Students who have occupied the directorate building at SOAS for the last 11 days against attacks on staff jobs at the university’s Refectory are following up a big rally held yesterday with a revolutionary fiesta tonight, keeping up pressure on administrators.
Yesterday’s event saw students and catering workers joined by the IWGB, which has itself been organising strongly with university cleaning staff who are often on similar outsourced and casualised contracts to catering workers.
The solidarity action adds to a difficult couple of weeks for managers, who have been left twisting as they try and play down a dispute which began after contractors Elior sent workers notice of the refectory’s closure and upcoming redundancies with only a cursory attempt at consultation.
Confronted with a solid showing of solidarity from students who took over the directorate they made a swift U-turn and, in talks with UCU union negotiators, agreed to take closure off the table for the duration of the Elior contract — at least a year.
However bosses have continued to vacillate over other factors in the dispute. In talks last Friday bosses refused to agree to bring staff working conditions up to the level of its standard integrated facilities management (IFM) contract by August 1st, and proved reluctant to give any assurances that there wouldn’t be repercussions against students who had been involved in the occupation.
In an open letter to SOAS director Valerie Amos and registrar Paula Sanderson about the ongoing negotiations on Wednesday, Elior staff said:
The workers of Elior UK at SOAS direct the following to you as the highest representatives of the institution:
A week after being notified by Elior about the intentions to close the refectory and the subsequent displacement, transfer and redundancy of various workers, as of the current date we still have not been fully heard in the demands that you have been made aware of and we can synthesise them as follows:
a) No Cuts, No Closures, No Redundancies
We consider that the intention to close the refectory was a direct attack on workers as far as it would have entailed the transfer of workers to other sites, or the outright layoff of certain workers. To carry out this bewildering policy on the backs of its living force, its workers, is in stark contrast to SOAS’s most sacred values.
b) All workers must have fair contracts including equal sick pay, holiday and pensions
For a long time, those of us that work for outsourced companies have been victims of injustice, exploitation, and discrimination that have violated our most basic labour rights. For this reason, not only is it necessary that we enjoy equal sick pay, holiday and pensions, but also the following:
c) End zero-hours contracts
With a complacent gaze from SOAS management, we have seen how Elior UK has justified its practices of neglecting the legal norms of a standard employment relationship with workers that provide services to the community through the use of zero-hours contracts.
According to our criteria, these are not ‘casual workers’ as they refer to them, but permanent workers, as they work standard full-time or part-time hours in a regular fashion. We reiterate our demand for the end, and not simply the reduction, of the unjust practice of zero-hour contracts.
d) Bring All In-House
It is true that we have received two letters from Elior rendering their June 12th announcement void and apologising for the chaos and bewilderment that they generated, we have likewise read the statements written by Paula Sanderson with respect to how this crisis might be resolved.
However, some things do not remain clear; in particular we would like to have it be clarified that as the university management intends to continue its refectory services for the following year, whether or not this guarantees that following a consultation with students and workers, the decision to close the refectory may not still be taken.
As workers and those affected by the actions of Elior and SOAS management, we recognise the actions taken by students in their legitimate use of protest as taken with the interest of defending our rights and interests. We consider the occupation of the directorate to be a response to the unjust and arbitrary attack on the job security of our colleagues.
In this respect, we inform you that until SOAS management guarantees not to take disciplinary or legal action against any student involved in the occupation, we will not accept any proposition or offer in our favour.
SOAS Justice For Workers is running regular updates on the occupation as it continues