- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The royal retainers are revolting.

Staff at Queen Elizabeth II’s Windsor Castle began voting Tuesday on what could be the first-ever labor “strike” against the British monarch, with unhappy workers say they face appalling conditions, inferior pay and extra duties keeping the storied castle’s tourist operations humming.

According to the Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents 120 of the 200 staffers at the royal residence in the English county of Berkshire, the royal household has failed to honor promises to give the staff bonus pay for carrying out the extra duties required to keep castle grounds in proper working order.


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“These workers are loyal to their employer and absolutely committed to ensuring visitors are given the royal treatment,” Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS, told the London Telegraph newspaper. “It is scandalous that staff are so appallingly paid and expected to do work for free that brings in money for the royal family.”

The staff vote, to be held over the next two weeks, would not technically be to walk off the job, as in a formal strike, but for a so-called “work-to-rule” slowdown in which employees would only do the very minimum required in their job description until their demands are met.



Union officials say many on the staff earn less than the living wage, with a starting pay rate of $21,260. The would-be strikers — primarily employees of the tourism operations of the castle, not members of the royal household such as butlers or security personal — argue that they are being treated as lowly servants.

Windsor Castle, the largest and oldest continuously occupied castle in the world, attracts more than a million tourists each year. The $18 million visitors spend is funneled back into the Royal Collection Trust charity for the upkeep of the palace’s grounds.

According to a press statement by the Royal Collection Trust, the company that employs the disgruntled workers, the “staff are offered voluntary opportunities to receive training and develop skills to lead guided tours for visitors as part of their working day and to administer first aid, as well as to use their language skills.”

“These are not compulsory aspects of their role, and it is the choice of the individual whether they wish to take part,” the RCT’s statement added.

The dispute stems from the Royal Family’s reluctance to issue extra payments for those additional duties. The staff accepted what it called an “unsatisfactory pay offer” on the understanding that additional allowances for such duties would be considered this year. When the overtures were denied, the union chose to poll its members for a workplace protest.

The brouhaha comes at an inconvenient time for the royal family, and for Prime Minister David Cameron. The castle battle ratcheted up just as Mr. Cameron was set to meet with the queen about the official dissolution of Parliament ahead of the May 7 national election. A vote in favor would trigger industrial action at the royal household could be announced just days before the general election.

The PCS is holding a vote among the staff between March 31 and April 14, with the job action set for the end of April if approved.

A union spokesman said it was “coincidental” that the ballot was being held at the start of general election campaign. But he said the timing was “nonetheless welcome if it helps to put some added focus on how badly paid royal household staff are.”

Windsor Castle’s staff, according to the RCT, is given “an annual performance-related pay increase of up to 2.5 percent, in addition to the cost-of-living increase, … as well as one-off payments to those who have reached the top of their pay scale.”

“We don’t anticipate any interruption to the running of tours for visitors to the castle.”

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