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Two Topshop Cleaners Who Campaigned Against "Poverty" Wages Suspended From Jobs

The women's trade union said they were being "systematically victimised" by a contractor working for the chain's flagship store, but their employer denied this.

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Two Topshop cleaners who campaigned against "poverty" wages at the chain's flagship Oxford Circus store in London have been suspended over their "conduct in the workplace".

The women work for a cleaning company called Britannia Services Group, which is contracted by Topshop to clean its Oxford Street store.

Last month, BuzzFeed News reported how one of these women, Maria Susana Benavidez Guaman, was using a petition to campaign against "poverty wages" and calling for "a living wage so I can provide a decent life for me and my family". She was asking for a pay rise from £7.50 an hour (her proposed salary from 1 April) to £9.40 an hour.

In the last week, Guaman and another worker, Carolina Freile, have been suspended from their jobs at the store. The letters sent by Britannia informing the women of their suspension say a "number of allegations have been brought to our attention regarding your conduct in the workplace" but do not detail what these allegations are.

Britannia told BuzzFeed News that the women had been suspended over allegations against them by other members of staff that are now being formally investigated. They had not, the company said, been suspended for being members of a trade union.

However, Petros Elia, general secretary of United Voices of the World, the trade union which represents them, alleged that the suspensions were a direct result of their involvement in the campaign for a living wage.

He told BuzzFeed News: "It is disgraceful that Topshop have full knowledge that key members of the living wage campaign are being systematically victimised by their contractor Britannia, yet are idly sitting by and letting it happen."

He added: "We will now escalate the fight to secure the reinstatement of the Topshop Two and ensure they are paid a living wage on their return."

Guaman told BuzzFeed News she felt "scapegoated" and "punished" by the company, and said her suspension "made her more determined to fight" so she could be "treated with the respect and dignity I deserve, so that [Britannia] respect my rights as a worker and a human being".

A spokesperson for Arcadia, Topshop's parent company, said: "Britannia Cleaning Services have confirmed that they have suspended two of their members of staff 'for serious allegations being made against them by their work colleagues'.

"They have informed us they will remain suspended on full pay while the appropriate formal investigations take place.

"We have also been formally reassured that they (Britannia) have not suspended their staff for being members of a union. Britannia confirm they are following their internal procedures which are aligned to the advice as set out in the ACAS Code of Practice on Discipline and Grievance."

Arcadia recorded £202 million in profits last year, while its owner and chair, Sir Philip Green, has a net worth of around £5 billion. Topshop is beginning to pursue expansion in Europe and has opened a store in the Netherlands. Beyoncé has announced her love for the brand in Elle magazine's May issue.

Alan White is a news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

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