Royal Parks workers on strike, Photo: Carole Vincent Royal Parks workers on strike, Photo: Carole Vincent

Cleaners and attendants of the Royal Parks in London remain defiant in their strike action, reports Carole Vincent

I have reported previously on the strikes by Royal Parks cleaners and attendants and on Friday at a rally at Storeys Gate, Westminster, the numbers of striking Royal Parks staff swelled again. This time they were joined by John McDonnell MP, back from a Labour Party Conference where ‘fire and rehire’ and workers terms and conditions were debated and voted on to be included in Labour Party policy. 

John informed the rally that they had his full support and that once the current round of Party Conferences were over and Parliament was sitting again, he would be asking questions in the House of Commons about this situation that many more employees face with companies like Just Ask, who are happy to get as much work from their employees but don’t want them to get paid a fair wage for it. 

He continued by saying that he will, ‘name and shame the companies involved’, which I’m sure will make their ears prick up. ‘The thing about these companies, such as Just Ask, is that they hate adverse publicity, so that’s what they’ll get if they don’t pay the workers what they’re entitled to’.

The beauty of the Royal Parks is in the detail of the work done by those it employs to keep them clean and safe, as they did through the pandemic. But there is an ugliness behind the beauty, and that is Just Ask, the private firm who want profit before people.

PCS Union Assistant General Secretary John Moloney rallied the staff and informed them that the union representatives, including Stephen Warwick, PCS Culture Group Secretary and others, will be meeting with the current employers to finally sit around the table to negotiate a settlement of the dispute. 

The work was outsourced to Just Ask last year and it came to the notice of PCS and United Voices of the World Union (UVW), that the cleaners and attendants’ contracts varied considerably from in-house staff terms and conditions. 

There are discrepancies in hours worked and rates per hour, sick pay and holiday pay. Furthermore, some of the cleaners including Akosua Adusei, a part-time cleaner, are very vocal about the rights of part-time workers to be paid correctly and included in the negotiations with full-timers. 

Speaking out, Erestian Antwi, Arnold and Jennifer Masqoi, called into question the way Just Ask has treated them all. They have no payslips and they don’t know how many hours they have been paid for, nor their rates of pay. Arnold told the rally, ‘this situation is not acceptable, we deserve to get our fair pay and holidays plus sickness benefits.’

John Moloney further confirmed that the TUPE transfer didn’t get completed properly and whilst some members of staff did apply for and receive compensation, there were many who didn’t and he confirmed that the union will seek to redress this issue and seek compensation on their behalf. 

Supporting the strike was also Josh Chown, PCS Home Office branch who came from Westminster. There has been another dispute as previously reported with PCS BEIS members. 

One cleaner, Hayford described how they felt cheated by Just Ask because they work the same as the in-house Royal Parks Staff and yet, have inferior contracts with less pay for the same hours and with the added difficulty of rising living costs, they deserve to be treated fairly. 

Many of the staff are unable to use online services and feel discriminated against. We were told that in order to see wage slips online, ‘Log in’ was required and some people can’t access them. What’s more, the ‘Log in’ doesn’t work, there is no breakdown of hours and days worked and nothing is itemised so they don’t know what they are paid for.

The current holiday conditions mean they just get five days after five years, whereas in-house staff on Royal Parks Contracts, receive far better terms including many weeks of holiday immediately. 

John Moloney told the strikers that they were strong and would win and that the PCS and UVW unions would be making sure that claims for outstanding leave entitlement would be sought.

The meeting between ‘Just Ask’ and PCS negotiators and representatives from the cleaners and attendants will be on Thursday 7 October.

You can donate to the strike fund here and send messages of solidarity to [email protected].

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