14 December 2021

Outsourced workers – doing the dirty work

Kayse Ibrahim highlights the important work that outsourced workers do, especially during the pandemic, and why it is vital that they join a union to protect their rights.

I want to highlight the unfair treatment facilities management (FM) staff receive despite being the very people who have been on the front line during the pandemic, literally doing the dirty work. 

FM workers are cleaners, security guards, catering workers, engineers, porters, and post room staff, the people we see working in our buildings every day. Since the beginning of the pandemic, they have become hugely important in preventing the spread of the virus. People scrutinise the cleaning regimes, wanting to know more about the conditions they are working under.  

Facilities workers were once in-house civil servants and were covered by trade union collective bargaining. However, the work is now outsourced to employers who do not recognise trade unions, meaning there is no legal right to collective bargaining for FM staff. This means that although we work in the same buildings, PCS members who provide the important facilities that support us to stay at work, and are keeping us safe during the pandemic, are suffering the worst conditions of all staff.  

As their employers fight to undercut each other for contracts, but work to increase their profit margins, facilities workers have the lowest level terms and conditions, and the lowest levels of pay. Many are denied sick pay even during the pandemic! During the height of the pandemic, when members in the civil service could stay home on full pay when experiencing Covid symptoms, PCS had to battle to win pay for outsourced members. PCS pressed the point that contractors must work to the same rules and ethics as the civil service and pay heed to Covid and equality legislation. Our union could not see outsourced members attending the office when they might be infectious. 

PCS eventually won pay under Covid procedures for Brook Street members who could not attend work due to Covid symptoms, proving that being in a union works. Those members have now been given full contracts within the DWP thanks to PCS.  

As a much higher percentage of FM staff are black, especially in London, Birmingham and Manchester, we can begin to understand the reasons for the race pay gap. Most cleaning workers are women too, which also links into the gender pay gap. They are at higher risk of exploitation by unscrupulous employers who are making huge profits from low pay, inadequate sick pay and harsh working conditions. We need to fix that.  

We have relied on our FM colleagues to put themselves in the front line of Covid infection. We must now support them in the campaign to lift their pay, terms and conditions. Although we might not have bargaining rights, the simple truth is that the more members we have in FM roles, the stronger we are in our negotiations, so to help PCS build our union and strengthen our industrial arm, we need to recruit our FM colleagues to the union. Joining a trade union and getting organised is the best defence for workers on outsourced contracts. PCS is determined to recruit these members and committed to fight for their rights at work so please, share the joining link online and talk to local reps about how you can get more involved.

Source URL: https://www.pcs.org.uk/news-events/news/outsourced-workers-doing-dirty-work