3 December 2021

Organising outsourced workers

PCS President Fran Heathcote explains how PCS is organising outsourced workers and says that no matter if you are civil servant or an outsourced worker employed on a civil service/public sector contract, the union for you is PCS

In 2019, the PCS national executive committee made a decision that groups and national branches would appoint a GEC/branch member to lead on outsourced facilities management issues. By facilities management (FM) workers, we mean the cleaners, security guards, engineers, porters, catering, reception and post room staff that we work alongside in nearly every workplace.

Through a series of meetings and activities, we want to build a culture where groups learn from each other and share best practice. For example, last week cleaners employed by Just Ask won their dispute for occupational sick pay, contracts that reflect their hours they work and trade union recognition. We want to be able to share how this was achieved, as well as the other victories members have won in groups like BEIS, FCDO and the MoJ.

PCS wants all our workplaces to be PCS-organised workplaces, however there needs to be a significant culture change across the union to achieve this and our network of reps are vital to driving that change.

NEC is committed to supporting the organisation of FM workers

PCS now has clear national policy, decided at ADC this year, to support the organisation of FM members and to campaign to bring them in-house. PCS did not have a heavy focus on supporting facilities management workers in the past. To address this, the NEC outsourced workers’ sub-committee was set up in 2019, which I chair. Through this committee, we now have a better focus on FM members.

For example, the pandemic and FM members’ key worker status, provided the opportunity to continually raise outsourced FM members’ issues with the Cabinet Office and for groups and national branches to do the same with their employers.

As a result, we were able to use contractor relief to ensure Covid-19 sick pay/isolation pay was paid to nearly all FM workers and agree that full wages should be paid if FM staff need to self-isolate following a positive Covid-19 workplace test for a limited period. These are solid achievements that we now need to build on.

Pockets of facilities management members have got organised in recent years. Since the beginning of this year, there has been a net increase of 359 FM members, with the total membership now being 1916.

FM members have also delivered successes through industrial campaigns on outsourced contracts in BEIS, FCDO, MOJ and the Royal Parks.

Our aim of making all civil service and public sector workplaces PCS-organised buildings means that, no matter if you are civil servant or an outsourced worker employed on a civil service/public sector contract, the union for you is PCS.

The feedback from lots of new FM members is that the reason they have not joined PCS before is simply because they did not know they could and/or they have never been asked. We must change this.

FM staff receive some of the worse terms and conditions across the UK

PCS members working in FM endure the worst conditions of any member in our workplaces. From low wages to no sick pay, from sexual harassment to impossible workloads, with very low levels of trade union recognition and collective bargaining.

The main cause of this is the outsourcing of FM work, which first started in the 1980s. Prior to that our cleaners, security guards and other FM staff were civil servants and treated equally, in terms of pay and conditions.

Forty years of privatisation has created a race to the bottom whereby companies seek to undercut each other, whilst being driven by a desire to increase profits.

This means that contracts are awarded to the lowest cost bid, with savings only made by cutting the pay, terms, and conditions of staff.

The race to the bottom cycle is continuous, with members changing employers every three or four years as part of the TUPE process. Each TUPE sees an erosion of their terms and conditions, especially if it is a non-unionised area, the result often being that members lose trade union recognition.

Privatisation has impacted negatively on FM terms and conditions

Most FM staff working in civil service/public sector buildings no longer receive the equal terms and conditions that we all take for granted.

Most are paid statutory minimum wage of £8.91 an hour and receive statutory sick pay (SSP) at just £96.35 a week or £19.27 a day, this is only payable after the fourth day of sickness and is capped at 28 weeks.

Many members are not eligible for SSP, as they must earn an average of £120 a week. So, a cleaner in the DWP employed to clean 2 hours a day would not qualify for it. Very few are covered by trade union recognition and collective bargaining.

Equality and the demographic of FM workers in the civil service

Those working in FM are predominately black and migrant workers, particularly in urban areas like London, Birmingham and Manchester. In the cleaning sector FM staff are overwhelmingly female.

Outsourcing has resulted in a fundament change to the employment and collective bargaining rights in the sector. Research conducted by the TUC found that women make up 80% of cleaners and whilst black, Asian, and minority ethnic workers make up 12 % of the employee population, they make up 16% of cleaners and 26% of security guards. Outsourcing has created an almost segregated workforce in the civil service, with FM staff on poor terms and conditions and directly employed civil servants on better terms and conditions.

Civil service departments can set good pay and terms for outsourced workers as a requirement for awarding contracts – such as the real Living Wage or trade union recognition – but choose not to, meaning that they are effectively discriminating against a, predominately, black and female workforce, compared with their directly-employed staff.

How often have we gone into negotiations with our departmental employer, only to be told that they cannot determine how the contractors treat their staff? Well, yes, they can, at the time of agreeing the contract, and we have to be better organised at intervening, long before the contracts are awarded, or re-tendered.

Not only do we have a moral responsibility to campaign against what is often institutionalised racism, and for our policy to bring public sector work back in-house, organising FM workers will also help us to achieve our PCS aim to bring more women, black and migrant staff into PCS membership and into activism.

PCS policy is to bring public sector work in-house.

For many years PCS has opposed privatisation and called for work to be brought back in-house. In-housing cannot be achieved in isolation, and without the support and buy-in of outsourced members FM themselves. We need to square this circle. We need to get organised.

It makes industrial sense

Organising FM workers does not only deliver for them personally. It also increases our workplace power and allows for co-ordinated action between PCS private and public sector members which has the ability to close workplaces down.

Cultural change needed

We need a cultural change within PCS where the natural reflex is “how can we involve FM staff?” or “how does something affect FM staff?” It is going to take a long time to affect the change that is needed. PCS can change, but only if we all agree to be part of the solution.

What next?

In November, we held an open meeting for all groups in PCS, most sent a rep along. We will have another open meeting in March 2022.

The model 2022 FM pay claim will be considered by the NEC next week at our December meeting, it will then be circulated to groups to submit. Please make sure that your group submits it.

We are asking every group to start developing an FM Action Plan, working with the assistant general secretary’s office, who support this work.

If you have read this and are interested in getting involved in organising FM workers, discuss it within your branch first, and contact outsourcedworkers@pcs.org.uk if you need advice or support. Recruiting every worker to PCS can only make us stronger.