IWGB ballots cleaners at the Royal College of Music for strike over cut in hours and potential redundancies

  • Hours cut and shifts changed to times that conflict with cleaners’ other jobs
  • The IWGB is exploring a legal challenge
  • IWGB launched legal proceedings against previous cleaning contractor over illegal deduction of wages. Case was settled in July.

3 November: The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) is balloting cleaners at the Royal College of Music (RCM) to strike, following proposals that could result in most of them being made redundant.

Cleaning contractor Tenon FM, which was recently awarded the contract to provide cleaning services at the RCM, has unilaterally and without consulting the cleaners decided to cut the hours in half and change the times of the shifts. The new shifts are at times when most of the cleaners have other jobs, meaning that they will not be able to accept them and would consequently be dismissed.

Not only is the move cruel and arbitrary, but is potentially unlawful under the UK’s TUPE regulations 2006, as it comes immediately following a transfer from the previous cleaning contractor. The IWGB is exploring a legal challenge.

These are employees of long-standing, many of whom have served the college for more than five years and are already underpaid, as they work unsociable hours for no additional recompense.

The school and Tenon FM have ignored repeated attempts by the the union to sit down and discuss the issues, leaving the workers with little option but to launch a collective grievance and go on strike.

It’s deeply unfair that after five years of loyal service, from one day to the next they just take away my job,” says Wilson Ayala Romerocleaner and IWGB rep at the RCM. “I clean their offices, I clean their classrooms and I am as much an employee as anyone else who works here, so I should be treated with the same respect. Despite that, they keep on treating us cleaners as if we were second class employees.”

These cleaners have a long history of suffering at the hands of the companies contracted out by the college to provide cleaning services. The IWGB was forced to launch legal proceedings against the previous cleaning contractor, Kingdom, after it unlawfully withheld thousands of pounds in wages from cleaners at the RCM, the Royal College of Arts and Heythrop College. Following a process that lasted over a year, the company ended up settling in July, a day before the hearing was set to start.

It is disgraceful that such a prestigious institution as the Royal College of Music treats its lowest paid and most vulnerable workers in such an arbitrary and unjust fashion, all the while hiding behind Tenon FM,” says IWGB University of London branch secretary Danny Millum. “We will not tolerate this ill treatment of our members and until the RCM reverses the decision the campaign of strikes and protests will only escalate.”

The problems faced by the cleaners at the RCM are symptomatic of the business model of outsourcing, where employers can shirk their responsibilities towards their workers by not employing them directly and instead having them work for a facilities management company or an agency.

The IWGB is campaigning to end outsourcing at the University of London, with a protest planned for 21 November at Senate House.

Photos of an impromptu protest at the Royal College of Music that took place on Tuesday can be found here.