Royal Parks face high court battle over discrimination against Black cleaners

Charity pays Black workers less wages, sick pay and maternity pay than their white counterparts, it has been claimed

Nadine White@nadine_writes
Tuesday 08 June 2021 17:30
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<p>Hyde Park, one of the parks maintained by The Royal Parks charity</p>

Hyde Park, one of the parks maintained by The Royal Parks charity

The Royal Parks charity, charged with maintaining some of London’s most famous parks, is set to face a high court challenge over its “discrimination against Black African cleaners”, a trade union has told The Independent.

The legal claim comes after an outsourced member of cleaning staff at Regent’s Park, one of the eight parks under the care of the charity, filed a claim alleging that it illegally opted to contract with her employer – a private cleaning contractor – on the basis that she would receive inferior terms and conditions to in-house staff.

It is understood that just over 87 per cent of in-house staff at the charity are White, but that 90 per cent of outsourced cleaning staff are Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds and do not receive full pay sick pay, receive lower levels of pay and three times less maternity pay.

The claimant, Janet, a Black woman who was born in Ghana and now lives in the UK, argues that the charity failed to adhere to equality legislation which stipulates the need to eliminate discrimination.

“This feels unfair; my colleagues and I work just as hard and for much longer hours than the directly employed staff,” the mother-of-three said.

“We are just as likely to become sick or pregnant. We are equally in need of rest and the security of a pension.”

Richard O’Keeffe, head of Legal Services at United Voices of the World union (UVW), added: “It is not uncommon for public sector bodies to be challenged by way of judicial review when they make unlawful decisions in respect of workers’ terms and conditions.

“The situation should be no different when they make unlawful decisions affecting the livelihoods of their outsourced workforces, cleaners, security guards and so on.

“This feels unfair; my colleagues and I work just as hard and for much longer hours than the directly employed staff” - Janet, claimant

The Royal Parks is a public body who are subject to the Public Sector Equality Duty, so must have “due regard” to the need to eliminate discrimination and to advance equality of opportunity.

Royal Parks admits that it didn’t pay attention to the disparity in pay between outsourced, predominantly ethnic minority staff, and its white in-house staff, UVW has said.

Officials claim that, when approached by the union and asked how the disadvantage faced by the predominantly Black, African and migrant outsourced workforce had been taken into account when the charity recently put its cleaning contract back out for tender, the charity responded by saying “The Royal Parks assessed the associated Equality and Diversity impacts and concluded there were none”.

The outsourced worker bringing the claim is being represented by the Public Interest Law Centre (PILC).

PILC, in partnership with UVW, has launched a CrowdJustice appeal to protect the claimant from legal costs and to allow this ground-breaking litigation to continue.

Saskia O’Hara, paralegal at PILC, said: “The Royal Parks charity cannot go unchallenged when they shirk their responsibilities to eliminate discrimination whilst exercising their public function. PILC are proud to stand behind this brave migrant worker in her legitimate battle for equality and justice.”

A spokesperson for The Royal Parks said: “We are aware that, with the assistance of a trade union UVW, a cleaner employed by one of our contractors has brought a legal claim against The Royal Parks.

“Cleaning services, and many other services integral to maintaining the parks, have been contracted out for many years and the terms and conditions of staff employed by our contractors are a matter for their employers, not The Royal Parks”.

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