Last September Amey plc suspended 5 Colombian cleaners at the National Physical Laboratory for publicising the excessive workload the company had put on fewer staff, as well as subcontracting work to agency staff without proper training in health and safety – vital where some labs should not be entered by cleaners while dangerous experiments were in progress - to NPL staff. They were sacked for “gross misconduct” at the end of November.

When Amey took over the cleaning contract at NPL in December 2006 the largely Latin American workforce were seeking union recognition - a right afforded to all other workers at the NPL. Amey responded to what they saw as excessive pay rates and staffing levels by summoning the cleaners to a “training session” - the doors were bolted and 7 workers were arrested by police and immigration officials. They were sacked, and 3 were deported. None was replaced. The workforce was eventually reduced from 36 to just 10.

Amey were actually awarded the contract not by NPL itself, but by SERCO who have the contract to manage the building. Rich multinational corporations like SERCO and Amey rely on the second-class status of migrant workers to make huge profits from contracts awarded by the public sector. Amey’s last recorded annual profit was £75m; it is also a major shareholder in the Tubelines consortium which manages part of the London Underground.

This means minimum wage, skeleton staffing levels, a workforce fragmented by “outsourcing” and the use of immigration controls to discipline workers who organise. This is not about cheap foreign labour taking British jobs; it is about the “race to the bottom” - worse pay and conditions for all workers in the UK. The government and the EU are complicit in this, no matter what Gordon Brown may say.

The Amey Five have been supported by protests by a coalition of groups, most notably No Borders. These have taken place at events attended by NPL, and at Amey offices in Bristol, Oxford and London. Amey Chief Executive Mel Ewell also faced a picket by 80 students and staff of Kingston University, when he was awarded a place on the university’s “Wall of Fame” for its 20 most famous graduates last December. The workers’ union – PROSPECT – has largely been a spectator in this, but will be representing them at Employment Tribunal.

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