More than 30 staff at the Royal Parks charity began two weeks of strike action yesterday over pay, conditions and the sacking of one of their colleagues.
The staff, who are employed by the contractor Just Ask to providing toilet and building cleaning services at the eight parks maintained by the charity, are calling for their contracts to be brought into line with the charity’s directly-employed staff.
The charity was set up by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport in 2017 to administer and maintain the royal parks in London, including Hyde Park, St James's Park and Kensington Gardens.
In a statement on a crowdfunding page set up to support members during the industrial action, the striking staff said directly-employed staff get full pay sick pay, employer-funded maternity pay, as well as greater paid holiday and pension entitlement than Just Ask staff.
The statement said this disparity between contracted staff and directly-employed staff had led to "the creation of a discriminatory, two tier workforce", as around 90 per cent of staff on outsourced contracts were from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds, while 90 per cent of in-house staff were white.
The workers are also calling for the reinstatement of Margaret Lokko, who was sacked despite the fact she informed her manager that she was delayed returning from Ghana due to Covid-19 related travel restrictions, according to the Public and Commercial Services union, which represents some of the workers on strike.
PCS said it has 40 members on the contract and 32 were balloted regarding the strike action, but said Just Ask Estates has refused to recognise the union.
Members of the United Voices of the World union are also among the staff members taking part in industrial action.
Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, said: “The treatment of staff who do an important job keeping key facilities functioning at the Royal Parks is a disgrace.
"Despite progress being made by the union, Just Ask Estates continues to deny our sacked staff member justice.
“The contractor needs to reinstate the staff member immediately, recognise the palpable anger of our Royal Parks cleaners and engage with the union fully, to achieve a just settlement.
“Strike action is always a last resort, but we will back our members every step of the way.”
A spokesperson for the charity said: “In line with many other organisations, we contract out cleaning services, and many other services integral to maintaining the parks, and the terms and conditions of staff employed by those contractors are decided by their employers.
“All cleaning staff have been paid London Living Wage since 2019.
“We acknowledge and understand the issues raised but cannot comment further due to legal reasons.
“We will continue to work closely with our partners, suppliers and contractors to ensure that terms and conditions for all those who work as part of the wider Parks’ teams are fair and appropriate.”
The UVW union sought permission in June to take the charity to the High Court for a judicial review of an employment contract that the union claims discriminates against black African cleaners.
Just Ask Estates did not respond to Third Sector's request for comment.