Fair pay, ma’am! Queen’s staff prepare to take industrial action over low pay

Reuters/Andrew Winning
For the first time in history, the Queen could face industrial action among disgruntled palace staff. Workers at one of the royal family’s most iconic residences, Windsor Castle, are preparing to ballot in a dispute over pay.

The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) confirmed more than 100 of the lowest-paid workers at Windsor Castle are due to be balloted from Tuesday, and will decide whether to take non-strike action in a dispute over pay.

The ballot announcement came as the Queen prepared to meet Prime Minister David Cameron to formally dissolve parliament before the May 7 general election.

PCS have said staff at the palace, where starting salaries are as little as £14,400 per year, receive less than the living wage and have suffered years of pay restraint.

The union has proposed non-strike measures involving the withdrawal of “goodwill” measures, such as giving tours to paying visitors of the castle.

The initial dispute over pay began in 2014, when staff at the palace accepted what the union said was an “unsatisfactory” pay offer in the knowledge that allowances for duties such as giving tours would be considered during the coming year.

The union decided to ballot for industrial action after it was revealed the allowances would not be allocated.

READ MORE: ‘Koran invites people to violence’ – Queen’s chaplain

If PCS members vote in favor of action, it will take place in the week before the general election.

Mark Serwotka, the PCS general secretary, called the royal family’s treatment of workers “scandalous.”

“These workers are loyal to their employer and absolutely committed to ensuring visitors are given the royal treatment,” he said. “It is scandalous that staff are so appallingly paid and expected to do work for free that brings in money for the royal family.”

A spokesperson for the union said it was a coincidence that the action could take place so close to the general election, but added that the timing was “nonetheless welcome if it helps to put some added focus on how badly paid royal household staff are.”

Campaigners for Republic, a group which advocates an elected head of state, have criticized the behavior of the Queen.

Graham Smith, chief executive of the campaign, called the situation a “failure of leadership.

“It is a failure of leadership on the part of the Queen that despite receiving close to £300 million a year in public subsidy, she continues to pay staff so badly,” he said. “The Queen as head of state has a responsibility to set a higher standard, to lead by example. Paying hard-working staff such low wages, while expecting them to do so much more than their jobs demand, shows an appalling contempt.”

Smith further said the fact that staff are paid so poorly was exploitative.

It is typical of the royals that they continue to demand more money for themselves, spending millions on refurbishing their homes, yet they exploit the goodwill of those ordinary hard-working people that keep the palaces running.”

Voting in the ballot for industrial action continues until April 14.