Permanent contracts, zero-hours contracts or no contracts at all – workers for the company Elior must choose between these three options if they want a job.
Virginia Moreno Molina
Since 12 June, the SOAS directorate offices have been occupied by students from the “Justice for Workers- End Outsourcing” campaign, who are protesting the imminent closure of the campus cafeteria.
While some of their demands have been met, the employees in question have been working under these conditions for a number of years.
Like many other universities, SOAS subcontracts to other companies to provide the various services it offers. In terms of catering, Elior is the company that provides the university with around 25 permanent workers, all of whom are immigrants.
“But this does not include people on zero hours contracts,” says Luis Carlos, a Columbian who has been at SOAS since 2005, when he started as a cleaner for the company OCEAN.
“The problems started with that company: refusal to pay, mistreatment, etc. – a series of situations that prompted us to get together and seek advice,” he says.
However, in 2006 he was transferred to the catering service. Luis tells us that when Sodexo, the catering company at the time, lost its contract with SOAS, the contract was won by Elior. Changes were brought in with this new contract, including the creation of the cafeteria where Luis was employed as a manager on a permanent basis.
And despite the discussions on contract terms that have taken place in recent years, it was not until a few months ago that the catering service started to campaign directly with UNISON and with the help of “Justice for Workers-End Outsourcing”.
One of their requests was to put an end to outsourcing. “If we work for SOAS directly we can put a stop to something that is harming many workers: zero hours contracts.”
Around 12 people, including some SOAS students, are employed on zero hours contracts, although Luis stresses that these individuals are “permanent workers”.
“We don’t take them into account because, strictly speaking, they don’t exist as workers as far as the company and the university are concerned,” he explains. However, these employees “follow instructions and work their allotted hours seven days a week, which makes them permanent workers.”
Sebastián*, is one of the workers on a zero hours contract. He arrived in London four months ago and has been working for Elior for three.
“When I arrived, I wasn’t offered a contract, they just assigned tasks to me and told me that I had a full-time post,” he states.
Sebastián asked for his contract on multiple occasions, but he explains that “they always avoided me and I didn’t sign a zero hours contract or anything.”
Given the downsides, he stopped trying because “being a temporary worker, who knows what could happen”.
However, his fears have not prevented him from taking part in the campaign and in protests. “We have to support the students and what they’ve done for us, plus I have nothing to lose because I already have nothing,” says Sebastián.
He has never had any problems with Elior management and has been treated well, which is why he has stayed on, aside from the fact that it is a “financial necessity”.
A sense of comradeship or, as he puts it, “brotherhood” has also made this more bearable. Now, after the sit in, it seems that the situation will improve.
“The boss called a meeting with us to say they’re going to reassess the hours we have worked so that we can have a contract,” Sebastián explains. Sebastián only hopes for a degree of “stability”, and this is a huge victory in that regard.
* The fictitious name Sebastián was used to prevent any potential repercussions.
Photo: Pixabay – (Translated by Roz Harvey)