A Labour government would dramatically cut outsourcing in government departments, the party’s shadow chancellor has revealed as Aramark employees at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) launch indefinite strike action.
Hospitality workers at the site, along with cleaning staff and security workers employed by ISS, walked out of the government department on 15 July after continued action that began at the start of 2019.
Members of the PCS union, who make up roughly 90% of the site’s hospitality workforce, have said they will refuse to return unless the London Living Wage of £10.55 an hour is instituted, as well as sick pay and working terms equivalent to those employed by the civil service.
Speaking from the picket line, Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell told The Caterer: “We’ve been supporting it throughout the dispute and been on every picket line when they’ve come out, because we can’t tolerate poverty pay wherever it exists.
“The whole point of this is that this is teaching people the implications of outsourcing and what we need to do about it.”
He added that, under a Labour government, outsourcing in government departments would only exist in rare circumstances, under a new pledge to be unveiled by the party in the coming week.
The policy, which will carry a preference towards insourcing, could potentially cut foodservice firms out of lucrative government contracts. The policy would be introduced in the first Queen’s speech under Jeremy Corbyn, making it an immediate priority for a prospective government.
McDonnell added: “We’re introducing legislation which has an insourcing preference, so services would be provided in house. Only on extremely tight grounds would there ever be any outsourcing under a Labour government. We’ve drafted that legislation and we’re publishing it this week.”
Aramark employees on the picket line complained of having to choose between their health and their job due to the lack of sick pay offered by the firm, while others complained that employees had to use food banks to survive, despite working in a government department that regularly hosts leaders of industry from across the world.
Speaking to workers following the walkout, general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “We demand that everyone is brought back in house, back into the civil service so you can be treated the same way as everyone else.
“And why do we say that? Because the civil service, as those of us who are civil servants know, has been pretty difficult for the last few years. But at least we get sick pay. At least we get holidays. At least there is the living wage and the minimum wage. And at least we have the security of knowing that your employer is the state and companies cannot treat you in the disgraceful way that Aramark, ISS and Interserve have treated people.”
He added: “Some of the richest and most famous people in the world come here, and when they come here, the food that is put on their plate is made by the people on strike today who make them fantastic quality food. But the same people who put the food on the plate of the richest have had to go to the union in recent weeks, to go to the food bank, to take food home to feed their families.”
A spokesperson for Aramark said the firm had offered to make changes to both salary levels and terms and conditions but had been turned down. Senior figures from the union, however, told The Caterer that management from the Irish foodservice provider met with the union during the early stages of the action, but only offered some concessions on contract terms and conditions, with no meaningful changes offered on pay.
Employees will now take no wage from Aramark until the dispute is cleared up – with the union supplementing workers as the action goes on.
Asked how she felt about the future of the action, Aramark employee Ana Joaquim told The Caterer: “I believe in my union and the support they are giving to us, because without them we would not be here.”
An Aramark spokesperson said: “The current dispute is a legacy issue which precedes Aramark being appointed as contractor to BEIS. The strike action is disappointing, as throughout this dispute we have made concessions and offered improvements to both salary levels and terms and conditions.
“We have ensured staff are paid in line with the median rates for those professions as outlined in the Annual Survey of Earnings. We are continuing to provide services to BEIS and we are working to minimise the impact of this strike action.”