17 December 2021

Challenging the two-tier workforce

Outsourced cleaners at the Royal Parks won occupational sick pay which means they get paid their full wages when they are sick and proved it is possible for outsourced staff to have equal terms and conditions with their directly employed colleagues.

One of the hardest issues outsourced members strive to overcome is dealing with the two, three or even four-tier terms and conditions that exist between union members because of successive TUPE transfers.

Royal Parks cleaners and attendants employed by Just Ask Estate Services Ltd have won an agreement that demonstrates that achieving the best terms for everyone is possible. 

Covid-19 had amplified the effects of the two-tier working conditions between the Royal Parks’ outsourced staff and those who are directly employed. The predominately black and migrant cleaners had worked throughout the pandemic to provide clean, green spaces for the health and wellbeing of park users. Despite the personal risk to themselves and their families. They had borne the brunt of the pandemic, with no option to work from home and no occupational sick pay. 

Our members demands were reasonable. They just wanted their employer to recognise their efforts by paying them their full wages if they got sick. 

When Just Ask refused their demands the key workers took strike action on the 30 July. Followed by a further two weeks’ action in August. A final month of strike action in October saw more workers support the action, making it impossible for the Royal Parks to maintain clean park facilities. The campaign started to attract media attention as well as support from the public and Labour politicians which caused the Royal Parks reputational damage. 

This pressure resulted in the Royal Parks intervening and funding contractual sick pay for up to three months – the same sick pay entitlement as their directly employed staff. Members also won trade union recognition.

This victory demonstrates the power of strong workplace union organisation. Union density is now over 70% and three new union representatives have been elected. Hagar Bentum, one of the new reps said: “This offer is a big victory. We are all celebrating; we’re jubilant.”