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09.07.2024 / News / /

DfE strike postponed: Facility staff secure backdated pay

“We have had to strike twice and we were prepared to walk out for the third time on Wednesday, but it’s great news that we have finally averted the strike. This is thanks to all of us working together with our union, in unity, showing our resolve and determination as a group to achieve equality for all workers.”

Gloria Mancera, cleaner and UVW member

The strike action scheduled for tomorrow, Wednesday 10 July, at the Department for Education (DfE) has been postponed following a significant breakthrough. All facilities staff at the DfE – cleaners, caterers, receptionists and post room staff – have secured backdated pay of up to £2,500 each after reaching an agreement with facilities multinational ISS UK Limited (ISS), their employer and outsourced service provider for the DfE in their workplace. They have also agreed to enter a two-month period of intense negotiations to address all other demands, including improved sick pay and annual leave, as well as assurances that no current employees at Sanctuary Buildings will face redundancy.

ISS conceded to UVW demands after caterers joined the cleaners in a second round of strike action two weeks ago, and post room workers were poised to follow suit. This collective action has forced ISS into meaningful negotiations.

This victory began to take shape over a year ago with the cleaning team at the DfE, composed mostly of immigrant women, who decided to stop being treated as second-class workers. In the summer of 2023, they went on strike and returned to the fight a year later, determined to go all out until their demands for equality with civil servants were taken into account.

Gloria Mancera, who’s been a cleaner at the DfE for 19 years and a long-term UVW member, expressed her satisfaction, saying: “I’m very pleased that our bosses have finally agreed to backdate our pay and to sit down with our union to discuss better terms for sick pay, annual leave, and all the other issues we have been fighting for over the last year. We have had to strike twice, and we were prepared to walk out for the third time on Wednesday, but it’s great news that we have finally averted the strike. This is thanks to all of us working together with our union, in unity, showing our resolve and determination as a group to achieve equality for all workers. Why is one worker entitled to dignified pay while another has to suffer on poverty wages? Why should one be able to stay home if ill while another has to choose between sick leave or food on the table? It’s simply unfair. We just hope we will reach a good agreement for all parties involved before the end of the summer. 

The UVW cleaners’ courage and determination inspired other facilities departments in the DfE building, with catering, printing, and security workers joining the union too. This demonstration of unity, courage, and the growth of the movement has helped to rebalance the power dynamics and a full deal is now on the horizon.

April Keayes, catering assistant manager who together with their team mates joined UVW recently inspired by the resolve of the cleaners, explained:  “I am incredibly grateful for UVW’s assistance and the engagement of ISS management, which helped us prevent our planned industrial action. With UVW’s support, we are feeling hopeful about the upcoming negotiations and believe we can achieve our goals. ISS has addressed many issues we presented, and we are optimistic that our aspirations for basic sick pay and increased annual leave might become a reality. Our team’s passion remains unwavering, and we are prepared to advocate strongly for our needs if negotiations do not yield the desired results. We express our heartfelt gratitude to our colleagues in the cleaning team and everyone who contributed to our cause. UVW gave us a voice and becoming a member of this union has changed our lives.”

Facilities workers are often the worst treated in any building, particularly in government buildings. At the DfE, they are changing that narrative with the backing of UVW every step of the way. If negotiations do not prove fruitful, the workers – with the support of their union –  will be back out on strike in September, including the DfE’s security team outsourced to G4S, who have also joined UVW.

This fight aims to inspire all facilities workers in government and beyond to stand up and fight back. We are putting this new government on notice that it’s time to end the two-tier workforce in Whitehall.

If you and your colleagues aren’t getting the pay and respect you deserve at work and want to fight for more, get in touch and we’ll fight together.

Consider joining our Solidarity Network to support the workers fighting for dignity and respect at work. 

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