Union demands police investigation into BEIS and FCO ‘strike breaking’

PCS says contractors' use of agency staff to cover industrial action may have broken the law

MP Rachel Reeves with striking PCS members at BEIS Credit: CSW

By Jim Dunton

11 Jul 2019

Whitehall’s biggest union has asked the Metropolitan Police to investigate the legality of measures taken to cover the roles of agency workers striking at two government departments.

PCS said it had written to Met commissioner Cressida Dick, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy perm sec Alex Chisholm, and foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt outlining its concerns.

In a statement, the union said it had become aware that arrangements had been made to draft in agency workers from different employers to cover recent strike action at BEIS involving workers employed by outsourcing companies Aramark and ISS, and a separate dispute at the Foreign Office – where Interserve employees staged strikes in May and June.


PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said shipping in staff from different agencies to cover for workers staging legitimate protests was effectively strike-breaking and that the Met needed to investigate its concerns over the extent to which criminal behaviour may have taken place.

In his letter to Conservative Party leadership hopeful Jeremy Hunt, Serwotka said PCS members working at BEIS and the FCO were being treated in “the most disgraceful manner” by management.

“They are facing the hardship of poverty through low pay, the indignity of their union having to provide food bank facilities to prevent them from going hungry and they are now facing attempts to undermine their cause by a strike-breaking operation bearing all the hallmarks of illegality,” he said.

“This disgraceful state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue. This situation demands that you take responsibility for what is happening in your own workplaces and that you intervene to rectify matters.” 

PCS members employed by Aramark and ISS at BEIS have been on strike several times since December in a campaign for the London Living Wage. Interserve staff at the FCO took strike action in May and June over a lack of union recognition and several redundancies.

PCS said it found out that Expeditious Security had provided staff to cover striking ISS workers from 17 to 21 June. It added that Premier Workplace Services and Concept Building Services covered roles of striking Interserve workers on the 1, 2, 21 and 22 May and between 10 and 14 June.

It said regulation seven of the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Business Regulations of 2003 made it illegal for any business to provide agency workers to cover strike actions.

The union said firms that either commissioned or supplied workers to replace staff taking part in industrial action could be committing common-law offences relating to “aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring” an illegal act.

It added that other offences under the Criminal Law Act 1977 and the Serious Crime Act 2009 may also be relevant.

Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long Bailey said allegations of strike breaking within government departments was “hugely worrying”, not least because of the weight of UK regulation designed to prohibit such practices.

“What is more worrying, however, is that one of the departments at the centre of this controversy is responsible for the enforcement of workers’ rights,” she said.

“There must now be an urgent investigation and I stand in full solidarity and support with those workers who are fighting for a living wage and decent conditions.”

BEIS said it was conducting its own investigations into the allegations but stressed that the industrial dispute involving its contract workers was between PCS, Aramark and ISS.

“We take any claims of strike breaking very seriously and would not countenance nor support any breach of the rules during industrial action,” a spokesperson said.

“We have been making enquiries since the allegations were made and expect these to be completed soon.”

The Foreign Office had not provided a response at the time of publication.

CSW sought responses from all the businesses named by PCS. 

An Interserve spokesperson said the firm was working with ACAS and the PCS to resolve the issues that had been raised and was “committed to providing an outstanding service” to the FCO.

“We have already processed the back pay of the London Living Wage and implemented the new rate for all our staff at the FCO,” they said. 

“In addition, we have invested in new technology to help our employees better understand their pay and benefits through a mobile phone app.”

A spokesperson for Aramark said the business “has not employed any agency staff to provide cover for employees taking part in strike action”.

This story was updated at 17:25 on 11 July 2019 to include a comment from Interserve. It was updated again at 11:00 on 12 July 2019 to add a comment from Aramark


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