You have recently responded to letters written by your employees requesting that Cofely recognise the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) on the University of London contract (https://iwgb.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/letter.jpg). The IWGB represents the majority of workers on the University of London contract. In your letter you explain why Cofely will continue to recognise UNISON, the main reason being that the current recognition supposedly does not allow you to recognise or engage with any other union. Having read your letter a couple times, I can’t help but wonder if you have even read the UNISON Recognition Agreement? On the off chance you haven’t, or perhaps if you have gotten it confused with a different recognition agreement, you can read it here: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B5bXblPVqizeUy1lVjkyWTdUZjQ/edit.
In the fourth paragraph of your letter you say that this Recognition Agreement is “binding” and that it doesn’t allow “recognition, consultation or negotiation with any other Unions who may have a presence on the University of London contract.” Unfortunately you are wrong on both accounts. I would draw your attention to section 4.1 of the Recognition Agreement which says: “The Company and the Union accept that the terms of this agreement are binding in honour upon them but do not constitute a legally enforceable agreement.” In the currently legalistic world of industrial relations, “binding in honour” is about as uncommitted as an agreement can be, perhaps one step up from a “pinky-swear”. Indeed when we all used to be in UNISON and attempted to try and use that Recognition Agreement for the benefit of workers, facilities time or other requests were often denied because it was a voluntary recognition agreement or there were other considerations. In other words: it wasn’t legally binding.
In terms of the claim that you cannot engage with another union, the Recognition Agreement does not mention- anywhere- other unions. This claim simply is not true. However it is quite telling of your industrial strategy: to hide behind the UNISON Recognition Agreement in order to provide an excuse to the public and workers for why you don’t recognise the union that clearly has the membership, support, and trust of the majority of the workforce. The fact that UNISON is willing (even eager?) to provide this cover for you says quite a bit about where this union’s priorities lie. Your company has already made clear to us- in those negotiations you are supposedly not allowed to have- the real reason for not wanting to recognise the IWGB: you don’t like that our union engages in formal procedures such as grievances, employment tribunals, and strikes, and that we cite employment law in our emails. I realise that based on your experience with UNISON at Senate House you may have formed the impression that unions exist in order to rubber-stamp management plans or to collude with management on how to undermine workers’ campaigns (for more on this read the recent Guardian article which tells how UNISON suggested to University of London management that offering one additional day’s leave might be enough to undermine the 3 Cosas Campaign: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/mar/24/cost-private-contracts-universities-documents-services-workers). However, in the IWGB we believe that unions are there to defend the rights of members and to actively campaign on improving wages, terms, and conditions.
In the sixth paragraph of your letter you say that the relationship with UNISON is long-standing and attribute to this relationship the recent improvement in workers’ sick pay, holiday, and pension entitlements. Putting aside for the moment the fact that the Recognition Agreement is less than three years old, it is interesting to note that you have taken a page out of UNISON’s strategy book with regard to re-writing history. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that tactic has been tried and tested and it hasn’t worked yet. Indeed, the letter from BBW after the strike in November, 2013, which attributed the victory on terms and conditions to UNISON, played a large part in motivating workers to strike again at the end of January, this time for three days. The main reason for that strike was union recognition, the need for which was driven home by the constant and blatant collaboration between the company and the currently recognised union. It is also worth pointing out that the people you are writing to all used to be members of UNISON. Their 3 Cosas Campaign was unsupported by UNISON. Their votes were cancelled by UNISON. They decided to leave UNISON. They have participated in IWGB protests, strikes, and/or campaign meetings. Improved terms and conditions were announced on the second day of their IWGB strike action. And the current UNISON workplace rep is their boss’s boss, who they never voted for. So they might not be the easiest people to convince that the company’s partnership with UNISON is what gave rise to their improved conditions.
In closing, it is perhaps worth drawing your attention to section 11.1 of the Recognition Agreement which states: “It is agreed that there will be an annual review of this agreement by both parties to ensure it remains relevant and effective.” Of course, this agreement has been quite effective from the perspective of both Cofely management and UNISON. It helps Cofely management avoid engagement with their own workforce and the corresponding reps. And it allows UNISON to claim one of the biggest victories for outsourced workers in the higher education sector in recent years. However, given that the majority of the workforce is in the IWGB, nearly all of the IWGB members have chosen to leave UNISON, there are only a handful of UNISON members left and these are dominated by supervisors and managers, the UNISON workplace rep is the Cleaning Services Manager, and the recent revelation that UNISON was colluding with UoL management to undermine the 3 Cosas Campaign, I must say that from the perspective of the workers, it is difficult to imagine an agreement that could be less “relevant and effective”.
The final clause of the Recognition Agreement states: “This is a joint Recognition Agreement. Either The Company or the Union may terminate this agreement by giving no less than six months’ notice in writing to the other party.” I’m not sure how much longer UNISON and Cofely will continue to repeat the same tactics and lies, but at some point I am sure you will come to see how counter-productive they are. In the mean time our members and your workforce will continue to campaign until you recognise the union which actually represents them.