Email sent Wednesday 3 October to University of London Vice-Chancellor Peter Kopelman

Dear Professor Kopelman,

I am writing in a mixture of anger and astonishment to bring to your attention a second successive case of blatantly discriminatory behaviour on behalf of a senior Cordant Security manager and the failure of the University to deal with this.

You will be aware that in July the IWGB brought to your attention the case a Cordant manager posting openly racist and far-right material on Facebook (https://iwgb-universityoflondon.org/2018/07/10/university-of-londons-outsourcing-manager-under-fire-for-racist-facebook-posts/).

Following our revelations, they were removed from the University of London contract. However, rather than thank the IWGB for their actions, Our branch secretary was rebuked by the head of FM Services, Ghaz Alwani-Starr, for having openly revealed these details, and told that firstly this would better have been dealt with by having been brought to the University’s attention discretely, and secondly that this was not a failure of governance or the contractor, but simply one bad apple.

On both counts this has now shown to be untrue.

A current Cordant security manager was the subject of a grievance by his own staff in July. This covered numerous aspects of his behaviour, but perhaps most notably his racism, sexism and blatant homophobia.

In the grievance notes, one of the receptionists recounts how ‘he always has a comment about women who walk past, not to them, but about them to us, like “she’s so attractive, the things I would do to her”. There was one lady who worked in Birkbeck Employability called XXXX who he was always commenting about. She told me she felt very uncomfortable around him as he was just a perv’.

The same witness goes on to state: ‘a new potential receptionist was training called Fabio. And after he’d finished [the manager] said that he didn’t want that “Batty man” working here’.

Allegations of this seriousness ON THEIR OWN should have warranted at the very least suspension while a full investigation took place.

However, they were not isolated allegations. At the same time a complaint had been submitted independently by the Birkbeck employee in question. In it, she states how she had been continually harassed by the manager. Some of the most shocking passages are as follows:

Whilst asking XXXX about the classes and services the swimming pool have on offer, he briefly mentioned that on Saturdays you get the “Batty Boys”. I didn’t quite understand what he meant by that so I asked him to elaborate further, he then went on to explain that naked gay men are here all day flaunting their bits. I found this comment completely shocking … Furthermore, I went on to say that if he was homosexual would he appreciate comments as such being made? In response to this he replied “Bitch – Do I look gay to you” – there was no need for him to insult me in this way by calling me a “bitch” at which point I was very upset and completely appalled by his attitude.

He also made remarks and inappropriate comments about the clothing that I wear like my “backside is banging in that – I would deal with that all day long!’.

This complaint was emailed to Ghaz Alwani-Starr of the University of London on 12 July 2018. The only response that the complainant received was that this would be passed onto Cordant. However, Cordant made no effort to contact her, and she received no further response whatsoever regarding this until she prompted the University herself two months later. Their reply could not have been more dismissive:

Thank you for your email and apologies you have not received a reply to your initial email. Cordant have investigated and I understand that they spoke to you as part of the investigation. They have included the investigation and the matter will remain on file’.

The fact was that Cordant had not spoken to her. Nor had they made any effort to investigate, or they might have spoken to a witness to the incident above, who stated to us:

I believe there has been a few sexual comments in regards to homosexuality which may have offended a number of people at student central. I have only witnessed or heard of one comment made about this as I was within the vicinity at the time where a staff member looked shocked by this comment made. I am not sure about the relation they both have however making a comment of such nature as well as calling a staff member a bitch did not go down very well in my opinion’.

The grievance taken out by the receptionists took two months to report (only doing so after half a dozen prompts from the receptionists and our branch secretary), and astoundingly the outcome makes NO MENTION of his sexism and homophobia – instead merely stating that ‘there appears to be a breakdown in the relationship’ and offering mediation.

It is clear from the fact that no other witness statements were included in the grievance outcome that the whole process was a farce. Had Cordant been interested in getting to the truth of the matter they might, for example, have interviewed a trainee lifeguard, who stated to us:

The individual by the name of XXXX was the person that showed me around but I found him to be quite stand off and I felt that his attitude towards me could of been because of my sexuality. When XXXX contacted me and made me aware he had made that comment “I didn’t want to hire that batty boy anyway” confirmed my assumptions were correct. I feel disgusted that a person could say such words about myself and I am also questioning the university as a whole. How can you allow an individual that has a personal issue against gays and homosexuals to work in a diverse establishment.

This individual is clearly unfit to work at the University of London, an institution that confirmed only last week that its contractor are bound by its much-heralded ‘Diversity and Inclusion Strategy’, which states:

The University shall not discriminate against any person on the grounds of race, nationality, ethnic origin, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, age, religion, social background or political belief.

Of course, there are also serious legal issues which you need to consider, such as the University’s Public Sector Equality Duty pursuant to the Equality Act 2010.

Furthermore, it can no longer be passed off as a coincidence that the University’s outsourced companies are employing and protecting managers exhibiting discriminatory behaviour of this sort – it is clear that outsourcing produces a failure of oversight and accountability which threatens the very diversity and inclusivity the University claims to hold so dear.

Indeed, it makes a mockery of the claims made by Dr Alwani-Starr in her latest FM Services Review email this week, in which she states:

In recognition that there have been issues raised with me in relation to how our contractors are applying their policies locally, I am encouraged that Cordant have over the summer repeated key training for managers and supervisors to ensure proper adherence to their own policies. We are also taking action ourselves and putting in place a rigorous monitoring system to ensure that all terms of the contracts are being adhered to’.

This rigid monitoring system clearly does not extend to excluding or disciplining managers who refer to staff and colleagues as ‘batty boys’ and ‘bitches’.

When our general secretary raised the issue of the previous Cordant manager he ended as follows:

Now your usual tactic is to place the blame for all things outsourcing on the contractors themselves. Not this time. You and only you chose Cordant for your contracts. No one else made that decision except the University of London. This is your responsibility. I want to know what you’re going to do about it, and I want to know now.

This situation is even more serious, given the University’s role in covering it up and the fact that the staff who were brave enough to raise this issue are still at risk, as are all potential visitors and occupants of Student Central.

Can you confirm you will be taking immediate action?

Please feel free to get in touch if you need any further information.

Best wishes

Emiliano Mellino
Organiser/Press officer
IWGB

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