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AGENCY workers at two government ministries begin a two-day walkout tomorroe in their fight for a living wage and better conditions.
The simultaneous action by Civil Service union PCS and United Voices of the World (UVW) involves cleaners, caterers, receptionists and security guards at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).
The workers, who are employed by the Engie and Aramark agencies, are fighting for an end to poverty pay and unequal conditions compared with directly employed civil servants.
The 48-hour strike is set to be largest in the history of outsourced government department workers, according to UVW.
Staff say their receive only £9 an hour, branding their derisory pay and poor conditions a “scandal.”
Since many of them work 60 to 72 hours a week, this is about £5,000 less than what they would earn if they were on the London Living Wage.
Workers also receive one week less in annual leave than civil servants and have no entitlement to sick pay for the first three days of absence.
The strikers are demanding to be paid the London Living Wage of £10.55 per hour and to be granted the same rights and conditions as directly employed workers.
Both unions complain that the government departments refuse to negotiate with staff representatives.
They also emphasise that the jobs should be taken in-house, with a UVW spokesperson condemning the “ideological” motives for privatisation.
The walkout will be the second strike by outsourced staff at the MoJ in the last six months, as cleaners walked out for three days last August.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka, whose union represents workers at BEIS, said: “This strike is a testament to our members’ determination to win decent pay and conditions at work.
“Our union is demanding ministers step in to deal with the situation, ensure that outsourced workers are paid the same as BEIS colleagues and ultimately that these jobs are all brought back in-house by the department.”
A MoJ security guard said: “Some of us have worked here for 10 years. All we’re asking for is a wage that allows us to make ends meet and live with a little more dignity.
“Is that too much to ask from the ministry of so-called justice?”
Another worker said: “It should be common sense that everyone should get sick pay.
“If I am sick, I don’t get paid, but I can’t afford not to work, so should I just work sick? Are we less human than civil servants?”
Labour’s shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon has voiced support for the strikes and plans to visit the picket lines outside the government offices.
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