Cleaners at the Ministry of Justice are on strike this week, demanding proper sick pay and a fairer wage.
The industrial action taking place from 7 to 9 August involves the largely migrant workforce employed by facilities management company OCS who clean three MoJ sites, including its headquarters at Petty France.
The strike was organised by trade union the United Voices of the World (UVW), which said that successful action could lead to a 25% wage increase for over 1,000 staff outsourced to OCS by the MoJ.
The union also said a victory could encourage other government departments to agree to pay the London Living Wage.
The MoJ cleaners are striking alongside workers who clean the town halls of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC), who are employed by global services giant Amey.
They are seeking an occupational sick pay scheme, parity of terms and conditions with directly employed staff, and payment of the London Living Wage, which is currently £10.20 – significantly higher that the £7.83 minimum wage, rebranded the National Living Wage by former chancellor George Osborne.
Currently the workers rely on statutory sick pay, which is unpaid for the first three days of illness and £18 a day thereafter.
Luis, a striking MoJ worker, said: “Even though we are paid minimum wage, the company still tries to make us work harder and harder, doing more tasks and cleaning more and the company doesn’t send anyone to replace the workers who are sick or absent.
“It is because they don’t even listen to us or treat us with respect that we have to strike. It is for this that we call this place the Ministry of Injustice.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “The cleaners in the MoJ are valued colleagues. The National Living Wage 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.
“We strictly enforce the living wage in all our contracts but specific pay and terms are for employers to agree directly with their employees.”
The government takes advice on minimum wage rates from the independent Low Pay Commission, which balances the needs of workers and businesses.
Caroline Lucas, Brighton MP and co-leader of the Green Party, tweeted that it was “a disgrace that the MoJ doesn't pay cleaning staff enough to live on”.
She added: “Cleaners have been waiting seven months for a response to their request for a living wage and are striking as a last resort. Huge solidarity with these brave people doing a vital job.”
She was responding to the UVW, which tweeted that around 100 people were on the picket line outside the MoJ headquarters on Tuesday morning.
It's a disgrace that @MoJGovUK doesn't pay cleaning staff enough to live on. Cleaners have been waiting seven months for a response to their request for a living wage and are striking as a last resort.
— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) August 7, 2018
Huge solidarity with these brave people doing a vital job. https://t.co/75jgdoZqKz
The union claimed a victory for the town hall cleaners after RBKC announced on Tuesday that it would take back its contracts with Amey over the coming months. “This is the first time that a council has brought cleaners in house due to strike action,” the union tweeted. However, the council later told the Guardian that it was simply "reviewing cleaning services", and that it was "premature" to say the contract, which was due to end this year anyway, would be taken in-house.
A spokesperson at Amey said: “Amey is committed to the wellbeing of its employees, and is fully compliant with the National Minimum Wage and the National Living Wage. Our Total Facilities Management Framework for boroughs in London was established in 2013 so that the councils could combine their resources and save millions in procurement costs for the benefit of their respective council tax payers.
"We have a number of agreements with London councils to pay the London Living Wage, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea made no such request and so the staff on this contract currently receive the National Living Wage.
"As we have said on several occasions, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea can at any point vary the contract with us to accommodate the introduction of the London Living Wage.”
The UVA has previously succeeded in winning the living wage, sick pay, holiday pay and in-house status for cleaners at the Daily Mail offices, Sotheby’s and the London School of Economics.