Cleaners, catering staff and other outsourced workers at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will walk out on Monday in the first ever indefinite strike action at a government department.
Staff employed by the facilities management companies ISS World and Aramark have said they will not return to work until they are offered better working conditions.
The staff are demanding that they be paid the London Living Wage of £10.55 an hour and given the same holiday and sick pay entitlements as civil servants in the department.
The strike is the latest in a series of industrial actions backed by the PCS trade union, which is also asking for outsourced support services to be brought back in house.
PCS set up an emergency food bank in BEIS in May, saying that ISS had made payroll errors “every single payday” since it took over a facilities management contract in March. Staff reported problems including late payments and “unexplained deductions” to their payslips, the union said.
Next week security and post room staff and porters employed by ISS will join the action for the first time, with a five-day walk out beginning on Monday, in an attempt to up the pressure on the department.
The strikes have won the support of several high-profile opposition MPs, with shadow chancellor John McDonnell and shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey among those attending a rally in the last round of strikes in June.
And speaking to CSW at the picket line last month, Labour MP Rachel Reeves, who chairs the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy select committee, said she had come to meet workers on strike to “stand in solidarity and ensure their voice is heard”.
“There’s a very strong case to be made for more services to be brought back in house, but whether it’s an outsourced service or a service run in house, people who are working should be paid a proper living wage. I think that’s particularly true in government departments – I’ve been calling for a long time for the government to be a living wage employer and still today it’s not," Reeves said.
And in a statement on the walk-out starting next week, Long-Bailey said workers demanding higher wages and more secure working conditions “should be commended”.
“It is an utter disgrace that the department responsible for enforcing workers’ rights is failing their staff like this,” she said.
Responding to the upcoming strikes, a BEIS spokesperson said: “We value all of our staff at BEIS and our priority is to ensure they receive a fair wage for their hard work, whether directly employed or working for our contractors.
“This is why we ensured that our contractors aligned the pay of cleaning, catering, mail room and security staff to the median rates for those occupations as identified in the 2018 Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings.”