PCS demands better pay and conditions for cleaners

One for AllPCS are campaigning for improved pay and conditions for cleaning staff in HMRC.

The contract for cleaning HMRC buildings was given to Mapeley Ltd in 2001. It is now sub-contracted to a ‘company’ called Salisbury FM Ltd – an entity created by Mapeley to manage the HMRC contract. Salisbury FM Ltd, in fact, shares the same address as Mapeley Ltd – Cambridge House, 47 Clarendon Rd, Watford. Salisbury in turn, sub-contract the work to ISS Facility Services, a global provider of facilities services, with its headquarters in Denmark.

This contract chain seems to enable all within it to refuse responsibility for the pay and conditions of the cleaning staff. When challenged by PCS on paying the Living Wage and providing Sick Pay and Holiday Entitlement above the statutory minimum, ISS’s position is that it cannot provide these as “the current funding arrangements” of the contract do not allow for it. On the other hand, Salisbury FM declares that it has no involvement in these issues as they relate to the terms and conditions of employment between ISS and its employees, and it is not appropriate for Salisbury to intervene. To date Mapeley has not even responded to our request.

Needless to say, HMRC – the initiator of the contract and, we would argue, its prime owner – wipes its hands of all responsibility. In a reply to a letter from PCS that asked for HMRC to make a statement in support of improved pay and conditions on a par with directly employed HMRC staff, HMRC HR declined to do so, nor to participate in a joint meeting with Salisbury and ISS to resolve the issues “as HMRC is not a party within the contract”. We consider that HMRC is a party to the contract, in that it ultimately flows from them and is centred on providing a service to HMRC, and not to anyone else.

Our campaign aims to win equality of pay and conditions between HMRC’s direct employees and its outsourced workers; underpinned by a Living Wage and a Workload Agreement to ensure the job can be done without over-working a diminishing number of staff.

Our goals are:

  • That ISS cleaners are paid at least the Living Wage as defined by the Living Wage Foundation, and that there are clearly defined pay rates with annual cost of living increases for supervisory staff;
  • That ISS cleaners are given occupational sick pay, with the same rights as directly employed HMRC staff;
  • That ISS cleaners are given the same holiday entitlement as directly employed HMRC staff, with up to 32 days leave a year, plus bank holidays and a privilege holiday;
  • That ISS ensure that there are enough staff to do the job, by offering increased working hours where the cleaners want them and by recruiting more staff as necessary.

The Living Wage

The majority of cleaning staff employed by ISS are paid the National Minimum Wage (NMW), currently set at £6.70 for workers aged 21 and over. This is the legal minimum that the employer can get away with paying, and far from adequate to live on.

ISS declares proudly on their website that they “are committed to supporting a Living Wage so that all of our workers can afford a basic standard of living.” Yet its employees on the HMRC estate fall short of the £8.25 per hour rate that the Living Wage Foundation has calculated is necessary for an employee to “achieve an adequate level of warmth and shelter, a healthy palatable diet, social integration and avoidance of chronic stress.”

How little lip service ISS pays to their commitment is demonstrated by the fact that the amount they pay their supervisors has completely stagnated, so that with the introduction of the government’s so-called National Living Wage in April 2016, they will be receiving the exact same rate of pay as all other cleaning staff despite a higher level of responsibility.

Sick pay

The majority of ISS cleaners in HMRC are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for absence due to illness. This is a flat weekly rate paid for by the government, with nothing given for the first three days of absence. In practice, as most people do not know how long they will be sick for when they fall ill, and as it is extremely difficult to survive on just £88.45 per week (equivalent to just thirteen hours’ wages on the NMW), this means workers will come into work sick or injured as they cannot afford not to.

The lack of proper sick pay is particularly concerning given that our members in ISS, due to the work that they do with strong chemicals and cleaning potentially very unhygienic areas, are particularly exposed to illness. We feel that refusal to provide a proper occupational sick pay scheme puts these workers at risk and is in contravention of the employer’s duty of care towards their employees.

Holiday entitlement

The majority of ISS cleaners in HMRC are entitled to 28 days of paid holiday per year. As with wages and sick pay, this is the absolute minimum required by law, and includes bank holidays. Staff directly employed by HMRC, on the other hand, are entitled to between 22 and 32 days of paid holiday, depending on their contract and length of service. Plus eight public holidays and a privilege holiday.

Staffing

Over several years, ISS has implemented cuts not only to the number of staff it has employed on the HMRC estate but also to the amount of hours that they are contracted to. This has a direct and negative effect on the finances, health and workloads of ISS staff, but also on the condition of the HMRC estate within which directly employed staff work.

Due to their low pay, many cleaners will depend on in-work benefits in order to survive. Often, these are conditional on working a certain number of hours, and cuts to hours may not only mean an immediate drop in wages but a loss of benefits.

At the same time, while the amount of space that needs cleaning remains the same, the time and number of people to do it is significantly less. This means that cleaners are being over-worked, which can result not only in significant stress but also possibly physical injuries.

Presenting our demands

PCS initially wrote to both HMRC Chief Executive Lin Homer and ISS UK CEO Richard Sykes. The responses of both HMRC and ISS were not satisfactory.

We also invited Mapeley and Salisbury as the other parties to the outsourcing of the cleaners, to engage with PCS so that the cleaners were not left in limbo as a result of all parties shifting responsibility to each other. HMRC and Salisbury declined. ISS have promised to respond to our request but have yet to do so, while Mapeley have not responded at all.

The union now intends to launch a wider campaign on the issue, and the branch is grateful to the Group for supporting and taking up the demands we have made.

The Group Executive Committee’s next step will be to seek a meeting with Lord Allen, the Chair of ISS, who also happens to be Chairman of the Executive Board of the Labour Party, about work conditions and pay on the HMRC cleaning contract. In tandem they will launch a recognition campaign on a site by site basis. To assist this all branches should sign up ISS cleaners to PCS where possible.

We believe we can secure justice for the cleaners and decent terms and conditions, but to do so will require the active help and support of all branches, activists and members.

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