Low Paid Workers Strike Back
How to do business? Don’t ask the Department of Business
Outsourced workers - cleaners and security guards - are on strike at the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy at Westminster. The firm that employs them, ISS, can’t pay them on time. Because of ISS incompetence these low paid workers are paid in arrears, fortnightly now instead of weekly. ISS has changed the pay cycle of low paid employees who are living from hand to mouth so they have to wait weeks for wages they have already earned. The new system is also widely regarded as inefficient.
Some workers affected have reported not being able to come in to work because they couldn't afford the bus fare, with one claiming she had to walk a sick child one and a half hours to her doctor because she had no money.
The regular staff in the Department are overwhelmingly supportive. The union PCS put food banks all over the building to help out, including outside the office of Business Secretary Greg Clark. Clark, whose job description is to advise companies on industrial strategy could start by sorting out the mess in his own workplace.
One security guard asked: “How will I feed my son? How will my colleagues feed their families? They promise they will pay and it keeps going and going. How can we live like this? How is a government department allowing this to happen?
“If they can do this inside a government department, imagine what they can do outside government. I hope the minister can see this and be ashamed at what he is putting the workers through.”
One cleaner said he had seen colleagues in tears on payday. “They have got rent to pay and they can’t tell their landlords that they have to pay later because the billion-pound company that employs them can’t pay out on time,” he said.
Meanwhile at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, outsourced cleaners and catering staff are employed by financially troubled firm Interserve, which is responding to its woes by putting the boot in to their workers. The firm has restructured holiday pay on the overtime worked by cleaners, messengers, porters and print room staff, and stopped company sick pay that some workers have received for over a decade. They are also refusing to recognise the union (PCS).
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “Workers at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are striking because they will not stand by while a failing company like Interserve attacks their terms and conditions and at the same time, refuses to negotiate with their union. The whole debacle shows that Interserve should never have been awarded the contract at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.”
Both groups of workers have been on strike this week on the picket line together.
Rebecca Long-Bailey, the shadow business secretary, addressed the strikers. She said: “When you have workers having to use food banks in the one department that’s there to support workers’ rights, we know that something wrong has happened.”