Friends of Whitehall cleaner who ‘died of Covid’ criticizes Downing Street ‘party culture’

Friends of a Whitehall cleaner who died of suspected Covid at the height of the pandemic have criticized Downing Street’s “party culture” while they were working without masks on low wages.

Emanuel Gomes died with coronavirus symptoms in April 2020 after he continued working as a cleaner at the Ministry of Justice despite feeling ill, for fear of having his pay cut.

Although most civil servants had been sent home, Emanuel Gomes and his colleagues were told that, as essential workers, they should keep coming into work.

His colleagues have now hit out at Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, over what they said was the disrespectful attitude of some senior Whitehall workers towards Downing Street cleaning staff and security guards, highlighted in Sue Gray’s report.

They say they had to carry on working on low wages during lockdown, without face masks or PPE being provided and no sick pay.

Cleaners ‘disrespected on a daily basis’

Colleagues and friends of Emanuel Gomes, who died aged 43, leaving a wife behind, now plan to stage a demonstration outside Downing Street on Friday evening.

Vicente Gomes, also a cleaner at the MoJ, said: “Emanuel and I were from the same country, he was a good person. During the pandemic, while we didn’t have masks and we were on poverty wages, the Prime Minister broke the law. This is very wrong, this is not normal, he knows the law.”

Vicente Mendes, a cousin of Mr Gomes and himself a cleaner at the MoJ, said: “Emanuel didn’t receive sick pay and he died without receiving anything. It can’t be like this, I feel very sad.

“Government employees receive sick pay but cleaners do not. We are working just like them and we don’t deserve to be treated any differently.”

Colleagues said Emanuel Gomes, who they said was paid £9.08 an hour, felt he had to make a choice between resting and getting paid when he fell ill.

Florencio Hortago, a fellow MoJ cleaner, added: “Cleaners are disrespected on a daily basis, even working for the Government.

“When the pandemic hit, we didn’t have sick pay. I have been working at the MoJ for 18 years and I still don’t have full sick pay.

“I worked with Emanuel Gomes for a time and I knew him. He got sick and he continued to go to work despite feeling sick, because otherwise he wouldn’t get paid. He shouldn’t have had to choose between resting or getting paid. This led him to his tragic death.”

Clear Covid-symptoms

Emanuel Gomes, who was originally from Guinea, had been working for cleaning firm OCS since 2018. He had moved to London from Lisbon to look for work, leaving behind his wife, Neneta, in Portugal.

He regularly sent money home to his family in West Africa. Whitehall cleaners who were sick and had to self-isolate were paid statutory sick pay of £95.85 a week.

Walthamstow Coroner’s Court recorded the cause of his death as hypertension of the heart. However, his family and friends said he had clear Covid symptoms, including loss of appetite, phlegm and a high fever.

The Gray report, published on Wednesday, described late-night partying that left a wall of Number 10 stained with red wine and bins overflowing with empty bottles. Ms Gray also said there were “multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff.”

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