Greenwich Park view from Wolfe memorial
Greenwich Park is one of the Royal Parks

The charity that runs Greenwich Park is facing a legal challenge over a cleaning contract that a union says discriminates against black and minority ethnic workers.

United Voices of the World (UVW) says Royal Parks is guilty of indirect racial discrimination because its outsourced cleaning and maintenance staff, who are mainly black African migrants, are on inferior terms and conditions to its in-house staff who are predominantly white.

When the contract was put out to tender in 2014, the outsourcing company Vinci presented two bids to Royal Parks, which at the time was a government agency, according to documents filed with the Central London employment tribunal. One had staff being paid London Living Wage, the other the less generous national minimum wage. The union says Royal Parks opted for the minimum wage package.

Five years later, Vinci staff in Royal Parks walked out on strike, and in December Royal Parks decided to increase their pay to bring it up to the London Living Wage, which is currently £10.75/hour. However, the Vinci staff are still worse off than their in-house counterparts in terms of sick pay, allowances and other benefits, UVW says.

The claim is being brought on behalf of 15 outsourced staff. All of them are migrants, and all but one are of black and minority ethnic background. However, UVW says that if the claim is successful, then 3.3 million workers will stand to benefit.

Greenwich Park
The union also led strike action at Greenwich University last year

As well as Greenwich Park, Royal Parks also controls Bushy Park, Green Park, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Regents Park, Richmond Park, St James’s Park, Victoria Tower Gardens and Brompton Cemetery. It has been a charity since 2017, before which it was a government agency.

Richard O’Keeffe, the union’s head of legal services, said: “‘This is a test case. We are asking the courts to consider for the first time whether a double standard as to what is an appropriate minimum rate of pay, sick and maternity pay provision and pension contributions as between 90% white in-house staff and 90% black outsourced contract workers is justified by the purported efficiencies and cost savings that outsourcing is said to effect.

“That question will be fact-sensitive, but if in principle this type of outsourcing arrangement requires justification to be Equality Act compliant, it will force employers to think more carefully before they operate a two-tier system which disadvantages migrant labour.”

UVW has been involved in a number of campaigns against outsourcing and on behalf of outsourced workers. Earlier this year, Greenwich University increased the pay of security staff, cafe workers and cleaners to London Living Wage levels following strike action led by the union.

A Royal Parks spokesperson told 853: “All staff employed directly by The Royal Parks are recruited through an open, transparent and fair process. Contract staff are employed directly by a number of companies, including Vinci.”

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