John Moloney's column: Outsourced cleaners strike

Submitted by AWL on 5 August, 2020 - 6:32 Author: John Moloney
Merseyside HMRC cleaners

Outsourced cleaners in HMRC offices in Merseyside begin their next strike on Monday 3 August. They’ll strike until 28 August, demanding living wages and full occupational sick pay.

This latter demand is clearly vital in terms of safety and infection control during the pandemic, and is the central demand of the Safe and Equal campaign in which Workers’ Liberty members have been central, so hopefully Safe and Equal can play a role in supporting the strike.

For how you can support the strike, see justiceforhmrccleaners.wordpress.com

The unions will be holding a consultative ballot of our members working in Job Centres and Universal Credit Service Centres, running from 17 August to 7 September. We want to get the employer to drop its plan for extended opening hours, which underpins its drive to bring people who’ve been working at home back into offices.

The next step after the consultative ballot, depending on the result, will be a formal statutory ballot for industrial action. We’re also looking at legal challenges to the employer’s plans, on the basis that they breach health and safety law. But it seems increasingly that only workers’ direct action will be able to enforce those laws. The Health and Safety Executive seems toothless and unprepared to stand up to the government.

Our members, along with members of other unions including the Bectu section of Prospect, have held protests against job cuts in the last week at the Tate Modern, where their ballot turned out 88.6% of members in favour of strike action on a 79% turn out, and the Southbank Centre. We’re demanding an extended furlough scheme to keep workers in their jobs and on full pay until at least April, when many of these institutions are projected to be back to wider public opening and increased revenue. There has been some additional government funding for the culture sector, but shockingly many employers have refused to spend the additional funds on retaining staff, preferring to make job cuts.

In the Ministry of Justice, the United Voices of the World (UVW) union has won a ballot for recognition with the outsourced contractor OCS, which employs cleaners in the department. This is the first formal recognition agreement won by a non-TUC union, and is a testament to the hard work of UVW members in the MoJ who’ve built their organisation on the job.

It would ultimately be preferable for all workers in the building, directly employed and outsourced, to be in the same union, but PCS is looking forward to deepening our joint working with UVW, planning joint campaigns and disputes. They’ve done excellent work on the ground and are clearly up for a fight. We want to support them in that, and mobilise our members alongside theirs.

• John Moloney is assistant general secretary of the civil service union PCS, writing here in a personal capacity

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