Socialist Worker

‘Shame on Jeremy Hunt,’ say Foreign Office strikers

by Nick Clark
Issue No. 2658

Hunt shuffled past the picket line

Hunt shuffled past the picket line (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Striking workers jeered Tory leadership candidate Jeremy Hunt as he passed their picket line in central London on Wednesday morning.

The cleaners, porters and maintenance workers at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—which Hunt is in charge of—demand to be “treated with respect”.

Carrying placards that read “Shame on the Foreign Secretary,” they demanded Hunt stop a situation that has seen workers set up a food bank in his own department.

The members of the PCS union have battled against outsourcer Interserve over issues including pay and redundancies for several months.

Strikers re fighting against pay and redundancies

Strikers re fighting against pay and redundancies (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Their five day strike—which began on Monday of this week—came after a change in pay dates left them without wages for six weeks.

Strikers want Hunt to intervene—and ultimately to be brought back in-house.

One striker told Socialist Worker, “Hunt must know about what’s happening, but he seems to be turning a blind eye to our dispute.

“It’s almost as if Interserve has got to him first and said, we run the contract and this is how we’re going to run it.”

Workers have been battling Interserve over a number of issues since it took over in December last year.

The most recent is a change in pay dates that meant workers got no pay between 28 April and Tuesday of this week.

One striker, Joseph, said, “The main thing is the pay date change. Most of us have had to pay two rents with one wage. If you paid rent on the first of the month, you needed to pay twice before you next get paid.”

Demanding

The strikers demand that the pay date is put back to the end of the month. But they are also demanding union recognition after a raft of other attacks on pay.

Since Interserve took over, some workers have been transferred to contracts with worse terms for sick pay. Others have been changed from a fixed monthly salary to hourly pay.

And cleaners—who have to rely on overtime to earn enough to get by—only get holiday entitlement for their contracted hours.

The situation has led workers to join the PCS and take action. But so far Interserve has refused to formally recognise the union, and Hunt and the Foreign Office have washed their hands of the dispute.

The strikers booed and jeered at Hunt as he walked past their strike rally on Wednesday.

Speaking to the rally, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said, “Jeremy Hunt has just scuttled past. You’re on strike here because you’re being treated appallingly by the Foreign Office.

“They show no respect for people like yourself who do critical work and without whom these places wouldn’t function.”

He added, “In this building the great and the good from all over the world walk through here. And when they walk in the place is cleaned, it’s kept secure, the maintenance is done, the porterage duties are done—by yourselves.

“They take that for granted. But what you’re showing is they can’t take you for granted any longer.”

One striker told Socialist Worker the workers are “not budging at all”.

He added, “It’s quite an eye opener. None of these guys have been on strike before this started—it’s new to all of them.

“We used to mix and say hello, but now the strike has brought us together. A lot of the women are from eastern Europe. Some of the porters are from African countries. Everyone’s got together, and stuck together, and it’s made a big difference.

“We’re not budging at all until we get it resolved.”


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