Dear University of London Management,
I am writing to provide you with some of the highlights of our recent employment tribunal case against Cofely Workplace Limited for trade union victimization. As you will be aware, before you shut down the Garden Halls student residences at the end of June, 2014 the cleaners and other outsourced workers at these halls were put at risk of redundancy. Cofely went through redundancy procedures and Garden Halls workers were given the opportunity to apply for permanent positions to avoid redundancy. There were over 30 cleaners and porters and 9 permanent positions. All of the IWGB activists applied yet none of them got the permanent jobs at this time. This is why we submitted an employment tribunal claim on behalf of seven of the most active women cleaners at the Garden Halls.
To defend the claim Cofely had seven of its managers give evidence, among which the infamous Sharon Bracey who at the time of the redundancies doubled as the Cleaning Services Manager and the UNISON trade union rep. The revelations which came out of these managers’ testimony confirmed that: 1) the level of collusion between Cofely and UNISON was even higher than previously thought; 2) a group of preschoolers would probably run the Cofely contract more competently than the current management.
Given that the tribunal lasted nearly two weeks, I wouldn’t want to bore you with all the details. However, here are a few gems:
- Andy Combe, the Cofely manager in charge of the University of London contract, testified that Cofely merely informed University of London of its decision to improve terms and conditions and that the University did not pressure Cofely to improve these terms and conditions.
- Andy Combe lied under oath by denying having ever said statements that he submitted in a witness statement for a separate previous proceeding (we couldn’t call him out on this in the tribunal because the previous witness statement was not part of the current case’s documents).
- Both Andy Combe and another senior manager were tasked with reviewing the entire redundancy procedure to ensure it was fair and consistent. Yet both of these managers admitted in their testimony that actually they hadn’t reviewed the entire system, that Sharon Bracey had done the scoring incorrectly, and that they only found out on the day of the tribunal how Sharon had calculated the scores and allocated jobs. The other senior manager even admitted that he didn’t know what the impact of Sharon’s scoring system was!
- Sharon Bracey admitted that instead of basing the “interview” selection criteria points on the interview alone, that she used information she knew about each individual to allocate points.
- Sharon Bracey was never elected as trade union rep for UNISON but rather she was appointed.
- Sharon Bracey stated that she joined UNISON “just after everyone else left.”
- Sharon Bracey stated that she hadn’t wanted to become a UNISON rep but that a senior manager at Cofely asked her to become a rep and that this was one of the reasons she decided to take on the role.
- Sharon Bracey was the most senior UNISON official at the University of London Cofely contract but admitted that she had no idea how many members UNISON had. It was put to her that UNISON might not have had more than 5 members at the contract and she stated that she didn’t know.
- During the more than one year that Sharon was rep she didn’t attend a single meeting with UNISON members and didn’t raise a single issue with Cofely or UNISON on behalf of members.
- Sharon stated that while she was UNISON rep her managerial duties always came first.
Given both the exorbitant legal fees that Cofely must have paid to defend an eight day case as well as the highly damaging information that came out in its managers’ testimony, Cofely’s decision to defend this case rather than settle is all the more extraordinary. Given the amount of contradictions and utterly shocking admissions made by Cofely’s witnesses, its decision to call seven managers to the witness stand is also difficult to understand. Perhaps Cofely should follow the advice the Speaker of the House recently gave when dressing down an MP: “It is better to remain silent and look a fool than speak and remove any lingering doubt!”
In closing, I can’t help but point out the ironic tension between Cofely’s eye-watering incompetence on the one hand, and the stale rhetoric of supposed private sector efficiency justifying outsourcing on the other. This tension is all the more worrying if you take into account the “higher salaries for better talent” argument used by University Vice-Chancellors every year they defend their decision to increase their six-figure salaries. If this logic were to be applied throughout the University of London, I’m not sure the cleaners are the ones who should be on the lowest salaries in the building!