On the 12th of June, a group of students decided to occupy the offices of the management of one of the most prestigious universities in London, because of their indifference in the face of the abuses being committed against their employees, and to protest the imminent closure of one of the public refectories. The fight is on the table.
Virginia Moreno Molina
But this battle and the reasons behind it, which is taking place in the buildings of one of the most prestigious universities of the UK are not new. In fact, they go back over 10 years, when the Justice for Cleaners campaign emerged, made up of employees of the University of London.
Like many other universities, SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) uses subcontracting companies to organise their cleaning services, food supply and other things. It is a common practice, but much criticized by the workers themselves, due to the precarious work contracts that they are given.
Because of this, in 2006 the cleaners organised to demand fair treatment and contracts. Since then, there have been several successes, although their efforts have been the object of harassment and other kinds of intimidation.
One example is what happened during the morning of June 12th, 2009. On that occasion, in the middle of the working day, the cleaners at SOAS were called to a meeting in the Djam Lecture Theatre. There, without any warning, they were suddenly faced with immigration officers.
Carlos, Rosa, Milton, Manuel, Laura, Heidi, Marina, Alberto and Luzia (six months pregnant) were arrested and deported to their countries of origin. It was a raid, in which the lives of nine people were destroyed, and in which the university itself was an accomplice.
Since then June 12th is commemorated and their colleagues remember the injustices committed.
Eight years later, and coinciding with the anniversary, “Some, but not all, catering staff at SOAS were informed in one to one meetings with Elior UK management (the catering company) that the Main Building Refectory will be permanently closed from the 1st of August 2017”, according to a statement by SOAS Justice for workers. End Outsourcing: a campaign by students and academic staff, which is supporting the workers. The announcement of closure which was made by the same Company, Elior UK, as the campaign points out, means that: “Zero-hours staff will be made redundant.
Permanent staff will be moved to hospitality, where their jobs will be at risk as there will be overstaffing of the hospitality services”.
Workers and students are complaining that the university itself has done nothing to stop the closure of the building, and the possible sacking of staff.
In a response by email, the management of the university denied some of the accusations, but, remembering its previous lack of concern, and the interests of these companies, it seems that these employees face the imminent loss of their Jobs.
Because of this, and with the experience gained from over 10 years of petitions, strikes and empty promises, the student group belonging to SOAS Justice for workers. End Outsourcing decided to begin an occupation of the management offices so as to press for their demands to be heard.
Their demands, according to the statement they sent are these:
“No cuts, no closures, no redundancies. We demand that SOAS keeps the Main Building Refectory open and commits to no redundancies for either full time staff or those on zero hours contracts in the refectory and catering/hospitality services. All workers must have fair contracts, including:
Equal sick pay, holiday pay, pensions with in-house staff; end zero-hour contracts, with a fair and just alternative; end outsourcing by bringing all current staff in-house now.
The future of the refectory and catering services must be decided with the full participation of staff and students. We demand that SOAS commit to a fully participatory consultation with the SOAS community to improve the catering services and refectory, and deliver a service that reflects the needs and ethos of the catering staff and the wider SOAS community.
All workers must be remunerated in full, at the London Living Wage or above. As SOAS Management is contractually obliged to, and has previously agreed to with Unison: the catering staff currently owed up to £4,000 each in unpaid wages must be paid in full, with no adverse impact on their current wages.
Valerie Amos must issue a public apology on behalf of Senior Management for the atrocious treatment of workers in this ordeal”.
The interesting thing is that, like a Domino Effect, and motivated by the victory of the cleaners at the LSE, the community of workers, students and academics at SOAS is making clear that “The fight goes on”.
Photos: Facebook – (Translated by Graham Douglas)