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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain


Outsourcing battles

by New Worker correspondent

YESTERDAY afternoon transport union RMT held a demonstration outside the Liverpool HQ of Merseytravel as part of the union’s campaign for ‘Justice for Mitie Merseyrail Cleaners’. They were demanding a real living wage, now, for the cleaners.

Several years ago Merseyrail outsourced station cleaning and maintenance. At present The contract is presently by Mitie Facilities Management, part of the Mitie Group PLC. Mitie Group paid nearly £49 million to its shareholders in dividends in the last five years but not the Real Living Wage to its employees.

Merseyrail’s latest profit is £16 million, of which a mere £70,000 would fund the Real Living Wage at only 0.004 per cent of its profits. A recent survey of Mitie workers carried out by RMT came back with 50 per cent of respondents saying they struggled to make ends meet. The union believes that Merseyrail should not be allowing its contractors to pay poverty wages and that these workers should be brought back in-house.

Before the protest, RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said: “The campaign is gaining momentum with political and public support on our side. We are determined to fight for pay and workplace justice. It is time for Mitie and Merseyrail to end this disgraceful exploitation and take urgent action.

“It is a scandal that the staff employed by outsourcing giant Mitie who clean stations for Merseyrail, doing some of the dirtiest work in the rail industry at all hours of the night and day, are struggling to make ends meet.”

He also welcomed the support of Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram and repeated the union’s long-standing demand that “these workers be brought back in house”.

A welcome success in the struggle against out-sourcing has been chalked up by local government union Unison’s Middlesbrough local government branch and Northern region. The Independent–Green local council has dropped plans to hive off the jobs of 140 cleaners, who had feared for their pay and pensions if they were transferred.

The low-paid workers were told their jobs were to be outsourced to a number of contractors but the branch campaigned against the transfer with support from the opposition Labour councillors. Their opposition culminated in a mass demonstration outside a full council meeting just before Christmas.

The Independent mayor and his cabinet have now reconsidered, and withdrew the proposal earlier this month.

“These outsourcing plans were morally indefensible and little more than a legal way to cut the wages of the council’s lowest-paid employees in future,” said regional secretary Clare Williams.

She pointed out that the council has a track record of privatising contracts and then being forced to bring the jobs back in-house when things don’t work out.

persuaded

Branch secretary Paul Thompson added: “The council has been persuaded by the moral pressure applied by UNISON and the Labour group of councillors.

“These low-paid, predominantly female, workers will now continue to be protected by nationally negotiated wages, and fair terms and conditions. They will also remain in the Local Government Pension Scheme, ensuring they can afford to retire when the time is right for them.”

Meanwhile at St George’s Hospital Medical School (part of the University of London), outsourced security guards are mounting a legal challenge against the institution on the grounds of indirect race discrimination in breach of the Equality Act 2010.

minimum

The workers currently receive the statutory minimum terms and conditions with respect to sick pay, annual leave allowance and employer pension contributions compared with the generous university entitlements for directly employed staff. They argue that the decision to outsource them to a private contractor on inferior pay and terms and conditions of employment than university employees amounts to indirect race discrimination.

This is the latest development in an ongoing month-long dispute between the non-TUC United Voices of the World (UVW) and the university, which has seen the security guards take strike action over the university’s refusal to hire them directly. If the challenge is successful it could set a welcome precedent for around 3.3 million of the country’s outsourced workers, such as cleaners, porters and security guards, who work in the public and private sector.

A Turkish immigrant security guard at the university said: “We don’t receive sick pay, we don’t even earn the same amount as the lowest paid St George’s worker, and when we’ve gone on strike, we’ve been threatened each and every time with arrest. They wouldn’t call the police on the academic staff, it’s so obvious we’re being racially discriminated against. This lawsuit will hopefully end discrimination in the workplace for millions of workers.”

Petros Elia, an Organiser at UVW, pointed out that: “An internal report from the university found that in-housing them would not only provide a better service but would also lead to cost savings. The decision of public institutions such as St George’s to outsource workers who are migrant and BAME (Black And Ethnic Minority) is done for the sole purpose of slashing their pay and terms and conditions. This practice is not only morally reprehensible but, we hope to show in court, is also unlawful and that keeping them outsourced serves to make them second-class workers. We believe that St George’s discriminates against its cleaners and security guards on the grounds of their race and nationality and this case will aim to prove that in law.”

Another striking worker at the University, Kazi Mohammad Oli Ullahwe, added: “We’ve asked for equality and they’ve refused to negotiate. They say it’s not viable to make us university employees but they have not explained why. They treat us as second-class workers. All of us are ethnic minorities, and we all feel discriminated against and harassed. Between our strike and this lawsuit, we will win justice and equality.”