We have received an incredible letter from Tanya Vittorio, a representative of Cordant, which claims that we’re not in dispute and threatens striking members. Our General Secretary, Jason Moyer-Lee, has replied at length to refute the claims that Ms Vittorio makes, and to affirm that our strike ballot is lawful and will continue:

Tanya Vittorio wrote on Friday 10 March 2017:

Dear Sirs,

With regards to the above matter. I have now taken instructions from our operations team and they in turn have discussed matters with the University of London (UOL).

Whilst we have seen the email from the UOL to the IWGB in 2011 we do not consider this to give rise to any contractual entitlement. The UOL were not in a position to create legal relations with your members (our employees).

As we have given no undertaking to ensure that pay differentials are maintained no legal entitlement arises.

In addition we do not accept your assertion that some of our workers are on zero hours contracts. The workers you are referring to are on annual hours contracts and therefore you have no valid complaint here either.

Finally, the pay slips provided to our workers comply with the statutory requirements. We are required to do no more.

On that basis we are not prepared to negotiate with you in respect of these issues and we are fully prepared to embrace any strike action you wish to pursue.  As a Trade Union you are not recognised and have no bargaining, negotiation or consultations rights.

I am sure that you recognise your members will not be paid by us for the days they engage in any strike action. As we are not prepared to accept your demands or negotiate with you, then your strike action will be of no use to your members.

At this moment we do not consider that a trade dispute has arisen and therefore any strike action by your members will be unlawful and they will not attract statutory immunity. The correspondence you sent to our operations team in January 2016, does not have your members support. There is simply no evidence of this.

The attached list of signatures is nothing more than that (a list).  There is no reference in that list to those signatures being in support of the letter sent. Therefore, we do not accept that the definition of a trade dispute has been met.

In addition the Trade Union will not be entitled to rely on statutory immunity either. Therefore, any strike action in the absence of a trade dispute will result in legal action against your member and the Union. We would also be entitled to dismiss any employee that strikes unlawfully.

We also note that your notice to ballot referred to the 1992 Act. We assume that you are aware of the recently implemented Trade Union Act 2016 and the balloting requirements contained within it.

It is unfortunate that this matter can not be resolved. However, the business intend to take a firm stance on this matter.

I will inform ACAS that conciliation is no longer an option.

Kind regards

Tanya Vittorio | Group Employee Relations Consultant, Cordant Group

and Jason Moyer-Lee’s reply of Monday 13 March 2017:

Dear Ms. Vittorio,

Thank you for your email which I have read with with a mixture of amusement and absolute bewilderment.  I would love to keep this reply short and snappy, however as you have managed to cram so much absurdity into your 13 paragraphs, I do fear I will struggle to be pithy in my response.

I am glad to see in your letter that your operation team has “discussed matters with the University of London (UOL)”.  This clarifies for me, lest I had any doubt, that the various unlawful threats you go on to make about suing the union and dismissing workers is on behalf of and with the consent of the University of London.

As you know, the pay dispute over which we are currently balloting security guards arises because in 2011 the University of London made a promise to maintain their differentials with other outsourced workers as part of the London Living Wage implementation.  The University has of course failed to do this and security guards as a result have seen smaller and smaller pay rises each year as compared to other outsourced workers.  The beauty of outsourcing from the perspective of the unethical employer is that it allows a presumably reputable institution like the University of London to contract an incompetent middle-man company like yours to effectively manage relations with UoL workers on the University’s behalf.  Despite the fact that the University paid for the London Living Wage uplift, negotiated the implementation, and the dispute regards UoL security guards, you appear to be saying that the UoL’s promise is worthless because UoL is not technically the employer.  Whilst that may be the case legally, morally it is absurd.

You then go on to dispute that any of your workers are on 0-hours contracts, by implication drawing an important distinction between a 0-hours contract and a less-than-one-hour-per-day contract where all of the other hours routinely worked are on a 0-hours basis.  Indeed this is precisely the sort of contract you appear to be giving security guards (see attached by way of example).  To be clear, if a security guard has a guarantee of 336 hours in an entire year, to be allocated entirely at your discretion, yet they routinely work more hours than this, for all intents and purposes it is a 0 hours contract.  The person has no stability, will struggle to get a mortgage, and is unable to financially plan with any degree of certainty.  The fact that you somehow claim this is different because he is guaranteed on average less than one hour per day is preposterous.  Also, the attached letter indicates you are not offering all security guards their entitlement to the enhanced holiday and sick pay to which they are legally entitled.  I expect that to be rectified immediately, not least because this issue has already been raised before.  As convenient as you may find it to have someone consistently check your work, we have a union to run and cannot spend all of our time trying to correct Cordant’s pervasive incompetence.

Thank you for reminding me that the workers will not be paid for their strike action- very helpful.  And thanks as well for the heads up that in your opinion the strike will serve no purpose.  I’m afraid I’m going to have to beg to differ.  You see after a few days of the University being entirely shut down because there are no security guards or receptionists, and the halls of residence unable to function for the same reason, something tells me UoL will send its lackeys (that’s you guys) to negotiate.

Incredibly, you assert in your letter that you do not consider there to be a trade dispute and as such you may take legal action against the IWGB or the workers and you may dismiss the workers.  Here you appear to be dreadfully confused.  The definition of a trade dispute, according to s218 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 is:

“…a dispute between employers and workers, or between workers and workers, which is connected with one or more of the following matters-”  Included in the list of following matters is “terms and conditions of employment”.  And further down in the section it states: “A dispute to which a trade union or employer’s association is a party shall be treated for the purposes of this Part as a dispute to which workers or, as the case may be, employers are parties.”  In other words, if we are in dispute with you, then the workers we represent are in dispute.  Maybe take a minute to just pause and digest that.

You then go on to point out that the Trade Union Act 2016 has come into force and imply that we were unaware of this as our letter referred to the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.  That’s because the effect of the Trade Union Act 2016 was to amend the existing legislation.  As such the relevant law is the 1992 Act.  So to answer your question, yes we are aware of the impact of the Trade Union Act 2016.  It appears maybe you are not.

You close by stating that Cordant is going to “take a firm stance on this matter.”

In trying to analyse the incredible amount of absolute nonsense contained in your email, I am able to come up with two theories.  Either 1) despite being the in-house legal person you are so incredibly unaware of the relevant laws that the analogy of a doctor not knowing what paracetamol is comes to mind; or 2) you are aware of the relevant legislation and are purposely writing factually inaccurate emails in order to try and intimidate your workers out of strike action.  If theory 1 is correct I’m afraid I don’t have too much to say but I would recommend Cordant and the UoL have a little chat with you about the basics of employment law.  If theory 2 is correct we will pursue you in an employment tribunal.  My guess is your response to this email will probably tip the balance in favour of one of the two theories.

Regardless of what the explanation for your ridiculous email is, let me take this opportunity to make abundantly clear what our position is.  Unless Cordant/UoL engage in meaningful negotiations and make a suitable offer on pay that our members accept, the ballot for industrial action will continue.  And any strike will shut down the basic functioning of the University.  If Cordant makes one more mention of the possibility of dismissing our members, or even issues so much as a verbal warning, we will pursue you to the full extent of the law.  There is nothing we treat with more seriousness than the legal rights of our members and if you think you can act as though the law doesn’t apply to you without consequence, I strongly suggest you think again.

Once again, thanks very much for your email.

Kind regards,

Dr. Jason Moyer-Lee, General Secretary, IWGB