Today IWGB Universities of London Branch Secretary Charlotte Powell sent two letters to every member of the University of Greenwich Governing Body on behalf of security officers ahead of their meeting on Tuesday 24 November to demand outsourced staff are brought in-house:
This email contains two letters, and I ask you all to read them both. Below is a collective letter from your security officers at Greenwich which I am passing on to you. Attached to this email is a letter from myself, as an elected trade union representative of your workers, detailing the practical case for bringing your outsourced staff in-house.
As your contract with Sodexo has a break clause in January, and we are preparing for industrial action should the university not agree to bring staff in-house, I urge you to make use of tomorrow’s meeting to discuss this urgent matter. I apologise for only sending this to you with only 1 day’s notice. However, we were only made aware of your meeting today.
To Ms Bronwyn Hill, as chair: I ask you to ensure that these items are discussed in the meeting tomorrow.
Letter from security officers at Greenwich to the members of the Governing Body:
Dear members of the University Governing Body,
We – the security officers at the University of Greenwich – urge you to listen to us in our demand to be taken In-House under the direct management of the University of Greenwich and to stop us being subcontracted to Sodexo by January 2021.
These are exceptional times and we are essential frontline workers that enable the University to remain open and to be safe. Moreover, recent figures have shown that as security guards we are some of the workers most at risk of dying of Covid-19. Recently the university has praised us as “heroes” for our work, but for too long we have not been treated as such.
We are very proud to work for the University of Greenwich, but like the other facilities staff, such as cleaners and porters, we are very unhappy with the outsourcing arrangement. It seems to us that Sodexo’s treatment of us is not in line with the University’s values: bullying and intimidatory treatment by Sodexo is frequent and they are rarely held accountable for it. Moreover, we have worse pay, pensions and parental leave entitlement than directly-employed staff.
We also do not understand why we were not paid a bonus for coming into work during the lockdown and for our hard work keeping the University safe throughout the pandemic (and taking on a lot of extra tasks to ensure health and safety). Other workers, such as the porters were given a £300 bonus, and we believe we deserve a bonus too.
Outsourcing is an inherently discriminatory, two-tier system where we are treated worse than direct employees for no good reason. Only bringing us in-house will right this wrong.
While the University is calling us heroes, we would like to kindly ask you to also follow these words with actions by treating us with the respect and dignity we deserve.
We therefore urge you to read the brief from our elected union branch secretary in which we lay out the reasons why everyone would benefit from the solution of bringing our services back in house by January 2021. We stand firm and united in our demands: please show us respect by including us in the University of Greenwich workforce and ending this practice of outsourcing.
We sign this letter as elected representatives of the security guards at the University of Greenwich:
Letter to Governing Body members from Charlotte Powell:
Dear members of the University Governing Body,
As you are aware, the outsourced workers at the University of Greenwich together with their trade union, the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB), are campaigning to be brought in-house. At a time when your outsourced security officers are being celebrated as ‘heroes’ and have the highest coronavirus death toll of any UK profession, it is important that you act urgently and listen to their demands.
You might also be aware that there is a break clause in the contract the University of Greenwich has with Sodexo which allows the University to end the contract by January 2021. Contracts can furthermore be broken in special or exceptional circumstances (such as a pandemic).
It is therefore an urgent matter and golden opportunity to break the contract with Sodexo by January 2021. And we therefore request you to discuss this at your meeting tomorrow.
Several universities in London have already decided to bring their facility services back in-house. The University of Greenwich has an excellent in-house estates and facilities team as well as HR team. As such the University of Greenwich has the capacity to bring the service in-house by January. Due to the TUPE regulations everything would stay in place and if the University is still doubtful about the transition it can task consultants who specialise on these issues to manage the transition. In short, it has been done elsewhere and it can be done at the University of Greenwich by January 2021.
In this brief, we outline the reasons for in-housing the facility services in January in more detail. These are the points covered:
- The insourcing of services will either be cost neutral or most likely save money for the University of Greenwich.
- There is a trend towards insourcing in London’s Universities.
- The costs of campaigns and industrial action that not only harm the reputation of the University of Greenwich but also might harm the University financially can be avoided.
Insourcing is cost neutral or saves money:
As universities must pay VAT, the University of Greenwich would be eligible for the UK government’s full refund model, Section 41, which means that by insourcing these services the universities would save the cost of VAT. The facility contract with Sodexo is worth £105 million without VAT for a 5 year period. This means that the VAT for this is £21m for a five year period – a significant cost which can be saved if the service is in-sourced.
Several reports have reached the conclusion that insourcing of facility services would indeed be cheaper than outsourcing the service. In the 2016 report that SOAS commissioned from APSE, the following recommendation was made:
“The Mott MacDonald report was commissioned by SOAS Outsourced Contracts Working Group ‘partly as a result of pressure from Justice for Cleaners Group in 2013.’ In the report it is stated that ‘SOAS has asked APSE about the costing for in-house Integrated Facilities Management, which was already analysed as part of the Mott MacDonald Report in 2013; the in-house option was reported to be the lowest cost at that time.”
Reviewing the earlier Mott MacDonald report the APSE 2016 report finds that insourcing the services at SOAS should “achieve a cost neutral position”.
The cost neutral or cost saving impact of insourcing has been further evidenced by the Association for Public Service Excellence’ s 2019 report titled ‘Rebuilding Capacity: the case for insourcing public contracts’. This report also outlines exactly how insourcing can be done.
The trend towards insourcing facility services in London’s universities:
Insourcing has been successfully implemented at a number of universities and institutions.
- The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) insourced its cleaning services in Spring 2018.
- The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) stopped outsourcing its core support services, namely cleaning; catering; conferencing and events hospitality; portering; security; mechanical and electrical services; post room; helpdesk and reception teams – to private contractors from September 2018 onwards. The insourced workers were guaranteed equal pay and conditions to the existing inhouse SOAS employees, including sick pay, pensions and holiday entitlement. When announcing this decision SOAS stated that putting the ‘whole workforce on same terms and conditions reflects our [SOAS] values of social justice and equality’.
- King’s College London brought its cleaning and security services inhouse in 2019. When announcing the decision to insource cleaning and security services King’s College referred to its moral obligation to do so and stated that ‘bringing the people who deliver these vital services onto our payroll and properly into the King’s community is the right thing to do’.
- Goldsmiths, University of London brought its security services in-house this year in February 2020, following the insourcing of its cleaning service in May 2019.
- Birkbeck brought its cleaning staff in-house at the beginning of 2020.
- This month, November 2020, the University of London brought its cleaners in-house, having previously in-housed security officers, porters & receptionists.
The costs of campaigns and industrial action:
In-housing campaigns can harm the reputation of universities and cost the university money, so it is best to avoid them. Last year, at the University of Greenwich the café workers went on strike, which received national press coverage. In 2018, the University of London received public criticism for spending £415,000 on additional security during protests in support of outsourced workers. By the end of the dispute, it is estimated the University of London spent well over £1,000,000 on additional security measures.
In the last two weeks there has already been growing social media coverage around the institutional discrimination security guards at the University of Greenwich face and the security guards have now announced that they plan to ballot for strike action over in-house.
On a related note, for extra clarification on the point of institutional inequality: Outsourcing is systematic indirect racial discrimination as the outsourced workforce (majority BAME) is denied the better working conditions of in-house staff (majority White, as you know currently only 34.5% employees of UoG are BAME).
In all the insourcing examples stated in section 2, vibrant campaigns by workers and students have preceded the decision to insource these vital services. Such campaigns can cause reputational and financial damages.
For example the 2016 report that SOAS commissioned from the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE), a not-for-profit local government body which specialises in local authority front line services. APSE carried out an independent review of the SOAS facility management and found that:
‘the campaign has taken up a significant amount of time on all sides in recent years and has affected income in relation to the recent student occupation in November 2015. This is estimated to have cost the University £64,600 in terms of loss of conferencing and catering income and costs of relocating customers to external venues.’
By making the just and right decision to insource these vital services the University of Greenwich can avoid the risk that campaigns and industrial actions would negatively impact on the University’s image and potentially cause significant extra costs for the university. To avoid the dispute would be in everyone’s best interest.
The security officers and their union the IWGB would be happy to meet with representatives of the UoG Governing Body to discuss these matters further.
We wish to make it extremely clear at this point that should you not agree to our extremely reasonable request for outsourced staff to be brought in-house, then we will proceed towards a campaign and industrial action.
Secretary, IWGB Universities of London