Students, staff and union representatives, under the campaign group Goldsmiths Justice for Cleaners (GJFC), piled pressure on the governing body of the university to cancel its outsourcing contract with ISS, a Danish employment agency, which holds contracts with several other UK universities.
A statement from the university read: “Goldsmiths’ Governing Council has today approved plans to bring cleaning provision in-house, and confirmed steps to harmonise the terms and conditions of cleaners with other Goldsmiths staff.
“This will ensure that cleaners at Goldsmiths benefit from increased annual leave allowance, access to a better pension provision, and maternity, paternity and adoption leave and pay in line with other Goldsmiths staff.
“Furthermore, Council has agreed to increase the budgeted number of cleaning hours. This increased provision will give Goldsmiths flexibility to address some of the shift pattern issues that have arisen as a result of the recent restructuring of working arrangements.”
In July, more than 285 academic staff and students signed a “Justice for Cleaners” petition aimed at senior members of university management demanding improved working conditions and for the university to bring staffing in house, rather than outsourcing it.
The restructure was passed in August, with the usual six-hour night shifts or three-hour morning shifts replaced with one new four-hour shift starting at dinner time, from 7:30pm to 11:30pm.
More than 20 cleaning staff lost their jobs due to secondary employment commitments, as a result. Testimonies also show some losing more than £600 a month.
Those who agreed to stay back complained about the unsafe streets, now that they had to commute home at an hour when public transit is limited. Childcare commitments were also being hampered under the new hours.
Goldsmiths also released a statement confirming that they would not renew the contract with ISS and after a six-month transition period, starting on November 1, up to 100 cleaners will be directly employed by the University.
The Justice for Cleaners group said on Twitter: “This victory has come from the tireless struggle and organisational genius of the cleaners. We will continue to support our colleagues throughout this process and will expect from @GoldsmithsUoL proper transparency during its implementation.”
This victory has come from the tireless struggle and organisational genius of the cleaners. We will continue to support our colleagues throughout this process and will expect from @GoldsmithsUoL proper transparency during its implementation. hasta la victoria siempre! https://t.co/QQEEgv4etm
— Justice for Cleaners [Goldsmiths] (@CleanersFor) September 20, 2018
The new deal will ensure Goldsmiths cleaners benefit from increased annual leave allowance, an improved pension deal and the same maternity, paternity and adoption leave allowance that any other Goldsmiths employee has.
The changes have been welcomed by the cleaning staff of the university: “I think the in housing will be great and we hope staff can have a choice of shift patterns and it’s well structured”, a cleaner quoted.
Last week, the mayor of Lewisham Damien Egan, along with other councillors had written to the university authorities, pledging their support for the campaign: “We believe this is the right thing to do. There is a growing body of evidence that outsourcing of services to private service companies has a detrimental impact on the workforce, on their pay and on their terms and conditions.”
A Justice for Cleaners spokesperson said: “We are incredibly grateful for the support given to the campaign by the Lewisham Labour Group and we hope that their letter written to the warden can prompt the Senior Management Team to announce its decision to bring cleaners in-house sooner rather than later.”
After yesterday’s victory we still need to support a number of workers who have been out of work for a month after ISS restructured their shifts. These workers desperately need financial support while we campaign to have them reinstated and to pursue cases of discrimination.
— Justice for Cleaners [Goldsmiths] (@CleanersFor) September 21, 2018
Meanwhile, the campaign group is also working towards ensuring that cleaners who lost their job after the restructuring in August are brought back in.
A student spokesperson added: “The action itself felt purposeful, for some time the student movement has felt abstracted from winning any attainable victory. When we stood as students alongside workers suffering most immediately the effects of marketisation in higher education, it felt like we finally had a purchase over the claim to ‘free education’, and that we were designing what that might look like.
“The atmosphere was like a party, we blasted tunes and chatted to a bunch of visitors about supporting the cleaners. There were people from all parts of the Goldsmiths community in the 300 strong crowd, and we spoke and thought about the way we want our university to be run; there’s power in that.“If we’re going to be a force that intervenes in our universities’ vanity driven expansion projects; the casualisation of lecturers work and the nicking of their pensions; the growing mental health crisis linked to the increased individualisation within the work and lives of students; a housing crisis that sees us ripped off in student halls unfit for purpose, then we need to organise from the base across the higher education sector.
“As students we have a particular role to play in activism on campus. When we do act from that strong base, the power we hold is immense, and that’s how we can reshape our universities.”
GJFC has also started a fund to reimburse workers who have been affected by the restructuring.