A dispute is rumbling along between cleaning and facilities contractor Mitie and the RMT union, acting on behalf of employees working on a Merseyrail contract.
Negotiations were underway to lift workers’ pay to a minimum of £9 per hour. A backdated agreement was reached and the RMT put the offer to its members. However, Mitie then placed the offer on hold, citing the Coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic.
On the face of it, that sounds unfair, as the offer from Mitie had been well enough received by the union for it to put the offer to its members. RMT general secretary Mick Cash certainly seemed to think so as he said: “This is disgusting and disgraceful opportunism by Mitie on Merseyrail to use the cover of the coronaviris crisis to kick these low paid cleaning and facilities staff in the teeth. We know that the public in Merseyside will be as outraged as we are and will want to join us in a campaign to reverse this sickening decision.
“RMT’s executive will now consider the political, industrial and public campaign we will be mounting and, rest assured, we will fight tooth and nail for pay and workplace justice for the Mitie Merseyrail workforce.”
However, as always, there is another side to the story. Asked to comment, Mitie said: “Union regulations dictate that unions should ballot members immediately to confirm acceptance of pay negotiations. However, RMT chose to delay this process after we confirmed the offer by email on 4th March, which had a knock-on effect.
“We only regard negotiations to be concluded once the members have been balloted and we are formally advised of the result by the union. Normally RMT would advise us as to whether they are recommending the new pay conditions to their members, however RMT did not do that in this instance.”
Mitie CEO Phil Bentley announced on 30 March, internally to all Mitie employees, that all pay rises would now be placed on hold. This predated the RMT’s acceptance of the offer on behalf of its members, which didn’t reach Mitie until 9 April.
The Mitie spokesperson continued: “We value all our key workers and the critical role they are playing in keeping the UK running during these unprecedented times. Under the current circumstances, all pay increases across the entire company have been paused. Indeed, the majority of our managerial and office-based staff have taken pay cuts to ensure the financial health of the business in the short-term.
“We expect any pay negotiations currently on hold to continue as businesses across the country start returning to normal operations.”