Striking outsourced workers in London parks held a protest on Wednesday to lobby a meeting of top bosses.
But the bosses—members of the parks’ board of trustees—changed their venue, seemingly at the last minute.
The strikers are cleaners and playground attendants who work in London’s Royal Parks, including Hyde Park, Regent’s Park and St James’s Park. They are demanding that their employer, Just Ask Services, gives them the same pay and conditions as workers employed directly.
Despite working all through the pandemic, Just Ask still won’t give most of the workers more than statutory sick pay.
“They say that if you’ve worked here for five years you’re entitled to six days’ sick pay,” playground attendant Antonietta told Socialist Worker.
“At the end of the day, we’re the ones on the ground. We’re the ones that worked through the pandemic. They had to open up the parks for exercise, seven days a week throughout.”
She added, “You can see the majority of us are black and minority ethnic. And the majority of the trustees are white. It doesn’t look good does it?”
On top of that, most of the workers are employed on part time contracts, but use overtime to make up full time hours. That means bosses can dodge paying full time holiday pay.
“It’s exploitation,” one striker told Socialist Worker. “They will tell you your contract is for two days and they will ask you to work six days. Sometimes we do seven days. But because our contract is two days, we don’t get the holiday money.”
Other workers complain that Just Ask’s payroll system leaves them always unsure how much they will be paid—or when.
“Your payslips never show your hours—and you never know how much they’re going to put down,” one striker said. “They say they have cut off dates—sometimes it falls on the 15th, sometimes it falls on the 10th.
“I rang someone from HR and asked how many hours I had done. She said it was complicated. Sometimes they say you’ve been overpaid, and the next month they take that off you.”
“It would be much simpler if we were employed in house,” said Antonietta. “That’s what we’re asking for.”
The workers are well into the third week of a month-long strike. Officials from the workers’ PCS and UVW unions say they’ve got Just Ask bosses to make concessions on most of the workers’ demands—except sick pay.
That’s why the strikers lobbied the Royal Parks board of trustees, who had been due to meet at their headquarters in Hyde Park. One of the trustees, Camden council’s Labour leader Georgia Gould, offered strikers support outside—but found that the meeting had been moved at short notice.
Bosses like to use outsourcing companies such as Just Ask Services so they can employ workers on the cheap—and wash their hands of responsibility for pay and conditions.
But the workers know their strike is having an impact. “There are quite a lot of us missing on the site,” Antonietta said. “In the playground that we work in they just have to put anyone in. You’re supposed to be first aid trained to work in there, but at the minute they haven’t got people.
“So they are struggling.”
But it’s only a change of language
Leeds students have occupied too