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By Greg Sproston, Acting Executive Editor
The LSE came one step closer to seeing industrial action this week, as cleaners employed by Noonan delivered an ultimatum to school management on Friday 11 November.
United Voices of the World (UVW) Union, who represent the majority of cleaners at LSE, has been instructed by its members to put LSE and its contractor, Noonan, on notice that ‘a refusal or failure to confirm by 5pm on Friday 18th November 2016 that the two tier workforce that has plagued the LSE for decades will be ended and cleaners will receive equality of terms and conditions with in house staff, will result in the declaration of a formal trade dispute between UVW and Noonan’
In a letter from the union to the school seen by The Beaver, UVW General Secretary Petros Elia has requested contractual enhancements in sick pay, maternity pay, paternity leave, adoption leave pay, annual leave, the london living wage and pensions. Campaigners and cleaners have long argued that they do not enjoy parity with other LSE employees on these issues. Whilst the requests cover the contractual terms and conditions for cleaners in broad terms, campaigners argue that they are not excessive, given that proposed amendments would bring the cleaning workforce ‘in line’ with the in house LSE staff. The letter warns that refusal to comply or implement a reasonable timescale by the end of this week will see the union ballot its members on industrial action. The cleaners are widely expected to vote to strike in such circumstances.
Though UVW is a registered trade union recognised by the government, the situation is complicated by LSE and Noonan refusing to acknowledge UVW as the official voice for cleaners on campus, opting instead to negotiate with the regional branch of Unison in order to reach a settlement. UVW have argued that this has taken place without the authorisation of the cleaners involved; further stating that “[n]egotiating with an unauthorised third party over T&Cs that the cleaners have not agreed or even been consulted on has, understandably, led them [the cleaners] to feel, once again, ignored and undermined. This reflects the systematic disregard of the LSE cleaners, which ironically was the initial rationale behind the cleaners’ joining UVW and launching of the Justice for LSE Cleaners campaign.”
The letter to LSE also alleges that the negotiations with Unison’s regional branch has taken place “behind the backs” of the LSE Unison branch, who have since passed a motion stating that “LSE….It is proposed that the LSE Unison branch work in conjunction with UVW….LSE Unison believes that working with UVW is of benefit to all cleaning staff…”
Those involved in the Justice for LSE Cleaners campaign firmly believe that the two-tiered workforce which has “plagued” LSE will only fully be eradicated if the university ends the practice of outsourcing. Whilst UVW has stated that this would be an ideal outcome, it has not requested it at this stage, preferring to opt what it has called “decided, in good faith and in the interests of avoiding a formal trade dispute with Noonan, to request only the bare minimum uplift necessary to provide them with a reasonable degree of parity and dignity.”
The latest development comes weeks after a public demonstration on campus, in which trade union organisers noted that when cleaners voted to strike at SOAS, the university came grinding to a halt within a matter of days.