit the strikers, they try to frame the union as the Very Hungry Caterpillar from Eric Carle’s children’s book. “Those who participate [in the strike] receive a paltry strike benefit. But the collective agreement is not getting any better yet. 150,000 cleaners are thus left empty-handed […] Contractors and the general public are fed up with the strikes. No one understands it anymore. Is this about better conditions of employment, or about more members for the FNV?” - it says in a pamphlet prepared by the employers’ organisation for its members to distribute among their staff.
Meanwhile, public support for the strike is growing. Next week, a number of fundraisers and information meetings will be held. In Amsterdam, flyer actions at the central station will continue (on Tuesdays and Fridays starting at 8 am at the exit of the metro) and a support committee will be created on Monday. The cleaners are further supported by union activists at Akzo, Corus, DSM, Nedcar and Heineken.