Yesterday, on the 8th anniversary of the deportation of 9 SOAS cleaners, students of SOAS began an occupation of the Directorate on the Main Building first floor. We are taking direct action in resistance to the planned shut down of the refectory and outrageous threats made by management to the livelihoods of members of our community. We stand in solidarity with the catering staff, and all the exploited workers of SOAS, in their fight for dignity and respect.
On the 12th of June 2009 all cleaning staff were called into an early-morning meeting at SOAS, locked into Djam Lecture Theatre (G2), and handed over to immigration officers. In total, 9 workers were handcuffed in the lecture theatre, put in UK Border Agency vans and deported: Carlos, Rosa, Milton, Manuel, Laura, Heidi, Marina, Luzia, and Alberto. Luzia was 6 months pregnant, her son, Lucas, was born in Brazil. G2 Lecture Theatre is now known as the Lucas Lecture Theatre. The 12th of June has since become a day of commemoration in the SOAS community, in remembrance of our colleagues, and in condemnation of this crime that SOAS was complicit in. With utmost disrespect, SOAS Management decided to pick this date to announce that the Main Building Refectory will be permanently shut on 1st August 2017, leading to redundancies, job insecurity, anxiety amongst catering staff and the wider SOAS community.
Yesterday, some catering staff at SOAS were informed in one to one meetings with Elior UK management (the catering company) that the Main Building Refectory will be permanently closed from the 1st of August 2017. Zero-hours staff were not personally informed of this decision even though the plan will result in forced redundancies for them. Permanent staff will be moved to hospitality, where their jobs will be at risk due to overstaffing of those services. This announcement was made without any prior consultation of staff or Union officials. It was also made without any consultation with the people that use the refectory: students, staff, academics, and visitors. The refectory is the only place on campus students can go to get hot food.
This decision is a direct attack on workers, predominantly migrant, BME and women workers
The SOAS community’s first demands to SOAS Management regarding catering were made on 11th January 2017, when we demanded that, “Staff currently working for the outsourced catering contract with Elior UK have their terms and conditions brought up to the same level as Bouygues staff, and the practice of using zero-hour contracts is ended immediately with an agreed, fair, alternative part-time work offer.” We met with the SOAS Registrar in early February, to discuss this further. Following that meeting, we requested follow-up meetings with her on 22nd February, 1st March, 13th March, and wrote an Open Letter on the 29th of March. We have had no response to these calls.
SOAS management’s immediate response to our occupation does not address the closure of the Refectory, which was announced to workers today. This decision is a direct attack on workers, predominantly migrant, BME and women workers, who have been organising for fairer conditions this year. The decision to threaten their future at SOAS, as members of our community, has created undue stress and anxiety. Decisions are being taken which directly contradict the spirit of previous assurances by SOAS management, most recently the decision by SOAS Executive Board a month ago.
On the 16th May, SOAS executive board agreed to extend the current contract with Elior UK for a further twelve months. At no point were redundancies or fundamental changes to catering services mentioned. Now we feel betrayed and manipulated. Earlier today, Paula Sanderson wrote “Our firm objective is that staff employed by Elior should be able to continue to work for Elior at SOAS, or at other locations in London where they provide catering services”. We reject any attempt to move SOAS staff off-campus to other Elior facilities. We reject redundancies of zero-hour contract staff. Catering staff are SOAS staff and treasured members of our community.
In response to this outrageous display of disrespect to the SOAS community, we entered the Directorate, SOAS Main Building, to demand that management open dialogue, explain their decision, and listen to our concerns. They did not respond, so we have gone into occupation. Since then activists have been denied the freedom to enter or leave the occupation. Last night a few activists were allowed to bring food into us, but today that arrangement was ended without explanation. We remain without access to food this afternoon. We were also initially denied contact with our student union representatives, but this afternoon this measure has been lifted. All these actions are infringements on our rights as peaceful protesters. Nonetheless, we will continue the occupation until the following demands are met with a commitment in writing, signed by SOAS’ Executive Board.
- No cuts, no closures, no redundancies. We demand that SOAS keeps the Main Building Refectory open and commits to no redundancies for either full time staff or those on zero hours contracts in the refectory and catering/hospitality services.
- All workers must have fair contracts, including:
– Equal sick pay, holiday pay, pensions with in-house staff;
– End zero-hour contracts, with a fair and just alternative;
– End outsourcing by bringing all current staff in-house now.
- The future of the refectory and catering services must be decided with the full participation of staff and students. We demand that SOAS commit to a fully participatory consultation with the SOAS community to improve the catering services and refectory, and deliver a service that reflects the needs and ethos of the catering staff and the wider SOAS community.
- All workers must be remunerated in full, at the London Living Wage or above. As SOAS Management is contractually obliged to, and has previously agreed to with UNISON: the catering staff currently owed up to £4,000 each in unpaid wages must be paid in full with no adverse impact on their current wages.
- Valerie Amos must issue a public apology on behalf of Senior Management for the atrocious treatment of workers in this ordeal.
La lucha continua!
Featured image via SOAS Justice for Workers
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