Most people don’t get to say they enjoy their job. I can categorically say I do. To work at a government department gives you a sense of pride – a place where the UK is represented abroad as a beacon of tolerance and fairness.
Unfortunately these international values do not extend to how I and other staff have been treated in London. I work for a contractor called Interserve, who operate at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). I have not been paid since the end of April.
This is down to a new payment system where the date has been changed and I have been moved from salary to hourly pay. It means I am missing out on pay going forward as each month has a different amount of days and hours.
To rub salt in the wounds, I’ve found out my colleagues and I are not being paid the London Living Wage for 2019 either. When you are on low wages, every penny counts – literally.
I now struggle to pay travel to get to work and if my pay issues are not sorted next month, I am worried that I won’t be able to pay my rent. This is why I joined PCS and because of the company’s complete refusal to engage, we have been on strike since Monday.
I had never been on strike until last month and the experience has challenged many myths and assumptions I held about unions. As you can imagine, the pressures of not receiving what I am owed and supporting a family on top, weigh on my mind.
I have gained incredible strength from the solidarity my colleagues have shown me and I hope I have helped them too. Self-sufficiency and being able to stand on my own two feet has always been important to me. But what I have learnt is a collective of people struggling to get what we are owed and what we deserve is far more powerful.
The majority of staff doing the maintenance the cleaning and other support roles are mainly from other countries and have chosen to make Britain their home. It is quite the irony then that working for a calamitous contractor like Interserve, inside the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, means you don’t get paid properly. I have one colleague who is going to receive an MBE for his services to the FCO and the military, yet he has also joined us on strike.
The most difficult thing for me is the fact I now need to use a foodbank which the union branch have kindly set up. Imagine going to tell your family and your children that you have to rely on handouts even when you have worked all your life? Imagine working flat out on your shift, knowing that you haven’t been paid for last month’s hard graft?
And then try to imagine that this is happening to my colleagues and I as we step into the grandeur of the Foreign Office building – our shop door window to the world. What message does that send out to the world at large and to people like me who work there?
This is not what anyone would expect to see at a government department, let alone at the FCO. It does dent your pride when you are not able to pay your way and this is precisely why I am in a union, to get my colleagues and I, a bigger slice of the cake in the form of a decent wage, to be paid on time and for PCS to be recognised in negotiations at work.
I am not asking for the world. I just want to be respected as a worker in the world in which I live.