The Justice for Cleaners campaign welcomes the news announced on 20th September 2018 that Goldsmiths will be bringing the cleaners in-house. Our cleaner colleagues are thrilled at the news that their period of employment with ISS will be coming to an end and are expecting to find their working conditions drastically improved as a result. We are pleased that this decision ensures that ISS, with its proven track record of employment malpractices, will no longer be operating on Goldsmiths campus and that employing cleaners directly will help ensure fair and dignified working conditions to this part of the Goldsmiths community. We were encouraged to see that concerns from staff and students about the cleaners’ working conditions was one of the factors recognized when the council made the decision. Equally, we are pleased that SMT’s proposal to council was one of in-housing and that a hybrid option, considered at other institutions, was not under consideration.
The update on Goldsmiths website about cleaning provision from 20th September is encouraging in some of the details it gives about the in-housing process and that it recognizes – to some extent – the currently unworkable conditions of cleaners since the restructure of 6th August. However, we would like to raise a few issues – some of which have been raised in our previous correspondence – as concerned staff and students who are invested in the proper implementation of the in-housing process.
Firstly, the restructure of 6th August continues to make cleaners lives and work shifts extremely difficult. The conditions described by cleaner testimonies published on our blog on 30th August 2018 still stand, or have worsened in recent weeks. We reiterate our request – based on contact with cleaners – for an immediate meaningful consultation with cleaners around their current shift patterns. Many are at risk of health and safety issues due to mismanagement and huge workloads now that students have returned to campus. An unbearable amount of work is being asked of cleaners with the workforce so impacted and hours so diminished since the restructure. Our colleagues in cleaning are also writing a letter to you to directly express these issues and to schedule a meeting in the immediate future. Due to the strong interest shown by the Goldsmiths community, we further request that representatives from the SU and staff and student members are included in this meeting too.
Secondly, the timescale of the in-housing process has not been clearly conveyed to the cleaners. Indeed, currently, cleaning staff have not received any direct communication from Goldsmiths about the in-housing news or process. The only formal information they have received on this comes from ISS, and this information seems to contradict the timescale of 6-months stated on the Goldsmiths website. We urge Goldsmiths to make efforts to meet with and communicate directly with all cleaners about the future of their working conditions as soon as possible. Principally to deter any further confusion and anxieties which have arisen around the timescale and the overall consequences of this process, and to give an opportunity to all cleaners to voice their demands and concerns about their present and future working lives at Goldsmiths. Given the heavy workloads and discontent around working conditions ongoing since the restructure, not to mention the evidence of bullying and union busting published on our blog, a direct meeting between Goldsmiths and cleaners would help assure them that concerns about their well-being are being taken seriously.
Thirdly, according to comments made by Patrick Loughrey and Ian Pleace at the Warden’s Open Meeting on October 3rd, a working group has been set up to address the details of the in-housing process of the cleaners contracts. In the interests of transparency, we invite SMT to make the details of this group and its members public, and suggest that cleaner representatives are present from the very outset and throughout, accompanied by their chosen union representative. We strongly recommend the inclusion of a representative from the Students’ Union and Goldsmiths UCU. In all cases, the cleaners should give their agreement to the selection of working group members.
We also urge that this working group takes advantage of the available documentation from other in-housing transitions within an HE context. We have received documentation from the SOAS working group which we recommend to be used as a model which Goldsmiths aims to improve upon. We are familiarising ourselves with this documentation and the technical details of the process of moving contracts and job profiles from an outsourcing company into an existing university governance structure. We will be following the output of this working group very closely and reserve the right to inform stakeholders when it appears as though the interests of cleaners are not being represented in the composition of contractual terms.
Fourthly, we reiterate the demand for greater transparency around the cleaning audit and how the concerns around the quality of cleaning provision are being framed. As raised previously, in the “Goldsmiths Cleaning Provision” statement, reference is made to 92 issues about cleaning-related services registered through the ‘Footprints’ system between August 2017 and January 2018 as part of the rationale for the shift pattern changes. In a prior correspondence we queried precisely how these registered issues fed into the logic of the restructure which drastically reduced cleaners’ hours in an attempt to improve quality. Can you demonstrate to us that these “cleaning-related issues” are connected to the quality of cleaning provision, and are not instead structural (e.g. blocked toilets) or managerial (poor staff distribution) failures which have resulted in unclean areas in the university? Our concern here is that cleaners may be being unreasonably blamed for a fall in quality provision. As student intake rose around 11% between 2015-16 and 2016-17 (and 15% in comparison to 2014-15) as the student factfile 2017 documents, was the budget correspondingly increased to deal with the larger amount of student footfall on campus? These are all pertinent factors which cannot simply be written off as “quality issues” and used to justify any manner of restructuring, particularly not cuts to the overall amount of cleaners’ working hours. Whilst we welcome that Council has agreed to increase the budgeted number of cleaning hours as part of the in-housing process, we disagree that ISS’s disastrous restructure and profit-motivated approach be used as a viable basis upon which to determine a practicable and reasonable system of cleaning provision. Instead, we suggest that through meaningful consultation with all cleaners, particularly those with a wealth of experience at Goldsmiths, an effective system of cleaning provision is designed which serves the university well and benefits from the experience of the cleaners.
We are in close contact with colleagues from other in-housing campaigns at other institutions and have heard from these experiences that six months is ample time for a successful in-housing process. Given the urgency of the cleaners’ concerns around current working conditions, in addition to the history of extreme mistreatment at the hands of ISS, of which we have publicized only a few of numerous examples, we appeal to Goldsmiths SMT to do everything within their power to make the inhousing swift, inclusive, and democratic.