LSE Cleaners Point the Way for Imperial War Museums staff

Cleaners at London School of Economics (LSE) have recently won the promise to be taken in-house by LSE from Spring 2018 and have restored equal contractual rights as in-house cleaners. This follows a 10-month campaign, organised notably by their union, United Voices of the World (UVW), of protest and strikes by the cleaners and their student, academic and trade union supporters to restore equal, humane and liveable working conditions – and to oppose harsh workplace retaliation by their employer, Noonan Services. The experiences of LSE’s workers is both a dire warning and example for staff at the Imperial War Museums who are also employed by Noonan.

LSE renewed their cleaning contract with Noonan Services last year, a cleaning and facilities management company originating in Ireland and currently owned by a private equity firm based in Guernsey and London. The result has been the creation of a two-class structure of outsourced cleaners on inferior, precarious and, in some cases, unliveable contractual terms who have alleged harsh disciplinary actions and their right to trade union representation being infringed.

The same two-class system is being implemented by Noonan Services at the Imperial War Museums (IWM), which contracted out its Visitor Services & Security team in 2014. Noonan Services picked up the contract in 2016 after the company that was awarded the £10-11 million contract by IWM – Shield Guarding – went into administration.

Whilst such companies cannot drive down costs immediately be making wholesale changes to contracts, due to Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations (TUPE) – they aim to do this gradually through, as the defunct Shield Group proposed in their bid to IWM: “reduction in staff numbers; the benefits of providing additional staff from their (Shield) reserve and support teams; and the natural turnover in staff will enable them to employ on their terms and not IWM terms.”

Noonan’s cleaners at LSE receive 1% pensions contribution from their employer, whilst in-house staff receive up to a 16% contribution. The outsourced staff receive 28 days paid annual leave, include bank holidays, whilst in-house staff receive 40 days, including bank holidays and university closures. Noonan staff are entitled only to Statutory Sick Pay – the minimum legal amount – which means no sick pay for the first 3 days and then £88.45 per week from the fourth consecutive day.

Restructuring

At the Imperial War Museum, Visitor Services management staff have been paid off by Noonan or the Imperial War Museums to take early retirements or new roles and have either been replaced by staff on lesser contracts or not been replaced at all.

Due to reduced staff numbers and increased workload, LSE’s cleaning staff have complained of physical and psychological distress. A case that is still unresolved at LSE is the 2016 removal of Alba Pasmino by Noonan from the supervisor team after several years’ service, starting as a cleaner. She was given a few days’ notice as numbers were reduced from 18 to 13 roles and redefined as “Team Leaders”.  The campaign to have Alba Pasmino reinstated to her role is ongoing.

An early day House of Commons motion signed by 21 MPs, stated that (with my emphasis in bold):

“this House notes with concern that cleaners who are employed at the London School of Economics (LSE) by the contractor Noonan Services receive inferior terms and conditions to their in-house counterparts in respect of sick pay, pensions and maternity, paternity and adoption leave pay; condemns victimisation by Noonan of members of the cleaning workforce who are members of the trades union United Voices of the World (UVW) and who have taken an active part in the campaign to improve their terms and conditions; is concerned that Noonan and the LSE failed to take action over a serious allegation made by a cleaner and member of UVW of homophobic abuse; is also concerned that Noonan have sought to ban the cleaners’ trades union from representing members of the cleaning staff, an act which infringes on their right to trades union representation; believes that a prestigious and wealthy institution such as the LSE should not have a two-tier workforce, and should properly monitor and hold to account their contractor and intervene where necessary to ensure that cleaners are treated with respect and dignity; and calls on the LSE and Noonan to ensure that the cleaners’ demands in respect of equal terms and conditions, a reduction in workloads, a review of disciplinary procedures and the reinstatement of their colleague Alba Pasmino are met.”

Protest

LSE cleaners’ and their trade unions’ success in pressurising LSE to bring them back in-house was achieved through 10-months of activism that brought together students, academic, wider trade union, public and political support. It was a painful process for the cleaners and close supporters, involving a 7-day strike, arrests at protests and alleged retaliation at work by Noonan. This was conducted by cleaners who were previously earning less than the London Living wage, with no union representation and all from migrant or BAME backgrounds.

Imperial War Museum Visitor Services & Security staff face the same challenges in halting the two-class system and the contractual race to the bottom. Whilst an online petition calling for protection of staff rights and an end to privatisation has achieved 1,191 signatures, so far, the union that represents some staff and published the petition, the Public & Commercial Services Union (PCS) has not succeeded in opposing the changes by the Imperial War Museum or its latest contractor, Noonan.

United Voices of the World

It was the new union, United Voices of the World (UVW) which describes itself as a grass-roots, member-led trade union comprising mostly of migrant workers, that succeeded where the established Unison, which represented some LSE cleaners, had not. When UVW first arrived on the scene in 2016, LSE refused to negotiate with them; however, as the cleaners increasingly turned to UVW and following strike action, LSE relented and entered into negotiations.

Imperial War Museum’s cleaning staff and cafe staff have long been contracted out. The cafe staff work for Sodexo, an international conglomerate, after previous contractor, Peyton & Byrne, went into administration in October 2016. IWM cleaning staff work for a new contractor, Servest, who have recently been awarded a 5-year contract.

Further potential for upheaval is on the horizon for Imperial War Museum staff as Noonan’s owner, Guernsey-based private equity firm, Alchemy Partners, is set to sell the company. Amongst the reported three bidders are Bidvest, a South African conglomerate with businesses in financial services, car sales and freight management and HIG Capital, another private equity firm. Should the deal go through for the expected 170 – 190 million, it will represent a potential 100% mark-up for Alchemy who acquired Noonan for 90 million in 2008.

Further information

View a montage of scenes from the LSE cleaners’/UVW union 7-day strike. Protests for the reinstatement of cleaning supervisor Alba Pasmino continue.

Imperial War Museum – Three years of privatised crisis – Counterfire website.

Advertisements

From India to Guernsey: Museum’s Outsourcing Journey Goes On

513782341_cb7db8b049_z

Naval Guns outside Imperial War Museum, London

Following the winding up of museum contractor, Shield Guarding, the livelihoods of the Imperial War Museum’ Visitor Services and Security staff lies in the hands of a private equity firm. Alchemy Partners, which owns the new contractor, Noonan Services, specialises in investing in “distressed and underperforming businesses” to achieve “superior risk-adjusted returns” for its investor clients.

In 2011, the Imperial War Museum conducted a Visitor Services & Security review to compare the in-house service with the market. The review focused on “effectiveness, efficiencies and also opportunities for staff development.” A decision was reached to outsource the department and, in 2013, IWM had a successful bidder – “Shield Group,” a collection of security firms owned by Indian conglomerate, Topsgrup, was awarded the £10–11 million contract.

In April, this year, two years into a three year contract, Shield Guarding, went into administration. It has since been reported that the company made a £3.5 million loss in 2014 and, for some time, stopped paying staff pensions contributions, resulting in the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCSU) reporting them to the Pensions Regulator.

After months of rumour, IWM staff discovered that, following administration proceedings, they now worked for an Irish cleaning, facilities management and security firm, Noonan Services Group, who had bought the assets and business of the defunct Shield Guarding.

Noonan and Alchemy Partners

Noonan was set up in 1977 as a family business by Noel Noonan, a Limerick-born Irish businessman. In those days, it had a handful of staff and specialised in cleaning services. It grew dramatically but was still primarily a cleaning and maintenance firm until 2002 when it purchased an Irish security firm. In 2006, Noonan made a pretax profit of €4.3 million from a turnover of €103 million.

In 2008, Noonan was sold for €90 million in a management buy-out backed by a private equity firm, Alchemy Partners, described by Bloomberg as a “vulture firm.”

Alchemy Partners’ fund management company, Alchemy Partners (Guernsey) Ltd, is based in Guernsey and has businesses based in London. Between formation in 1997 and 2004, Alchemy was reported to have made a return of £1bn for investors, including Goldman Sachs Asset Management and British Aerospace investment fund.

The Deal

Alchemy’s acquisition of the defunct Shield Guarding, for an undisclosed sum, bears similarities to their purchase of another distressed business, Belfast-based outsourcing firm, Resource.

In 2014, Resource went into administration after an order requested by a Guernsey-based company, known as R3768723 Ltd, which is thought to be owned by Alchemy Partners.

John Hansen and Stuart Irwin, of KPMG in Ireland, were appointed as administrators of the defunct company and Noonan Services Group came in to purchase the business and assets.

Likewise, after Shield Guarding went into administration in April 2016, KPMG’s John Hansen and Stuart Irwin were appointed as administrators (by which time, Shield Guarding were known as Jameson and Harrison Security Limited). Noonan Services Group took over the business of Shield Guarding.

The Future

From finding themselves working for a firm owned by an Indian conglomerate, Imperial War Museum Visitor Services and Security are now employed by a company headquartered in Dublin, whose registered office is in Surrey and whose parent company is a vulture capital firm registered in Guernsey.

More significantly, the contractual rights of IWM staff, from all five branches, are in jeopardy and the policy of hiring staff on zero hour contracts at the Museum is likely to continue.

 

Museum Contractor Goes Bust

15218204472_2dd946a485_z

Shield Guarding, the private security firm that was given a £10-11 million contract by the Imperial War Museums  to provide Visitor Services and Security, has gone bust two years into the contract. The business and assets of the defunct company have been acquired by Noonan, a facilities management company owned by private equity firm, Alchemy.

The privatisation, in December 2013, was controversial for turning over Museum front-of-house employees to a security firm with no visitor services experience. IWM made the decision for “effectiveness, efficiencies and and also opportunities for staff development.” Aside from quality of service,  concerns were raised that Shield Group profited by placing their staff on zero-hour contracts.

The contract with Shield, owned by Indian firm Topsgrup, was beset by payroll and administrative errors and failure to pay staff pensions on time resulted in the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCSU) reporting the company to the Pensions Regulator.

In June 2016, security staff from Shield Group working at the University of Portsmouth threatened a walk out if delays over their pay continued.

A winding up order was published, in February 2016, only to be retracted a few days later. On 8th April, administrators were officially appointed.

The PCSU, which represents some of the staff whose contracts were privatised, has urged that the Museum consider bringing the service back in-house. Moreover, question marks have been raised, again, about the contracting out process.