AROUND 160,000 low paid workers employed by private companies that run many local government services are set to start ballots for strikes over pay. The GMB union is campaigning to get contractors to implement the pay rates which have just been agreed for directly employed council workers.
The firms involved are Bupa, Biffa, Continental Landscapes, Ecovert, Jarvis, Onyx, Capita, Serviceteam, Sodexho, Accord, Glendale Grounds Maintenance, Cory Services, Compass, Brophy, Sita, Carillion, ISS UK Ltd and OCS. This is a roll call of the rip-off privatisers who have taken control of so much of the public sector.
GMB general secretary John Edmonds says, 'Private contracting and PFI are leading to absurdities. Do government ministers want to see two dustmen sitting next to each other doing an identical job, but one paid £5.33 an hour and the other £4.85? 'Our members feel government and employers are not prepared to listen to reason.'
GMB spokesperson Emily Thomas told Socialist Worker, 'We do not accept that private profit should be what drives public services. These companies are competing to drive down pay and conditions in order to make a profit. The union is going to stand up for its members. There are 160,000 union members employed by these firms in local government. Another 150,000 contracting workers in local government are not yet in a union. We hope they will be part of the campaign.'
Legal restrictions mean that the union has to start an individual ballot with each of the contractors. Some of them were this week served with seven days notice of a ballot beginning. Wherever ballots are won, action is set to begin in November. The demand to bring pay rates in line with directly employed staff would still leave many workers on poverty pay.
But it would be a blow against the private sector and fuel a growing pay revolt. All local government unions should get behind the campaign to win decent wages for contracting workers, and at the same time push for all these services to be taken back from the privatisers.
UNISON is preparing to ballot support staff in London hospitals for action in support of a £6 an hour wage claim. Cleaning, catering, portering and security staff have been handed over to contractors in most of the capital's hospitals.
The union has begun submitting claims at some hospitals with privateers such as Medirest, Sodexho and Initial.