Dying for sick pay (John Moloney's column)

Submitted by AWL on 17 June, 2020 - 11:21 Author: John Moloney
Dying for sick pay

On Monday 15 June, PCS launched our new campaign, “Dying for Sick Pay”, with an online rally. The demand of this campaign is for equal terms and conditions for outsourced workers, specifically full occupational sick pay from day one.

Early on in the pandemic, we secured an agreement with the Cabinet Office that outsourced workers would be paid in full for sickness and self isolation, but on some contracts this simply wasn’t enforced, such as OCS at the Ministry of Justice, where Emanuel Gomes tragically died after working through his symptoms, because he couldn’t afford to live on Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). Part of the focus of the new campaign is on ensuring the agreement is enforced across the board, and we don’t see more workers literally worked to death.

It’s also a “no-going-back” campaign. It looks forward to the world beyond the pandemic, and it’s about saying we want to make these gains permanent. We fully expect the Cabinet Office to withdraw the agreement at some point, and for the government to withdraw its decision to pay SSP from day one of sickness rather than day four. We can’t accept that. We can’t accept a reversion to a situation where some workers can’t afford to be ill.

There’ll also be a political side to the campaign where we’ll be asking our Parliamentary Group to take action around this and putting pressure on the relevant ministers who are responsible for setting employment standards in their departments. I also want to work with others in the labour movement organising around similar issues, including campaigns like Safe and Equal, and other unions who are organising outsourced workers and fighting for equality and in-housing.

Another key aim of the campaign is to build union membership amongst outsourced workers, and push for recognition on outsourced contracts where we don’t currently have it. This isn’t a philanthropic effort where other people charitably do something “for” outsourced workers, it’s about empowering outsourced workers themselves, and giving them the tools to fight to win change. We’re working with the United Voices of the World union, of which Emanuel Gomes was a member, which has members amongst outsourced Ministry of Justice workers.

In parallel to the campaign, we’re taking the step of coordinating our organising efforts across all outsourced contracts in the civil service, with regular meetings of the relevant reps and officers to coordinate activity. We want to move beyond disputes on a specific contract towards company-wide disputes involving all workers employed by a particular contractors — whether that’s ISS, Interserve, Aramark, or others — across the whole civil service. This will be hard work, but it’s necessary.

This campaign is also part of a rethinking of how we approach organisation and negotiation in terms of directly-employed workers and outsourced workers. We want to move to what might be called a more industrial unionist approach. We need to ensure that whenever we negotiate with the central employer around terms and conditions for our directly-employed members, we’re raising demands relating to outsourced workers too, and refusing to accept the employers’ division of the workforce.

We insist that the civil service workforce is a single workforce, and we want to approach our negotiation and campaigning accordingly. If we move towards a dispute over directly-employed civil servants’ pay, we’ll look for ways to bring outsourced workers into that, both in terms of parallel disputes over pay with the outsourced contractors, and in terms of raising demands around outsourced workers, including the demand for in-housing, within the main negotiations.

• John Moloney is assistant general secretary of PCS, writing here in a personal capacity

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