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Government workers strike over pay and 'hostile environment' for migrants


Cleaners, receptionists, security guards and other support staff began a 48-hour strike yesterday

The strike has been described as the largest co-ordinated walkout of outsourced government workers to date, with over 100 people believed to have walked out over low pay.

The outsourced staff, who are employed by contractor OCS, currently earn £9.00 per hour. They are demanding the London Living Wage of £10.55 an hour.

The striking workers are also fighting for the same sick pay and holiday entitlement as civil servants. Outsourced workers currently get one week less annual leave than civil servants. They also only receive statutory sick pay, which does not cover the first three days of illness and means they receive just £18.41 per day from the fourth day of illness onwards.

The walkout by outsourced colleagues at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) was co-ordinated with outsourced colleagues at the nearby Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and the Home Office, which many of the workers (almost all of whom are migrants) have accused of marginalising them through the government’s ‘hostile environment’ policies. The workers are being represented by the Public and Commercial Services Union.

This week’s strike comes after a series of protests were held last year by MoJ cleaning staff, during which the building’s entrance foyer was occupied by supporters.

Shiri Shalmy, an organiser with union United Voices of the World, who led the strike action, said it was a response to the government's treatment of migrants. “This government is staggering through crisis after crisis, and constantly tries to distract from its own failings by whipping up fear and hatred of migrant communities," she said. "[These] strikes are a powerful refutation of lazy tabloid narratives: migrants in Britain are at the forefront of the struggle against exploitation and poverty pay, and are helping to push wages up for all.”

Shalmy warned that employers that refuse to offer workers the living wage could face similar action: “All employers who try and hide behind outsourcing contracts to evade their responsibilities to staff, including the government itself, have been put on notice – pay your workers a living wage or face the consequences."

In response an MoJ spokesperson said that the department is "committed" to improving pay for staff but that resources are limited. “We are committed to lifting the salaries of the lowest-paid members of staff and demonstrating that everyone is valued equally for their contribution; including our vital support staff," they said.

“Of course we do not have unlimited resources – we have to work within our financial constraints – but we will continue to work with our suppliers to improve conditions in line with our values, and across government to pursue this important issue."

They added that the introduction of the National Living Wage had led to rapid wage growth: “Contingency plans will ensure our buildings in central London remain open. The independently-advised National Living Wage, which we strictly enforce in all our contracts, has helped to deliver the fastest wage growth for the lowest paid in 20 years. The most recent rise in April means full-time workers will earn an extra £600 a year.”

When approached by HR magazine OCS declined to comment.