A major battle over low pay and outsourcing stepped up a notch on Monday, as new groups of workers joined the strike.
Security, porters, and post room and reception staff at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Beis) began a two-week strike on Monday.
They have joined cleaners and caterers at the government department in central London, who have been on indefinite strike since mid-July.
The members of the PCS union are demanding that outsourcers, ISS and Aramark, pay them the London Living Wage of £10.55 an hour.
They also want increased holiday pay, sick pay, and ultimately to be brought back in house.
One security striker, Kenneth, told Socialist Worker, “The London Living Wage is £10.55, but they are giving us £9. It’s not enough.
“The rent in London is high. When you look at travel expenses in London, it can be £200 a month. And then at the same time we’ve got children. The money in our hands is not enough. We need to earn at least £2,000 a month to survive.”
He added, “Security work here is tough. This is a sensitive location, this is Westminster. We are the people protecting the ministers—and yet they refuse to pay us the London Living Wage.
“Without a strike, there’s no way they’re going to pay us. We need to fight for our rights.”
The security, post, porters and reception workers plan to picket every day of their two-week strike, which is set to end on 13 September.
They’ll follow it up with a programme of “rolling industrial action”—with five days-on strike and five days off—until 1 November.
They hope their action will be enough to win. Bosses at Beis, ISS and Aramark have so far refused to negotiate, and brought in workers from outside to break the strike.
One security striker said, “The cleaners and the caterers have been out indefinitely. But they’re not listening to them.
“This time we are proposing to go out until the first week in November. We believe this will have a big impact on the services and they’ll come to the table.”
He added, “For the service, I think I should be at work. But because of the injustice and the way my family is suffering, that’s why I’m here.”
Kate, one of the workers on indefinite strike, said being joined by others meant, “The picket line has more than doubled.
“It’s brought some enthusiasm to the picket line.
“We’re going to be here outside the building every day for two weeks. It’s noisy—we’re making a statement.”
“We’re still feeling strong,” she added. “We haven’t heard anything yet—but we’re still going to win.”
The strike at Beis should be a beacon for low-paid, outsourced workers everywhere.
Low-paid agency work is an issue that affects workers not just across government departments, but in many other industries too.
If the strikers at Beis win, they could be an example and an inspiration to other workers and trade unionists.
Their fight should become a high-profile dispute in the trade union movement—and every trade unionist should support them.
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