A letter from IWGB UoL Secretary, Charlotte Powell, to staff and students at University of Greenwich:
You may have read already about the situation of security officers at the University of Greenwich and our campaign against intimidation and discrimination.
Yesterday University of Greenwich Vice-Chancellor Jane Harrington published a statement in response to our campaign which is factually wrong on several points and wilfully misleading on others.
I would like to set the record straight on these points, and clarify the concerns and demands of the security officers, so that together we can push to ensure fair treatment of all workers at the University of Greenwich.
To quote the Vice-Chancellor’s statement:
“We are committed to challenging racism and discrimination as a university and we hold all our contractors to the same standard.”
At the IWGB we welcome all public commitments by employers to challenge racism and discrimination, but having contacted Jane directly with our concerns on four occasions we received only copy & pasted replies from others on her behalf. We have yet to see any evidence that University management has followed through on a commitment even to investigate racism and discrimination in Sodexo, let alone challenge it. As for the standard to which they are holding contractors, it seems to be a standard of the lowest common denominator, in which University management abnegates responsibility while allowing Sodexo managers to treat workers however they like.
“There is wilful misrepresentation and misinformation circulating about the actions the university has taken, and my personal beliefs, so let me be clear: there is no evidence of discrimination in the way Sodexo have paid their staff.
They have confirmed that recent payments have been made solely on the basis of hours worked during the pandemic. There is no evidence that any payments have been made based on ethnicity.”
This is wrong, as I will demonstrate. Moreover it is deeply concerning that, when Black and Brown workers at the university have raised, in good faith, the concern that they believe they have been discriminated against, the Vice-Chancellor should respond in essence by saying “prove it.” We have presented our case publicly, after being ignored when raising this directly, the management must take this seriously and transparently demonstrate any evidence to the contrary.
While the security officers were celebrated as ‘heroes’ for coming in during lockdown and for now ensuring that the University is safe during the pandemic by taking on extra tasks (eg checking that people do not go in without masks and the frequent opening of windows to ensure good air ventilation) they have not been rewarded with Sodexo’s bonus scheme, while other workers, such as the porters, have. The security officers who have been coming in during lockdown deserve a bonus too.
The fact that the porters, who are all White British, have been paid while the security officers , the vast majority of whom are BAME, have not is deeply concerning and potentially discriminatory. The fact that the University has refused to clarify the rationale for these decisions by its subcontractor when asked on multiple occasions by myself and other representatives of the workers from the IWGB union also raises serious concerns about their commitment to racial equality in the workplace.
Jane states that the rationale for paying the bonus payment to porters was “solely on the basis of hours worked during the pandemic.” However, this is contrary to what the porters were told: that it was a payment for coming in during lockdown; there was never any mention of hours. Moreover, many security officers worked similar hours during the pandemic to porters who received the bonus. We have therefore urged the University to ensure all the outsourced staff who worked during the pandemic receive this bonus and to investigate and provide staff with a breakdown of who has received this bonus so far by race and ethnicity.
It’s best to hear this from the workers themselves. Watch this video and read what Abi, a Nigerian security officer has to say:
“I have been working at the University of Greenwich for almost 14 years. During this pandemic period, my life has been placed on the line notwithstanding my health conditions to keep staff and students safe. Nonetheless, the University has denied our requests to give us majority BAME security staff hazard pay for the risks we undertake. Meanwhile, other staff that are LARGELY WHITE BRITISH have been given bonuses for working during the pandemic. Still, we are referred to as “heroes” but we are being used in an expendable manner. When we ask questions or speak out, then intimidation and victimisation tactics are employed against us. We therefore ask to be given the bonus and brought IN-HOUSE for fair treatment and to end racist treatment of us. In these critical times, we protect you and the community at large. We ask you to protect us as well and treat us as the “heroes” that you call us.”
Watch this video and read what Clive, a white British porter, has to say. He too has worked for the University of Greenwich for a long time, over 15 years:
“I am a porter currently working at Greenwich university on the Greenwich maritime site. While working through the lockdown from the 23rd of march I was working for Interserve until the 18th of May. For the first two weeks of starting with Sodexo on the 18th may I worked random days approximately 2 days per week on random hours with no fixed hours. After that I was in on a full time basis up to the present and at no stage was I furloughed in this period at all. As regards the £300 I received, I was called by the office and told by my manager that I would receive a £300 pound payment for coming in all through covid and I was being rewarded for my hard work and I received this payment approximately a month later.”
You can watch more videos from other security officers here.
In her statement, Jane goes on to write, “there is no evidence of discrimination in the way [Sodexo] are managing allegations of a serious incident involving one of their security officers and one of our students.
This has been subject to a thorough investigation that will shortly conclude. I appreciate that this has taken time, but it is right and fair that such issues are properly looked into, for everyone involved.”
Kingsley, one of the security officers, is facing an extremely harsh disciplinary procedure, following a complaint from a student after he tried to physically prevent them from entering the library without a mask. Kingsley maintains he was following the policies given to him, but wishes to apologise for any offence or hurt caused to the student. Kingsley has a clear record and is a dedicated member of the UoG staff. Nonetheless, it appears Sodexo is eager to dismiss him and are acting unreasonably harshly towards him. It seems that they are acting so harshly in order to undermine the collective organising of the security staff more widely. This comes in the context of several smaller incidents that point towards trade union victimisation of active union members by Sodexo.
Given the lack of training provided, the unclear guidance and the amount of pressure that was put on the officers that no student should enter the University without face masks, it is totally disproportionate to dismiss him over this matter.
The “thorough investigation” to which Jane refers is one in which Sodexo has refused to provide key evidence repeatedly requested by Kingsley’s trade union representative in advance of his disciplinary hearing. This is a highly concerning breach of Kingsley’s rights and brings the legitimacy of the entire disciplinary process into question.
The University is responsible for its subcontractors. It is therefore the university’s responsibility to ensure a fair disciplinary process and prevent him being dismissed purely for Sodexo managers’ ulterior motive of undermining trade union organising. The Vice-Chancellor’s statement yesterday suggests she has full confidence in the actions of Sodexo. If she maintains this position and refuses to intervene in this injustice, then Vice-Chancellor Jane Harrington is enabling trade union victimisation and intimidation.
“Our contract with Sodexo has enabled us to ensure that contracted staff are paid the Real Living Wage and will provide enhanced training and employment opportunities for our students.”
It is disingenuous to imply that outsourcing key workers to a multinational corporation “enables” the university to pay the Real Living Wage, when this wage was only introduced to the outsourced workers after the cafe workers’ strike at the University of Greenwich in autumn 2019. Even after the victory of that strike forced a renegotiation of the contract with the university’s subcontractor, the wages outsourced staff are paid are lower than the wages these workers could expect elsewhere, for instance security staff at University College London are paid up to £15 per hour dependent on their length of service. These staff deserve better than to be told the University’s contract with Sodexo is something they should value.
“We will not shy away from difficult discussions or from challenging discrimination of any kind. This willingness to celebrate our strengths and to face and explore our own weaknesses should not be mistaken for privilege or complacency and neither will we be moved from our course by those who wish to undermine our commitment to this work.”
Factual inaccuracies and wilful misrepresentations aside, this conclusion is the most insulting and egregious part of the entire statement. The implication is that the “course” the university is following in “challenging discrimination” is being “undermined” by the campaign of Greenwich’s security officers. Simply put, these Black and Brown workers who are concerned that they are being discriminated against, intimidated, and disrespected are the problem. Their campaign, which has escalated in the face of a deafening silence from university management, is undermining the university’s work on diversity and challenging discrimination. The University management are suggesting that the university’s BAME workers speaking out about their concerns of discrimination is undermining the university’s anti-racist work.
Frankly I can’t believe that Jane felt able to say this on public record, and I urge her to apologise promptly and publicly to the security officers for making such a remark.
These are the issues at hand over which the security officers have taken the decision to take strike action: the uneven allocation of bonuses, the attack on Kingsley, and their conditions as outsourced workers.
The security officers want to be brought in-house. We welcome the Vice-Chancellor’s clear words on challenging racism and discrimination at the Univeristy of Greenwich and believe that, by bringing the outsourced workers (security officers, porters, cleaners, cafe workers and others) in-house, the University of Greenwich can make good on those words.
Outsourcing is indirect discrimination. It systematically denies a group of workers that is, in the large majority, BAME from enjoying the better terms and conditions of in-house staff that is, in the large majority, White. The Vice-Chancellor can break the contract with Sodexo, which has a break clause in January, it is time now that she commits to challenging discrimination and to breaking the contract.
The security officers therefore demand:
- that Kingsley’s suspension is lifted and that he returns to work
- that all security officers that worked during the spring lockdown receive a bonus
- that the university breaks the contract with Sodexo by January and brings all outsourced workers in-house
What you can do:
- speak out on behalf of Kingsley,
- speak out to support bonus payments to our essential workers
- donate to the IWGB union Universities of London branch to support their campaign and their strike preparations
To stay informed follow us on twitter @IWGBUoL