Thank you for your very threatening letter which I received on 21 May, 2014. In this letter, which you wrote on behalf of your client, Cofely Workplace Limited, you accuse the IWGB of “False and malicious claims” against Cofely and its employees, and even go as far as to say “If we are made aware of any defamatory comments made in relation to Cofely or its employees by or on behalf of the IWGB, we will advise our client to take action without further notice to restrain the publication and dissemination of that material and secure a correction.” I must say, given the authoritarian and intimidating tone of the letter, as well as the fact that it was riddled with factual inaccuracies and/or misleading statements, had your firm’s “TLT” logo not been clearly displayed at the top right of the page, I would have assumed you were a manager at Cofely University of London contract. As your allegations and threats against the IWGB appear to be based on a number of emails I wrote to Cofely management at the University of London contract regarding the Garden Halls redundancy procedures, please allow me the opportunity to clarify. As you also accuse us of publicising these allegations, we are making this letter public in order to ensure our position has been clearly communicated.
In paragraph 2, you allege that we are trying to create an “impression” that Cofely has not complied fully with its redundancy obligations, and that this isn’t true. Firstly, we are not attempting to create any “impression”, merely just report the facts to Cofely and University of London management, as well as our opinion of how the procedures are being conducted. In general we have complained more about incompetence than about law-breaking (at least as regards the Garden Halls). However there are a few areas of the law which I believe have not been followed. I do not believe that “fair consultation” has occurred while proposals for how to deal with the redundancies were still at a formative stage, adequate information was not provided by the employer in a timely manner, and there certainly was not “conscientious consideration” given by the employer to the views of the employees. In particular, the fact that Cofely has for nearly a year been issuing temporary contracts as a way of dealing with the Garden Halls issue (by Accounts Manager Andy Combe’s own admission), is evidence that the “formative stage” was many many months ago. The approach Cofely has been taking to date has been in distinct contradiction to the desires of the workforce (see R v British Coal Corporation and Rowell v Hubbard Group Services). Furthermore, Cofely published a number of selection criteria before consultations had finished (Trade Union and Labour Relations Consolidation Act 1992).
In paragraphs 3-4 of your letter you complain that I have accused Cofely of “characteristic incompetence”, “refusal to engage”, “blatant disregard for the union that the majority of Garden Hall workers have chosen” and of conducting the redundancy procedures in an “amateurish” nature. I stand by every one of these statements, and here’s why:
In the email you refer to with the words “characteristic incompetence”, here are the examples that were given: “People who have barely worked at the Garden Halls have been included in the redundancy pool, a number of people have had their length or service calculated incorrectly (always erring on the side of reducing the redundancy payment), many people were under the impression that the individual consultations were job interviews as the process had not been properly explained, etc.” However, in the 3 days that have passed since I wrote the email, there have been more examples of incompetence. For example, yesterday I accompanied a couple workers in their one-to-one consultations. The manager conducting these consultations was Agata Korkosz. Ms. Korkosz was unable to answer the most elementary of questions about the redundancy procedures, despite the fact that she was conducting consultations on these procedures. Furthermore, and despite the fact that she is the Recruitment Manager for security guards in the redundancy procedures (i.e. she plays a key role in deciding who is made redundant and who isn’t) she was unfamiliar with the proposed selection criteria. Finally, among the proposed selection criteria, points will be allocated according to workers’ demonstration of Cofely’s four company values (commitment, drive, daring, cohesion). Ms. Korkosz was unable to name these values. Additionally, another senior manager who will take part in evaluating candidates and who conducted a one-to-one in which I was present today, was unable to name all four of the company values. Furthermore, there was enormous confusion about the one-to-one dates and times, with some workers not being allocated times, others being advised with very little notice, etc. I’m not sure how many errors and mistakes and how much created confusion will suffice for you to agree that “incompetent” is an appropriate descriptor, but for us the bar has been reached. In terms of Cofely’s (and previously Balfour Beatty Workplaces’) managerial incompetence at the University of London more generally, over the past three years I believe we have amassed sufficient evidence to comfortably substantiate this claim. It is worth pointing out that the IWGB is not the only organisation who thinks the management at this contract is incompetent. A recent article in the Guardian revealed that some senior managers at the University of London (the client) also questioned Balfour Beatty Workplace’s competence (http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/mar/24/cost-private-contracts-universities-documents-services-workers). Of particular interest is the following excerpt from the article which discusses an internal University of London document: “The document ends by asking “if BBW has delivered our initial aspirations” for the contract. The criteria include “cost savings and good service”, and across all of them the report concludes: “this is doubtful”.”
In terms of the accusation that Cofely “refuses to engage” and ignores the union that represents the majority of Garden Halls workers, I’m not sure where the confusion or disputation of fact lie. But just for the sake of clarity, we are not accusing Cofely of refusing to engage with UNISON, the recognised trade union. That is precisely what we are complaining of. Cofely engages and consults with a union whose workplace rep is the Cleaning Services Manager and also the Recruitment Manager for the redundancy procedures. It is also a union that the majority of workers at the Garden Halls and at the University of London contract more generally do not trust. This is why they left UNISON. To say that the majority of Garden Halls Cofely workers are members of the IWGB is a statement of fact. To say that Cofely is not consulting with the IWGB is also a statement of fact.
In paragraph 6 of your letter you take issue with the fact that we have named two Cofely managers, Sharon Bracey and Agata Korkosz, expressing concern over issues of discrimination. Just to clarify, on Sharon Bracey what was said was that Cofely had been taken to an employment tribunal over allegations of discrimination, which were mainly based on Ms. Bracey’s actions. This is a statement of fact and was well known at the time it occurred. The fact that these types of allegations have been made against a manager in charge of recruitment is concerning for the IWGB.
With regard to allegations against Ms. Korkosz, you state that Cofely has made investigations into allegations and found that they were not substantiated. This is an interesting statement on a couple points. Firstly, I don’t think it’s entirely true. I have been made aware of email correspondence regarding past allegations against Ms. Korkosz for discriminatory remarks and I think to say that Cofely found the allegations to be unsubstantiated is a mis-characeterisation. However, most importantly, there are allegations which are outstanding. We are in the middle of a disciplinary procedure for a worker whose defence is partly based on an allegation of racially motivated charges. There are a number of signed witness statements of Black African security guards alleging some form of racial discrimination against Ms. Korkosz. Cofely has not yet seen these statements and the disciplinary appeal has not yet been heard. The fact that you claim that Cofely has already investigated the accusation and come to a decision is highly incriminating and your letter will be presented as evidence if the on-going case results in an employment tribunal claim for unfair dismissal.
In paragraph 8 you say that among other things, the fact that I am cc’ing a number of people in my emails about the Garden Halls procedures is evidence of a deliberate effort to publicise false allegations. It is worth pointing out that the people cc’d in the emails are all directly involved in the Garden Halls situation, primarily being Cofely and University of London managers. Given the University of London’s influence over Cofely management, it is entirely reasonable to include the management of this institution in these types of discussions.
In sum, despite the fact that you accuse the IWGB of disseminating false and malicious claims, your own letter is riddled with factual inaccuracies and misleading statements. It is perhaps worth emphasizing that the IWGB will not be intimidated, will not take orders from you or Cofely, and certainly will not be silenced. And before you advise your client to take legal action to silence a very small, resource-poor union which consists primarily of low-paid migrant workers, I suggest that you advise your client and the University of London to think long and hard about whether they are willing to deal with the public backlash this will create.
Dr Jason Moyer-Lee