Support staff at No 10 and the Cabinet Office have been subjected to bullying and harassment for years, according to a union member in Whitehall.
The claim comes after Sue Gray’s report into the Partygate scandal disclosed that cleaners and security guards have been subjected to a “lack of respect and poor treatment”, and yet felt “unable to raise [this] properly” with the authorities.
A member of the Public and Commercial Service (PCS) union working in the Cabinet Office said: “The prime minister’s apology is too little, too late. There’s been a culture of bullying, harassment and sexism in No 10 for many years.”
Incidents recalled to the Guardian by staff include sexually derogatory comments made by senior civil servants about female staff in front of union members; and swearing and drinking alcohol in front of cleaning staff.
In the conclusion of her report, Gray states: “I found that some staff had witnessed or been subjected to behaviours at work which they had felt concerned about but at times felt unable to raise properly.
“I was made aware of multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff.
“This was unacceptable. I am reassured to see that steps have since been taken to introduce more easily accessible means by which to raise concerns electronically, in person or online, including directly with the permanent secretary in No 10.
“I hope that this will truly embed a culture that welcomes and creates opportunities for challenge and speaking up at all levels.”
Addressing MPs in the Commons, Boris Johnson offered an apology to the security and cleaning staff for their “appalling” treatment.
He insisted he had “no knowledge” of such treatment, saying he was “surprised and disappointed” to hear about them.
According to the union member, poor treatment of staff was apparent under his predecessor’s premiership and has continued under Johnson.
“It was going on behind Theresa May’s back before he took office, yet he did nothing to address it. His empty words will be no consolation to the hard-working cleaners and security guards who have suffered under his leadership,” they said.
A union representing cleaners in other government departments, meanwhile, said it was “not in the least bit surprised” about the revelations in the Gray report.
“We have many members who work as cleaners and security guards, and these workers face disrespect on a daily basis in offices across London, not just in Downing Street,” said Petros Elia, general secretary for the United Voices of World (UVW) union. “Most of the cleaners and security guards out there are ethnic minority workers, Black, brown and migrant people, who are disproportionately impacted by poor working conditions and racialised inequalities.”
The UVW’s members include cleaners at the Ministry of Justice who staged a walkout during the pandemic after the union repeatedly raised concerns over workers’ safety, a lack of PPE and failure to promise full sick pay those who might need to self-isolate.
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “We do not tolerate bullying, harassment or discrimination in any form of anyone in our workplaces, whether staff or contractors.
“Our latest data shows reported incidents in the civil service have fallen to their lowest recorded level, with a large increase in the number of people who believe appropriate action was taken, but we know there is more work to be done.
“The Diversity and Inclusion Strategy builds on the progress made in recent years by setting out clear and specific actions for departments, including regular reviews of progress and running campaigns across government that support staff in raising concerns.”