Since our letter to Goldsmiths management on 16th October 2018, the J4C campaign group have received no reply. After the cleaners wrote their letter on 24th October 2018, signed by 47 members of staff, dates of meetings between the cleaners, members of Senior Management Team (SMT), Goldsmiths Estates department and Unison representatives were finally announced. Three sets of dates with morning and evening meetings were announced – 6th Nov, 20th Nov and 12th Dec. The first set of meetings was successful in allowing the cleaners to articulate the grievances around their working conditions – in all their severity – directly to Goldsmiths management (their de-facto employer).
However, whilst this forum provided some vindication for what the cleaners have suffered at the hands of ISS over past months, the current situation of the cleaners has gone from “very bad” to “even worse”. Having lost the contract with Goldsmiths, ISS appear to be treating their staff with contempt, ignoring requests for flexibility around shift patterns and work days and exacerbating existing bad work practices. From listening to cleaners we have heard accounts of the following: some cleaners are having to do the work of four (or more) people, shifts involve much more moving between buildings than previously to cover more areas, they are expected to do much more work than is possible in one shift, they are being treated disrespectfully by their managers, some cleaners report having to take painkillers constantly to deal with back or knee pain due to the extra work they are being forced to do – in short, the restructure continues to be chaotic and wreak havoc on the cleaners’ lives. The extremely negative effects pertain not only to cleaners’ work lives at the job, but also outside of the job, as the continued effects of being forced to work shifts inconvenient to them is putting pressure on their families and other responsibilities. Many are distressed that they are unable to carry out family duties; the same concerns about leaving work late at night persist (especially for the majority of women); many are extremely upset and angry at how they are being treated.
Two months after the announcement of in-housing and with a promise to get it done by April 2019, Goldsmiths have yet to produce a schedule of in-housing which will assure the cleaners that the process is well and truly underway. Nor have they produced documents suggesting a transparent process in which the cleaners will be meaningfully involved, such as the details of the working group which has been set-up. Aside from listening to the cleaners’ problems in these meetings, which is clearly important, Goldsmiths SMT need to be respecting the cleaners’ experience and expertise in formulating the design of a new system of cleaning provision which will serve the college well. As the J4C campaign group have repeatedly emphasized – the cleaners must be meaningfully involved in all negotiations around their shift patterns and the in-housing process.
Given the gravity of the current situation, we implore Goldsmiths to intervene in ISS’s working practices. We find these to be completely unethical and the cleaners themselves say that they are being treated like animals. Although in-housing has been promised, six months (or more) of this current situation is proving too much to bear for some of our colleagues and urgent action is required by Goldsmiths to ensure the health and safety of all staff is provided for.
We will continue to support our cleaner colleagues in their fight for dignity and respect at work. Although in-housing has been promised, they are suffering even more now than before and the Goldsmiths community will support them in any action to improve their working conditions and lives.