Cleaners working at HMRC offices in Merseyside are going on strike today in a fight to be paid the National Living Wage.
HMRC is the government department responsible for enforcing the NLW.
Thirty workers employed by ISS to clean the HMRC buildings are arguing that they are no better off despite the rise in mandatory hourly rate, which from April guaranteed workers £7.20 an hour, because their employer offset the increase by cutting workers’ hours.
The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) maintains that the cut in hours has left workers under pressure to do more for less and unable to deliver a proper service.
According to the PCS, most of HMRC’s cleaners are on “poverty wages” and several qualify for benefits in the form of working tax credits. Two work for HMRC directly but top up their wages with second jobs as cleaners in the offices in the evenings after work.
The PCS group secretary, Martin Kelsey, said ISS had made “cynical mathematical calculations to avoid allowing some of their lowest paid workers the meagre benefit arising from the new NLW”.
“They are a multinational corporate making hundreds of millions of profit a year refusing to pay a few people on absolute poverty wages a few pence an hour more. HMRC should not be in business with them directly or indirectly,”
The dispute highlights the difficulty governments face in tackling low pay when a large proportion of employment is outsourced.
HMRC said the pay of cleaners in its offices was not its responsibility. A spokesperson said:
“HMRC greatly appreciates the work cleaning staff do in our buildings. As cleaning staff are employed by an external contractor who set the terms and conditions of their employment, HMRC has no involvement in this process over their pay”
Although little known, ISS is one of the world’s largest outsourcing companies, employing over 500,000 people in 77 countries. It doubled its profits last year to £250 million and increased its dividend by 51 percent earlier this year.
But the company declined to discuss whether its contract to clean HMRC offices allowed for increases in pay mandated by government. “Our contract is commercially sensitive and details are not made public. We do however have the necessary checks in place with our client to ensure the cleaning provision targets are reached and maintained,” it said in a statement.
The HMRC cleaning dispute is one of several in which workers are fighting cuts to their terms and conditions imposed to offset the introduction of the NLW.
A spokesperson for ISS denied that the cleaning service had been affected and said that it still met the specification in its contract with HMRC: “We are of course very disappointed that following several rounds of discussion, our cleaning people at HMRC decided upon this course of action.
“We remain committed to seeking resolution to the various concerns raised by all of the relevant suppliers and stakeholders involved in this contract.”