Royal Parks rep: ‘We’re all celebrating this victory’
Royal Parks PCS rep Hagar Bentum Brock talks to Activate about their campaign to break down the two-tier system between outsourced workers and directly employed staff. Hagar, who has worked as an attendant at the Diana Memorial Playground in Kensington Gardens for nearly five years, is one of four reps in the branch.
Members working as cleaners and playground attendants in London’s Royal Parks have been putting the hard work in to organise and maintain a sustained campaign to win improved terms and conditions, including several strikes.
As outsourced workers, they have been determined to fight for equality with their directly employed colleagues, and for the right to negotiate with management through their union reps. PCS is working closely with UVW (United Voices of the World) in this ongoing campaign.
Following a full month of strike action in October, members received – and unanimously accepted – an offer from contractor Just Ask Estate Services which represented a stunning victory.
It includes an agreement to regularise hours of work and back pay holiday pay, full voluntary trade union recognition, and a maximum of three months contractual sick pay, which is an increase from a maximum of six days.
It’s not always been easy, says Hagar, with many people taking a lot of convincing at the beginning that industrial action could be effective and – more importantly – that they could afford to strike.
“When we first went on strike in the summer, quite a lot of people didn’t join it. But when we took action in October, a lot of those members took part.
“At first, people were scared that they wouldn’t get paid. When we told them we had been paid during our first strike, it encouraged them to join the second one. I was shocked myself that PCS were able to pay all of us. They made an appeal for donations, and we are so, so grateful to them.”
It’s the first time Hagar has been involved in a union, she says: “When we started to take action, Just Ask said they wanted to negotiate with us. The union talked to us about becoming reps, and some of us did it. It felt so good because now we can talk to Just Ask. Since we became reps, they respond more quickly to us.”
The members keep the momentum going during their month-long action by meeting twice weekly at different park sites and keeping in constant contact via their WhatsApp group.
“We were communicating between ourselves that we should keep fighting, and win.
“At one point the employer was playing funny games by offering the sick pay to some people and not others. I think they wanted to divide us. But we have stood together in solidarity. Now all of us are going to have three months sick pay.”
“This offer is a big victory. We are all celebrating; we’re jubilant.”