A reasonable approach – IWGB offers negotiations on in-housing — April 3, 2019

A reasonable approach – IWGB offers negotiations on in-housing

Our branch secretary Danny wrote today to the VC and the heads of SAS:

Dear Peter

I am writing to you and to the SAS Directors with regard to the ongoing in-house campaign and boycott of Senate House

SAS have indicated to us and to the campaign on numerous occasions the extremely serious impact the boycott is having on the School, particularly if it continues into the long term.

The University meanwhile has reiterated that the wellbeing of the School is a top priority.

It would therefore make sense that if there were a course of action that could lead to the boycott being lifted the University should take it.

We want to make clear that this course of action is available – we are offering direct negotiations with the outsourced workers and their chosen union which could start immediately. Only through negotiation will we find a solution that will convince workers to call off the boycott. Once an agreement is reached, the boycott will be lifted.

If the University wishes to find a way to resolve this issue and has the interests of the School at heart, all it needs to do is accept this offer, which would cost it nothing.

We are looking forward to your response, and moving forward with a solution that will benefit everyone at the University in the long term.

Best wishes

Danny  

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IWGB raises grave concerns with in-housing TUPE process —

IWGB raises grave concerns with in-housing TUPE process

The first phase of in-housing at the University of London has now begun.

After 18 months of campaigning by outsourced workers, around 10% of them are now scheduled to become direct employees of the UoL on 20 May 2019.

The group selected for inclusion consists of porters, postroom staff, AV technicians and receptionists.

Notwithstanding the fact that 90% of outsourced staff still have no guarantees as to their fate, even those who should have been included in this first phase have found this to be a confusing and stressful process.

Meetings have been scheduled at the last minute, with little information given and no allowance made for language issues.

Even more worrying, there has been no clarity as to who should and should not be included in the process, with many of those receptionists who should fall within the scope of the TUPE not having received letters of notification. The IWGB has already received 10 such complaints, and this far Cordant have not responded to any of the workers who have raised this.

The IWGB’s position is clear – any worker illegally left out will have our full support in challenging the process AND until the other 90% of affected workers are brought in-house the campaign will continue to escalate.

Hasta la victoria siempre!


The weighting game — March 28, 2019

The weighting game

A successful 2014/15 London weighting (LW) campaign by the IWGB ended with the University of London agreeing a gradual increase so that on 1 August 2018 the annual allowance paid to staff would total £3,500. Matter closed.

However, a clause in the original agreement left the door open for the LW issue to be revisited if the London Living Wage (LLW) went up by more than 6% by 2018. And guess what? In November 2017, the LLW rose 11.5% on the 2014 rate so in July 2018 we brought this to the attention of the university director of HR, Simon Cain.

Eight months later, we are having to broach the subject again. See below for the latest letter to Simon Cain from our Information and Consultation of Employees (ICE) representative.

Dear Simon

I am writing to follow up on our earlier correspondence relating to the issue of London weighting.

As the university itself agreed to tie further discussion of the level of London weighting to the rise in the London Living Wage (LLW) – both of which being intended to reflect the rising cost of living in London – our position is clear. The London weighting allowance should be increased to bring it in line with the increase in the LLW over the period since 2014, with a guarantee going forward the two measures will continue to rise in tandem.

Our contention remains that this matter is salient to the ICE forum, and as a consequence we wish it to be added to the agenda for the April meeting.

If you could confirm this and your attendance at this meeting so that a meaningful discussion can take place, that would be much appreciated.

Best wishes,
Catherine
IWGB ICE Rep for UoLW

Hunter gatherers, Candy Crush Saga and excess workload at the University of London — March 24, 2019

Hunter gatherers, Candy Crush Saga and excess workload at the University of London

Many of us working at the University of London feel pressure at the moment to work extra hours beyond their contracts to meet increasingly burdensome demands and expectations, and it is sometimes difficult to take a step back and realise that this is a) not necessary and b) not something you need to put up with in silence!

If in the basement of Senate House you should come across the skeleton of a woman that’s about 10,000 years old you might idly wonder if she belonged to a hunter-gatherer group or a farming community that grew grain. Simply examine the skeleton’s back, knees and toes: if they’re deformed it’s because the woman spent many hours rocking back and forth grinding grain, to give her severe RSI.[1]

It’s widely accepted that the gradual move from a mixed lifestyle of hunting and harvesting to the backbreaking raising of a monocrop was a terrible deal for humans. Hunter-gatherers were healthier, bigger and less prone to disease than their counterparts. Their lifestyle was more varied and, arguably, more skilled. Long hours doing the same thing are bad for us physically, mentally and emotionally.

In modern times we can congratulate ourselves on many achievements: The Daily Mail, Candy Crush Saga, BaeWatch. How do our working lives compare with the hunter-gatherer? The University of London is obviously not the worst place in Britain to work: just ask fruit pickers, workers in massage parlours who rely on tips, or many others. But owners of massage parlours do not generally crow about work-life balance so perhaps we can and should hold UoL to a higher standard.

The University has, for several years, operated a “recruitment chill”. This normally means that if someone leaves they are not replaced for a minimum of six months. Who does their work? Who do you think? Were these colleagues previously sitting around looking to fill their time? Scarcely. Were they already in fact overworked? You betcha. The recruitment chill should more honestly be called the Exploit Existing Workers Doctrine.

A number of people in my department regularly work more than 70 hours a week. Because they love the job? Not so much. Chronic under-resourcing means they have to do it or everything would break down (and they would be blamed for it). What’s being selected for here is goodwill and self-sacrifice. Those who won’t do it will leave or push work onto others. A cash- and resource-rich institution is making its most dedicated workers ill through excessive hours in the name of “bearing down on costs” or similar self-serving nonsense.

Leaving aside the morality of this, it’s nonsensical on a practical level. It is well known that the quality of work falls as people become more and more tired. That’s kind of obvious but Quartz recently reported on a study that shows how quickly this happens.[2] If the eight-hour work day produces low-quality work what effect is the recruitment chill having, on top of all the other extra loads being rammed onto our shoulders?

If you want a quick way to know if an institution actually cares about the quality of work being done there look no further than open-plan offices. These are such a bad idea that kids today probably learn “don’t work in an open-plan office” from their parents at about the same time they learn “don’t drink bleach”. Open-plan offices reduce work and reduce communication between colleagues; the only thing they increase is sickness rates. [3]

Despite this the University has put a lot of effort into creating a giant open-plan office in Senate House’s basement. In a gesture of solidarity the managerial elite of the University have moved down there too. But open-plan is especially harmful for deep, thoughtful work, so the output of our senior managements remains unaffected.

If anyone complains about this situation the managerial response varies between sympathetic head-nodding, which does very little to reduce anyone’s workload, and injunctions to think creatively about that workload, to ensure that you are working smarter not harder. To be fair the mantra work smarter not harder is pretty useful: it tells you that the person saying it is an imbecile whose views can be conveniently ignored.

If there are any humans left in 10,000 years’ time they can examine our skeletons. If they’re deformed in the hands, wrists and shoulders it’s because of RSI, produced by long hours at a computer or tablet. I don’t think they’ll be able to tell if we were working smarter not harder.

Are you forced to work beyond your contractual hours because of workload? You’re not alone. Contact uol@iwgb.org.uk if you want to discuss this issue in confidence.

1. James C. Scott, Against the Grain, p.83.

2https://qz.com/work/1561830/why-the-eight-hour-workday-doesnt-work/

3. See, for example, https://m.signalvnoise.com/the-open-plan-office-is-a-terrible–horrible–no-good–very-bad-idea/, or just ask your parents if going open-plan/drinking bleach is a smart move.

University of London’s victimisation of IWGB member causes ‘grave concern’  — March 22, 2019

University of London’s victimisation of IWGB member causes ‘grave concern’ 

Danny Millum, secretary of the University of London’s (UoL) branch of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB), has been reprimanded, in writing, by his employers for accepting an invitation from seminar convenors to discuss the union’s ‘Boycott Senate House’ campaign. 

Below, Rebecca Dooley, an IWGB activist and member of UoL’s Information and Consultation of Employees forum, calls out Professor Rick Rylance for singling out and victimising Danny for his trade union activity. In his 5 February letter the dean of the School of Advanced Study where Danny has been a loyal employee for more than 13 years, made it clear he would not hesitate to instigate disciplinary action in the future.

Dear Professor Rylance, 

I am writing in my capacity as the assistant secretary of the University of London IWGB. I am assistant to our branch secretary, Danny Millum, and I am writing with regard to the letter that he received from you regarding his attendance at an IHR seminar. 

I write with grave concern, as both an employee of the University and as a committed trade union member and activist, that Danny is being singled out and victimised for his trade union activity, despite being an exemplary employee of the university for many years. I am a member of the ICE forum and have publicly stated on more than one occasion at those meetings that the university has recently been showing a degree of disdain towards the IWGB and its members as a result of our in-house campaign, and I fear that this attitude towards our union is now manifesting itself in very real ways in potential disciplinary action against a valued employee.

I would ask you at this time why it was deemed necessary to take such action against Danny for his attendance at this seminar? Whilst I do note that your letter states that no action is being taken, the very fact of it being a formal letter, from yourself, copied to senior management, seems to say the complete opposite. 

For something that I think many would consider to be a very minor matter, this seems to be a wholly excessive response, designed to intimidate Danny into reigning in his trade union activity. The work of union representatives is vital for maintenance of a safe and secure workforce and those who choose to undertake this work (often giving up vast amounts of their free time, unpaid) should be able to do so without the fear of reprisal from their employer.

Kind regards,

Rebecca Dooley

University cleaners unhappy about the use of biometric clock-in — March 19, 2019

University cleaners unhappy about the use of biometric clock-in

University College London (UCL) cleaners are protesting against the introduction of a biometric time management system that is being forced on them. 

The cleaners, who are employed by Sodexo, say the technology will infringe their rights and have written to Sodexo and UCL to express their unanimous opposition. They also confirm that 100% of those who attended a meeting to discuss the plans to introduce this technology voted in favour of strike action.

IWGB and UCU, the unions supporting the cleaners, said that to date neither UCL nor Sodexo have responded to their letter (see copy below) or made any attempt to answer any of the queries raised.

They said it is “extremely disappointing that Sodexo and UCL seem to have such a lack of concern for the opinion of their cleaning staff and these potential breaches of GDPR and the Biometric Privacy Guidelines.”

The matter has now been raised with the University Council and passed to the IWGB’s legal department.

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UCL security officers detail “serious issues” relating to outsourcing contractor — March 11, 2019

UCL security officers detail “serious issues” relating to outsourcing contractor

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.

Best wishes,

Your security guards

University of London contractor delays paying staff the London living wage —

University of London contractor delays paying staff the London living wage

In December 2018, a group of city investors wrote to listed firms urging them to pay all employees a living wage, which in London is £10.55 and hour.

Coordinated by the Share Action campaign group, the letter pointed out that “paying the living wage to all staff and contractors is the hallmark of a responsible business.”

What pity that Nurture, the gardening outsourced company contracted to look after the University of London’s (UoL) grounds at Senate House, doesn’t buy into that “responsible business” sentiment.

The living wage is a powerful weapon against poverty. Yet, nearly four months after the London Mayor announced a new London Living Wage of £10.55 per hour (an increase of 35p per hour) some of the staff employed by Nurture are still being paid at the old rate.

Hopefully that will change now that the secretary of the UoL branch of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) has sent the company a gentle reminder (see below).

Dear Greg

It has been brought to my attention that some staff employed by Nurture on the University of London contract are being paid below the London Living Wage (LLW) rate of £10.55 an hour.

As you are aware, Nurture is obliged under the terms of its contract to pay the LLW as a minimum.

Can you confirm that this will be corrected with immediate effect, and back-dated to November?

Best wishes,

Damning report into outsourcing at University of London released today — March 8, 2019

Damning report into outsourcing at University of London released today

World renowned research NGO Corporate Watch has today released a damning report into the University of London’s outsourcing plans.

Outsourced workers at the University of London have been campaigning for an end to outsourcing since September 2017. Despite countless strikes, protests and a boycott of the university which was launched last year, the university has only agreed to bring in-house around 35 of a total of more than 250 outsourced workers that work at its premises.

The Corporate Watch report found that: 

  • the university has substantial cash reserves, with £45 million in the bank. 
  • financial problems used by management to argue against in-housing have been a direct result of their own expansion strategy. 
  • many of the staff at the consultancy chosen to review the costs of in-housing used to work for outsourcing companies.
  • The University of London has refused our Freedom of Information request for a copy of that review. Similar reviews by other universities found in-housing would not be significantly more expensive.

The report can be found here

For more information:

Emiliano Mellino, press officer
press@iwgb.co.uk