Around 50 cleaners (at both the Ministry of Justice and at Kensington Town Hall) walked out on strike for three days on the 7th August. The co-ordinated action, organised by grassroots union United Voices of the World, is unprecedented among precarious outsourced workers, and if demands are not met, the stoppages will continue with cleaners from private hospital chain Health Care America set to join and expand the action.
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea has issued confusing statements promising the outsourcing contract with Amey will be terminated, but without clear details of a settlement offer. Meanwhile the Ministry of Justice began by digging heels and arguing that pay levels were up to their outsource contractor, OCS.
The start of the strike on Tuesday attracted much corporate media attention, perhaps signifying a shift in public perception as huge outsourcing companies, paying little or no tax, rely on the public purse through housing benefit and other allowances, to help workers cope with minimum levels of pay (currently around £7.83 per hour).
The cleaners are demanding their jobs are taken back in-house (to receive parity with other staff), that they receive the London Living Wage of £10.20, and that they get sick leave and holiday entitlement.
Occupations at both sites have since extracted new agreements to negotiate, but the strike is set to continue until a final rally at the Ministry (near Victoria) at tea-time on Thursday. There is a strike fund to help pay the workers for lost hours over these three days, and the United Voices of the World website gives other ideas of how people can support the campaign.
Real Media will shortly be posting interviews with key figures from the new movement of worker-organised grassroots unions that have achieved powerful results over the last couple of years.
More info at uvwunion.org.uk