Support staff at the Ministry of Justice and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy are to strike next week as two unions stage action to demand the London living wage.
Outsourced staff at the MoJ, including cleaners and security guards, will stage a strike action between 21 and 23 January organised by the United Voices of the World union, while members of the Public and Commercial Services union in BEIS will also take action.
The two unions say staff employed by external contractors and working at the two departments earn £9 an hour – below the London living wage of £10.55 calculated by the Living Wage Foundation to match the cost of living, although in line with the government's statutory national living wage – and are entitled to less sick pay and annual leave than departmental staff.
More than 70 UVW members are expected to strike at the MoJ from 7am on 22 January for 48 hours, after a unanimous vote in favour of industrial action. It also followed a strike last August in which cleaners picketed the department calling for their wages to be increased.
The union has said it could force the department to close – a claim a spokesperson dismissed. “Contingency plans will ensure our buildings in central London remain open,” they said.
“We are committed to lifting the salaries of the lowest paid members of staff and demonstrating that everyone is valued equally for their contribution, including our vital support staff," the spokesperson added. "Of course we do not have unlimited resources – we have to work within our financial constraints – but we will continue to work with our suppliers to improve conditions in line with our values, and across government to pursue this important issue.
“The independently advised national living wage, which we strictly enforce in all our contracts, has helped to deliver the fastest wage growth for the lowest paid in 20 years – and the most recent rise in April meant full time workers will earn an extra £600 a year.”
The strike will coincide with a walk-out at BEIS organised by the PCS union.
Employees of the services companies Engie and Aramark will strike from 7am on 22 January to 6.29am the following day, to ensure the action covers all shift patterns, the unions said.
PCS announced in December that a strike ballot had indicated “overwhelming” support for industrial action, after talks with the department broke down. Every member who voted backed strike action in the vote, which had a 72.7% turnout, PCS said.
The union’s BEIS branch said it had been in talks with the department for two years to improve pay and conditions for support staff across the country.
Discussions broke down when businesses secretary Greg Clark announced in November that he was asking officials to conduct a review of pay and conditions, but did not announce any actual changes.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said the strike ballot result “shows the strength of feeling amongst our members”.
Calling on ministers to bring support services back in-house, he added: “The contractors at BEIS have treated [staff] disgracefully and all our members ask is to be on the same terms and conditions as their BEIS colleagues.”