Staff from government departments have walked out in the latest in a series of strikes over pay, before a landmark employment rights case at the high court.
Hundreds of facilities workers at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Ministry of Justice, who earn as little as £7.83 an hour, joined cleaners from the University of London on Tuesday in a day-long strike and day of action against outsourcing, which they say exposes them to insecurity and discrimination.
Cleaners, security, catering staff and others represented by the PCS union are demanding the living wage, equal terms and conditions and an end to outsourcing.
Cleaners and security officers from the MoJ, organised by the grassroots United Voices of the World (UVW) union, are demanding the living wage, and cleaners from the University of London, whose activism together under the banner of the Independent Workers of Great Britain union (IWGB) has already won them better pay and conditions, are demanding equal terms and conditions with directly employed staff.
The strike is timed to coincide with the verdict in a landmark case on collective bargaining, that could empower the UK’s 3.3 million outsourced workers to negotiate directly with their de-facto employers – the companies buying the outsourced services – as well as their direct employers – the companies actually providing the service.
Outsourced security of London security guards, organised by the IWGB, are seeking a judicial review of a decision by the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) to not hear an application for trade union recognition for the purposes of collective bargaining with the University of London. If successful it would introduce the concept of a joint-employer to UK law. This concept has existed in the United States for decades.
That could have implications for workers at BEIS, who will be taking their second day of strike action this year over low pay. Their union, the PCS, said that even a new company lined up to take over the security contract at BEIS had confirmed that the pay rate is set by the department and cannot be altered in line with the LLW (London living wage).
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS, said his workers had been betrayed by a government department “more interested in keeping costs down than paying staff who do vital work a proper London living wage.”
Workers from all three unions [PCS, IWGB and UVW], supported by University of London students and members of the RMT union’s London regional council met outside Senate House, at the University of London, which academics have been boycotting to support the demands of its cleaners to be taken in house.
From there they marched to the Royal Courts of Justice, blocking traffic in Holborn, where they heard from Rebecca Long-Bailey, the shadow business minister, who told them that a Labour government would end outsourcing “wherever possible” and offered her solidarity to their struggle.
Despite warnings from the Metropolitan police that they had no permit for a march, strikers then walked along the Strand and Whitehall to Parliament Square, where just before midday they turned on a portable soundsystem and danced salsa in front of the statue of Winston Churchill.