Open Letter to Goldsmiths Management from the Justice for Cleaners at Goldsmiths campaign
On 2nd August 2018, a message by Director of Finance Ian Pleace was sent out to all Goldsmiths staff. This was in response to the Justice for Cleaners petition signed by more than 285 staff members which management received from us on Friday 27th July 2018 (and a shorter version which appeared on the Guardian website on Tuesday 24th July) demanding better working conditions for, and the in-housing of, our cleaning staff.
Ian Pleace’s message acknowledges that there is a large amount of support in the Goldsmiths community for bringing cleaning staff in house, and reports that management are taking steps to examine how such a process might be realized. While we welcome such a development, the message nevertheless fails to meaningfully respond to many of the crucial issues raised in the Justice for Cleaners staff petition around the current work conditions for cleaning staff at Goldsmiths, as well as failing to give concrete assurances that cleaning staff themselves are being properly involved in all processes.
The most urgent issue the message fails to address are the detrimental effects on our cleaning staff of the current shift restructure. These were clearly laid out in the petition. Additionally, there have been several calls to halt the restructure, including:
- the collection of twenty cleaning staff testimonies, published almost two months ago on 12th of June 2018, detailing the detrimental financial and personal effects of the proposed changes,
- the attendance of dozens of cleaners outside the College Council meeting on the 28th of June where many of them discussed concerns directly with senior members of management and Council,
- an emergency demonstration by staff and student members of the Justice For Cleaners campaign on Thursday 2nd August, following news that the restructure was to be implemented by ISS the following Monday.
Despite these repeated calls, the re-structuring came into effect – with just one week’s notice given, and in some cases less – on Monday 6th August 2018. As foreseen in the testimonies, the changes are already having detrimental effects on our cleaning staff. We have been made aware of at least 20 employees who were unable to show up to work on Monday or the following days because of childcare, family, or other work commitments. From those who have been working this week, we have heard about detrimental working conditions: the same amount of work being imposed on a reduced labour force, a lack of training or instruction working in new areas, late evening shifts that are leaving staff unsafe leaving college on their commute back home late at night. This is on top of the financial loss and disruption already previously outlined many times.
We ask Goldsmiths management to take urgent and immediate action on current unworkable situation of our cleaning staff. In particular, we demand:
- The immediate halting of the restructuring for cleaning staff. As Goldsmiths are the clients of ISS, they have the power to hold ISS accountable to their own employment standards and give the cleaners the respect they deserve. As described above, the changes in shift patterns have disrupted their workers’ lives enormously. While the message from the Director of Finance suggests that the new regime is meant to be more conducive to a “family life [and a] meaningful work-life balance,” we have been told repeatedly by cleaning staff that the changes are unliveable. If management had listened to the cleaning staff themselves, they would know that the shift changes have caused a complete upheaval in their current work-family schedules, especially imposed at such short notice. It is clear that Ian Pleace’s assumptions around what constitutes a “meaningful work-life balance” is not based on the actual concerns of the cleaners and demonstrates Goldsmiths’ neglectfulness towards the well-being and experiences of their workers.
- An immediate meaningful consultation with all cleaning staff about present and future shifts and changes. Given that we have already highlighted ISS’s reputation as a toxic and unreliable employer, Goldsmiths’ willingness to accept ISS at their word that a “full consultation” did take place without investigating further, shows a complete lack of concern about how university facilities are being managed. The mismanagement of facilities staff is not simply an employment issue for cleaning staff, but poses real risks to the safety of all staff and students working in the university. No doubt, the continuation of this kind of negligence during term time could result in serious incidents. We feel it is important to flag this health and safety issue now so that a record is made of how the university was indeed alerted to these risks prior to the inevitable.
- Concrete assurances that the in-housing process will take place, that the outsourcing contract to ISS will indeed come to an end in October, and, most importantly, that cleaning staff will be allowed to meaningfully participate in this process. As a campaign we will respect the formal processes which must be undertaken for the in-housing of cleaning staff, but we are also committed to holding the university accountable every step of the way. Whilst it is positive to hear that the well-being of staff is on the agenda as steps are taking place regarding the potential in-housing, we expect transparency, accountability and direct worker consultation throughout this process to ensure their well-being truly is prioritized.
As our campaign goes from strength-to-strength, each action we organize is getting more and more attention. In solidarity with other in-housing campaigns currently taking place for cleaners at the Ministry of Justice and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea this week, as well as parallel ongoing campaigns at King’s College London, we will continue to pursue justice for cleaners at our university. We hope Goldsmiths will see the moral and economic sense to grant all of its workers dignity and respect and does not make decisions which will jeopardise the university’s outstanding reputation.
In the coming weeks we will be publishing letters from notable alumni and honorary graduates at Goldsmiths. The situation with the cleaners at Goldsmiths has provoked immediate responses from a broad range of people. This is because, to put it bluntly, the injustices faced by these workers at the hands of ISS are so clearly disgraceful.
We have plenty of stories of the appalling treatment that staff have suffered under ISS management, both before and after the restructure, which we would like to relate – sadly, we do not feel we can go into any more detail at present, as there is a sense around the college that even discussing work conditions and their detrimental effects can bring recrimination and reprisal. Intimidation and anti-union behaviour does not belong at Goldsmiths; it should not and will not be tolerated. This is what it has come to, which calls even more urgently for a meaningful, safe, and respectful consultation with all cleaning staff.
Justice for Cleaners
Friday 10th August 2018