Cleaning staff & UNISON members in front of Strand Facade. 25 November 2016 (Credit: Jennifer Creery)

King’s cleaning staff recently protested against their contractor, Servest, claiming to be severely overloaded with work, unfairly treated and not listened to when complaining.

These issues were made even more unbearable by a recent letter written by the company: Servest informed the employees that their working hours and rota will affect major adjustments, and that their ‘position is potentially at risk of significant change or redundancy’.

This letter proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back and was added to the long list of reasons for which the demonstration was organised.

In fact, when 90 percent of UNISON members working for the organisation declared to be ready to take industrial action, it is evident that several disappointments have led to this high degree of frustration.

When thinking about this high percentage, we see it is not just a statistic, but a number which represents people. These are people with families and young children, people who are now asked to adapt themselves to shifts starting before 8 am or after 6pm. People who have worked for the College and respective management companies for significant amounts of time and yet now risk losing their jobs entirely.

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The 90% speaks for itself. However it is somewhat staggering to realise the lengths taken to recognise this situation as a problem.  

For example, it is a known fact that there are only two employees taking care of the whole of Somerset House. Furthermore, as an anonymous source said, if one of them is unable to attend to their shift, the other has their workload doubled.

Could you imagine having to clean such a building on your own?

The most heartbreaking element of this story is that these issues have existed for a long time. Discontent and disorganisation could be the result either of a lack of communication between the company and the employees, or of a superficial attitude in dealing with the staff’s complaints.

In this scenario, it would be fair to point out that a work contract, in order to be considered successful, has to stand on a solid basis of trust and respect.

However, with the starkest image from this campaign being the sign that read, ‘We are not the dirt we clean’, it is clear the staff find it difficult to reconcile this idea in their minds.

Currently, the changes concerning the staff’s working condition are still uncertain, with permanence not guaranteed until the contract’s end next year. After this, the employees will be free to have their say in the choice of their next contractor.

In the case of the College and cleaning contracts, hoping for the best is not an option. Despite the contract coming to an end in the near future, these issues must be solved in the present.


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