A new short film shows the heroic battle cleaners are fighting at one of the UK’s richest universities

King's College London Chapel
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On 11 September, a short film was released which highlights the impact of outsourcing on cleaners at King’s College London (KCL). It also shows the cleaners’ ongoing struggle to be brought back in house. The film has been produced by KCL Justice for Cleaners.

Cleaners have been in dispute over conditions since 2016. Their dispute has concerned, among other things, excessive workload and a lack of sick pay and annual leave.

“We are not machines”

The short film features cleaners detailing their experiences working as outsourced staff at King’s College. One cleaner, speaking at a demonstration, said:

I’ve been working here for 18 good years. When you’re sick they don’t pay you. We want King’s College to treat us like a human being. We are not machines.

Another cleaner named Marcia highlighted the difference between King’s College’s PR and the reality of working there:

King’s is a future, it’s a window of opportunity but at the same time I want to ask them to include us in their community because it’s not only words that they need to say but also action they need to take.

I’m not just fighting for myself but also for everyone who comes to this country who don’t know English, who don’t have the opportunity to find a better job. Because it’s affecting myself, my family, my colleagues, my friends.

Read on...

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A third cleaner, Percy, outlined the demands of their campaign and some of the specific issues they’re facing:

Myself, my colleagues are asking for equality. We want to have the same terms and conditions as everyone else who work for King’s.

The other point is pensions. Right now, we get only 1% of our salary. While the staff for King’s they get, if I’m not wrong, it’s 17% or 18%.

I hear that they [King’s] want to make a better world. But they should see around them in their own campuses how outsourced workers are being treated by these companies, that they see you only as a number, they don’t see you as a person,  as a human being.

Unacceptable conditions

Outsourced cleaners at King’s College are employed by Servest, a facilities management company that delivers services, such as cleaning, for other organisations.

The KCL Justice for Cleaners campaign told The Canary that cleaners at King’s College face unacceptable conditions. They also allege that large disparities exist between their conditions and those of directly employed staff.

They claim that staff directly employed by King’s College are entitled to 41 days paid leave and six months paid sick leave. This is in addition to maternity pay and pension rights. By contrast, they say cleaners employed by Servest only receive £35.74 for the first week of illness or injury. They also allege that cleaners aren’t entitled to maternity leave or pension benefits. Meanwhile, KCL Justice for Cleaners claim that cleaners face excessive workload, discriminatory behaviour, and unfair disciplinary actions.

Addressing the issue in 2017, a King’s College spokesperson said:

Our cleaners play a critical role in the operation of the university and we value their service. This was recognised in the employment terms, which King’s ensured Servest included in its employees’ contracts at the start of our working relationship.

These included paying the London Living Wage, full-time hours for the majority of staff and employing people who live locally. Estates & Facilities managers at King’s are working with Servest to offer advice and support to help reach resolution.

Ongoing struggle

The cleaners at King’s College have been fighting for better conditions and against outsourcing for over two years. They have been supported by students and other staff.

In 2017, the cleaners took strike action for better conditions. Earlier this year, KCL Justice for Cleaners protested at student graduation ceremonies. And on 13 September, cleaners, students and staff rallied outside a university meeting discussing the future of cleaning services at King’s College.

KCL Justice for Cleaners is now preparing for a forthcoming meeting which could decide to bring cleaning services back in house. A rally outside of the meeting has already been organised for 26 September.

But King’s College isn’t the only university facing criticism for outsourcing staff. Students and staff are also uniting at Goldsmiths College and demanding cleaners be brought back in house. After a long campaign, the School of Oriental and African Studies was finally forced to end its outsourcing of cleaners in 2017. This followed the London School of Economics bringing its cleaners back in house, too.

The movement against outsourcing of staff and services is growing. With victories under their belt and momentum behind the campaigns, King’s College could be the next university forced to bring its cleaners back in house.

Get Involved!

Support the KCL Justice for Cleaners campaign.

Join the rally against outsourcing on 26 September.

–  Join The Canary, so we can keep holding the powerful to account.

Featured image via Diliff — Wikimedia Commons

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