300 low paid outsourced workers employed by council owned firm being ripped off over pay

Pay strikes by over 300 low paid staff responsible for Harlow council’s housing stock and the cleaning and maintenance of council grounds and buildings will continue into May, Unite, the UK’s leading union, said today (Wednesday). 

The workers, most of who earn less than £12 per hour, began strike action in late February and are employed by HTS, which is wholly owned by Harlow district council with a board of directors made up of councillors. They are striking because their outsourced employment arrangements mean they are paid less than workers doing the same jobs at other local authorities. Many of the workers are using foodbanks to get by. 

HTS’ staff are demanding a cost-of-living payment and for their pay bands to be re-graded so they are brought up to local authority standards. The council is refusing to negotiate, despite its latest financial report recording assets of £63 million on 31 March 2022, an increase of £19 million from the year before. During the year ending March 2023, Harlow council paid its 33 elected councillors a total of £202,065 in allowances. 

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “HTS is Harlow council’s company and this dispute is the council’s responsibility. HTS’ staff are receiving substandard pay from a council that is ripping workers off by outsourcing jobs. Unite will not stand for attacks on our members’ jobs, pay and conditions and HTS’ workforce have their union’s absolute support in their fight for a fair wage.”

The next strikes will take place on 24, 25, 27 and 28 April. Fresh strikes have also been scheduled for 2, 3 and 4 May, with industrial action set to intensify if the dispute is not resolved. 

The strikes have severely disrupted housing repairs and maintenance, street cleaning, grounds maintenance, cleaning and caretaking of council buildings and parks and gardening services. 

Unite national lead officer Onay Kasab said: “Harlow council’s deliberate and needless curbing of HTS’ workers’ wages is the ugly face of outsourcing. Its councillors know the council’s finances are healthy or they would not be spending more than £200,000 a year on allowances. Unite will not let Harlow council hide behind HTS so it can underpay staff and leave them to struggle during a cost of living crisis. It needs to take responsibility for the mess it has created.”  


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Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Sharon Graham.