13 June 2022

Time to show government cleaners and security guards dignity and respect

This month, we respond to the reports of mistreatment of government support staff at 10 Downing Street.

“I was made aware of multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff.”

These are the damning words used in Sue Gray’s report into Covid rule-breaking parties at 10 Downing Street. Words that most government security guards and cleaners are all too familiar with.

“The invisible workforce” as our members are so often called, are used to the two-tier treatment between outsourced government support staff and directly employed staff. During the pandemic members were warned with disciplinary action if they failed to wear a face mask, socially distance, or observe Covid-19 safety measures. Yet some of them had to work in an unsafe environment, where those attending parties at 10 Downing Street and the Cabinet Office did not observe Covid-19 safety measures, putting them at risk.

This two-tier treatment extends beyond being ignored, not being called by their name, not given the courtesy of a “please” or “thank you.” It also determines their pay and their employment terms.

Civil service departments determine workers’ pay, terms and conditions when they invite outsourced companies to bid for contracts. They can choose to make the payment of the real Living Wage, occupational sick pay and trade union collective bargaining rights a requirement of awarding a contract. Instead, they choose to set the bar as low as legally possible.

The spotlight the report has shone on our members’ working conditions provides the government with the opportunity to demonstrate its real commitment to “levelling up.”

PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka has written to prime minister Boris Johnson, urging him to show all government facilities workers dignity and respect by paying them at least the real Living Wage and occupational sick pay, as Boris Johnson did when he was Mayor of London. We will reserve judgment until we receive the prime minister’s response on whether his personal apology to Downing Street support staff had any substance to it.