Nearly 100 security officers working at University College London have signed an open letter to the University Council drawing its attention to extremely serious issues relating to Axis, the university’s outsourcing contractor.
Dear Professor Arthur,
We are writing as security officers currently employed by Axis on the University College London contract to bring to your attention and that of the wider UCL community the conditions, which those staff who keep your buildings and people safe currently endure.
The security contract was taken over by Axis on 1 November 2018, more than four months ago. We consider this to have been a probationary period, and one which they have unfortunately failed, as a result of their inability to resolve the following issues:
1. Loss of personal data
As part of the TUPE process when an employee moves over to a new company they are asked to supply a comprehensive schedule of data. This includes bank details, copy of passport, national insurance number, full name, addresses in the last 5 years and other biographical details.
Guards provided this information to Axis (in hard copy), only to be later contacted and asked to supply data that had already been provided. We estimate around 70% of the guards were asked to resupply data, including passports and bank details.
We believed that Axis had lost a quantity of the hard copy data we had given them, and this was confirmed in an email by an Axis manager in response to union enquiries. Despite this, Axis have subsequently denied losing the data and claimed that it had just not been sent in the first place by the guards.
Not only the loss of this data extremely serious, but the fact that Axis have chosen to blame officers and cover up the truth makes them unfit to hold this contract. The matter has now been referred to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
2. Loss of all holiday information
Despite Axis having had 3 months prior to the 1 November 2018 transfer to shadow the outgoing contractor (CIS), they made the astonishing revelation after the handover that they had not obtained any of the holiday records for the 200 or so officers who had TUPE’d from CIS.
Quite simply, this meant that they had no record of the holiday that had already been taken that year, and no way of knowing what their officers were entitled to. When this came to light, rather than take responsibility for the situation, they blamed CIS.
We believe that it is one of the basic requirements of an employer to be able to handle holiday issues, and would add that the failure to flag this up prior to handover casts grave doubts on the capability of the UCL facilities team tasked with overseeing the transfer.
3. Failure to pay holidays correctly, as well as other pay problems
As a consequence of the above, the payment of holidays to Axis staff has been utterly chaotic for the last 4 months. Issues regarding holidays and pay break down into a number of categories:
- Paying guards at a rate lower than their usual hourly rate.
- Holiday pay missing completely from pay.
- Paying holiday at less than the 12 hours that they work in a shift.
- Not recognizing the correct number of holidays a guard had remaining for the pay year.
- Not recognizing when guards had been given permission to carry over holiday from the previous year by the previous security company.
- Guards unable to book holiday on the company’s holiday system (Timegate).
- Guards being placed for months on the wrong tax code, in some cases depriving them of thousands of pounds.
For December alone, the IWGB union reported more than 30 cases where errors had been made, and there were doubtless many more errors, which were not brought to their attention. That this should occur for one month is shameful. That four months after the contract was taken over by a company that boasted of their record of low payroll issues guards should continue to be underpaid on a regular basis is unacceptable.
Indeed, given the frequency of these payroll errors for a predominantly BAME outsourced workforce versus the virtually zero rate of error for mostly white in-house staff, this constitutes indirect discrimination.
It should be re-iterated that we (with cleaners and caterers) are the lowest paid staff in the University – one missed or reduced wage packet can lead to direct debits bouncing, mortgage payments failing and overdraft charges being incurred. It is a scandal that this has been allowed to occur with nothing more than a shrug of the shoulders from UCL.
4. Failure to communicate
Since taking over the contract, the communication from Axis has been extremely poor. Some key examples of this are:
- Failure to remedy mistakes. Despite the fact that they must have realised that they did not have the correct holiday information for any of their guards (see above) Axis made no effort to contact them. When the IWGB flagged this up, they then promised to send a letter to all staff to elicit the relevant missing information. No such letter was sent – and when challenged on this Axis first lied and claimed it had been, and then when confronted with the truth said they had email ‘some’ of their staff.
- Lack of response. Axis managers often do not reply to or even acknowledge emails. Staff were constantly being told another manager is dealing with a problem, or that they need to talk to head office, who then passes them back to a site manager. Now they have one manager to deal with problems, but it took too long to appoint and communicate this to the guards.
- Passing the blame. First of all they blamed CIS, the previous security company, saying that they had not supplied the information they were required to supply, or that it was just inaccurate. They seemed to suggest that the very guards who they were failing to pay properly were LYING about having supplied information to them and about the details of the holiday entitlement. They hinted that individual CIS managers, some of whom themselves were TUPE’d over to Axis, were taking actions designed to sabotage the handover. This is very subjective, but they seemed, at times, to suggest that UCL had not told them everything they should have been told before tendering for the contract.
- Failure to honour promises. At and IWGB meeting on 9 January with Mark West and Lesley May we asked Mark and Lesley to request Axis send a written apology to each guard’s home address, as a first step in winning back the guard’s confidence in Axis. They promised this would happen. We assume Mark and Lesley relayed our request. A letter was sent, but it did not contain anything we believe could pass as an apology. Finally an email containing an apology was sent – on the 5 February, nearly a month later.
5. Failure to provide uniform
Despite the contract having been in place for more than 4 months, many security guards at UCL are still without proper uniforms. Some guards are still wearing CIS uniforms, while others have had to purchase their own garments have been issued with inappropriate items for their gender. This has been flagged up by guards on many occasions but without resolution.
6. Worst terms and conditions of security staff in the whole of Bloomsbury
The terms and conditions under which security at UCL work are a disgrace to the institution. Security are the lowest paid staff (along with cleaners and caterers) and work extremely long hours. We do not have work related pensions (only have the Statutory Enrolment Pensions).
Unlike outsourced security in other Bloomsbury universities, UCL guards receive only the statutory minimum 28 holidays (in-house staff get 41), and just 4 weeks company sick pay (in-house staff get 6 months full and 6 months half-pay). In addition many security guards (working 3 on 3 off etc) are only receiving 22 days holiday, not 28.
There are no additional payments for overtime, whether that be at weekends or nights.In addition, staff are forced to stand outside without relief for huge stretches of the day, and breaks are frequently missed or delayed.
While Axis have failed to resolve these issues, it is at least fair to say that many of them pre-date them. The issue here lies with the very nature of outsourcing itself, which is a cruel, inhuman and discriminatory way for a supposedly progressive institution like UCL to avoid its responsibilities to its most vital workers.
As a consequence, we would contend that although Axis are demonstrably unfit to run this contract, these problems would exist to a greater or lesser extent under any outsourcing company (under CIS payroll problems were rife, as was the rapid turnover of managerial staff which continues to hamper efforts to run a competent service).
UCL therefore does not just need to cancel this particular contract (re which, if the above evidence is not enough, the IWGB can provide copious detail on Axis’ failings and incompetence) but to end the process of contracting out entirely, and restore security to their rightful place as UCL employees, with the humane treatment and decent terms and conditions this implies.
We are calling on you too make this decision as soon as possible – before UCL’s reputation is permanently tarnished before the wider world and its security staff lose their patience entirely.
Your security guards