Beis strikers’ victory shows power in PCS

14 Nov 2019

As the national pay campaign continues in PCS, victorious strikers at the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy department show that with unity and determination our union can win for members.

Stunning victories for outsourced PCS members working at Beis have gained wage rises and better terms and conditions for low-paid workers who united to take on multinational corporations backed by a government department – and won.

A long campaign followed by months of solid, indefinite strike action by caterers, cleaners, security guards, porters, reception and post-room staff working for outsourcing giants Aramark and ISS ended with deals giving them the London Living Wage (LLW) and other improvements. Both groups, made up mainly of migrant workers, returned to work in October.

The action of members working as caterers for Aramark at Beis forced the firm to concede to paying them the LLW of £10.55 an hour, and to agree to improved holiday and sickness absence conditions.

Within weeks their colleagues working on an ISS contract at Beis also won new terms and conditions, including the LLW as a minimum, pay rises in 2020, better sick pay and increased annual leave, overtime and day rates. ISS cleaners took strike action for 3 months, which was the longest ever indefinite strikes by outsourced workers in Whitehall.

Great support

PCS continues to call for all contracted-out staff to be brought back in-house and given civil service pay and conditions. The disputes attracted support from across the trade union movement, and strikers received a rousing welcome at TUC Congress.

Their “sheer determination” and bravery in taking on the contractors had led to a fantastic result, said our general secretary Mark Serwotka.

He said: “We never take strike action lightly, but this dispute shows that when there is no alternative, sustained strike action can win.”

During the ISS dispute, the company’s failure to fix a payment error plunged some members into such dire financial straits that their PCS branch set up foodbank donations inside their BEIS office. The strikers were supported by the union’s strike fund – money that is ring-fenced to back members taking industrial action – and fundraisers were also held at rallies and events.

Mark said: “It was inspiring to see people rooting for our members. I remember a pensioner called Rona coming up to me at a union rally in Llanelli and handing over £10 for the strikers.”

Meanwhile, the mere threat of strike action at a Universal Credit centre in Derby resulted in managers creating dozens of jobs, again showing the power of union members to bring about change. Members angry at soaring workloads gathered at a meeting outside the office organised by PCS reps and demonstrated their support for action with a show of hands.

Subsequent talks between reps and management resulted in 56 new jobs being advertised.

This article first appeared in PCS People issue 3, 2019.

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