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.

The Value of Human Interaction: Talks at IWM London

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IWM expert guide talk on WW1 Nery Artillery Gun

In the absence of the availability of audio guides, visitors seeking supporting context and more detailed narrative at IWM London have relied on a series of excellent daily talks by the Museum’s expert guides. They might be brief and focusing on particular displays but the talks provide informative and meaningful human interaction at  the Museum.

To add to these talks, IWM London has just announced a new £10-a-ticket introductory tour, “From Bedlam to Baghdad” which, in approximately 40 minutes, provides an overview of the origins of the building as Bethlem Hospital  – known as ‘Bedlam’ – through to the displays on three floors of the Museum. These tours will occur on selected days at 12 pm and  2 pm.

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Free daily talks

The provision of the evolving series of free, public 20/30 minute talks provided by expert staff has been a highly effective development at IWM London since the £40 million redevelopment in 2014. The talks tend to focus on a particular display or exhibit and provide useful context and background for visitors who can drop-in to the talks – and, even, take a seat on a folding stool.

Most recently, the range of free daily talks have covered:

(i) Baghdad Car – destroyed in a suspected suicide bomb in Baghdad’s Al-Mutanabbi Street. Toured around the US by artist Jeremy Deller before being donated to IWM.

(ii) Little Boy atomic bomb casing, one of which was dropped on Hiroshima – providing information on the impact of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki from both military and human perspectives.

(iii) Berlin Wall segment

(iv) John Singer Sargent painting, Gassed (Currently, this exhibit is being loaned to institutions in North America)

(v) Jacqmar scarves – propaganda scarves celebrating achievements of Winston Churchill

(vi) Midget X-7 submarine assigned to attack German battleship, Tirpitz on 22 September 1943.

(vii) Falkland Islands conflict display

(viii) Nery Artillery Gun (QF 13 pdr Mk 1 ) – deployed during WW1 from August 1914 by British forces as part of Cavalry Division.

(ix) V2 and V1 (doodlebug) German rockets and impact of London blitz.

Human Interaction

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The newly launched introductory paid tour to IWM London is likely to be a very useful addition to the talks available at the Museum. The history of the building’s use as ‘Bedlam’, the mental patient hospital, is not currently presented in any exhibit in the Museum, so will be of particular interest to many visitors.

It is essential that IWM London retains its roster of engaging free daily talks, alongside this new paid tour initiative. The value of the talks in bringing to life objects and exhibitions and placing them in historical context is great.

There has been a deskilling of IWM staff since the 2014 privatisation of Visitor Services and Security staff in favour of security personnel on short-term precarious contracts. Expert staff guidance and context is less available as a result, making the availability of free talks of particular importance to visitors.

Moreover, as more and more Museum transactions occur online, from buying tickets to ascertaining information, the real human interaction with an expert guide is increasingly an invaluable offering and a major draw for visitors.

New daily talks are regularly developed by the IWM team to address important aspects of the collection and exhibitions. Talks occur at regular intervals during the day. It is advisable to contact the Museum in advance to find out if a particular talk is occurring on a given day.

Museum Contractor Goes Bust

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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.