A dark day for the University for the Common Good

Common GoodCatering workers in tears as 69 told they will be on the dole two weeks before Christmas.

It’s not often that work as a trade union representative brings me to the edge of tears, but as I watched four of the Cordia catering staff – all women who had sold me coffee and sandwiches at GCU for at least ten years – cry in each others arms this morning, I really felt heartsick for them.

We were standing in the Roots cafe across from the Arc. They had just been to a mass meeting of staff with Cordia, who had told them brusquely that ‘After 16th of December you are no longer our responsibility’. One of the women had worked at GCU for 22 years, another for 25. One asked me through her tears “At 57 where am I going to get another job?” Another said bitterly – “you are told just like that, and then expected to just go back and put on a cheerful face and serve students and staff”

Campus trade unions had been astonished to hear from catering staff a short time ago that the university had ended its contract with Cordia, over a year before it had been due to end, and that unlike the good practice that normally exists in the public sector, staff were not to be ‘TUPEd’ over into a new employer, with their wages and conditions protected, since the university had not yet started the process of tendering for a new organisation to replace Cordia.

Although campus trade unions do not represent the Cordia staff (as they are not direct employees of GCU) we were astonished not to have been informed in advance of this proposed move, given that campus unions and management have a mutual ‘no-surprises’ policy in place which states that management should treat trade unions as strategic partners and goes on to say

“At the heart of agreed behaviours should be a firm agreement on a no-surprise approach, with both sides committing to mutual discussion in good time and the earliest possible sharing of information, accepting that managers clearly have the responsibility to manage and take timely decisions….”

At our request a special meeting of the Trade Union Joint Consultation Committee was held  comprising of campus trade unions and management. At the meeting, management accepted that these guidelines had not been carried out.

The trade unions expressed that view that morally the university had let down those working for the GCU through Cordia, by the early termination of the contract and the failure to open up a process that would allow other large organisations to bid for the contract (or indeed Cordia itself to do so), and which would have allowed the transfer over of existing staff, some who had worked here from since before most of our undergraduates were born.

We put forward our preferred option – that of the university taking the catering ‘in-house’ and having the performance monitored by a joint board of students, staff and management. This remains our position.

We informed management that we were disappointed and in disagreement with their actions, and that we would be making our view on this public.  In line with the no surprises policy we informed them that we would let them have our statement before releasing it to the public later today. This we did. The statement can be found below.

We were again astonished that an all staff e-mail was issued this afternoon giving more details than the trade unions had been given this morning, and with no sense of irony stating: “In making this change the University would like to acknowledge the work of the staff of Cordia who have played a much appreciated role in our University Community”.

This message also stated that  the university would be using a range of caterers rather than a single provider – although we had been assured in our meeting the same day that the option of taking it in house would still be considered before tenders were issued.

On querying why this message had been issued – without the courtesy of informing campus trade unions first under the ‘no surprises’ policy – we were told that it was standard operational (practice) to make sure (that) operational service was in place, and that ‘dates were firmed up this afternoon’.

We don’t think that allowing a procedure where 69 hard working employees, mostly women are out of a job exactly 10 days before Christmas should be ‘standard operational practice’ in a University for the Common Good.

We think the university should think carefully about the message this puts out to our staff, students, and the Glasgow community and get back around the table with Cordia in order to find a solution that is humane and decent.

The full text of the Combined Union text is here:

The trade unions of Glasgow Caledonian University met with our management at an emergency meeting this morning (Friday 4th November) to express our disquiet and anger at the handling of the catering contract by the University

The decision has been made to impose an early termination of the contract with Cordia.  This will result in staff many of whom have worked for years (some up to 25 years ) on campus losing their jobs in the run up to Christmas.

The majority of these staff are women.

The unions believe this approach seems heartless and goes against the Common Good motto of the University.  Although the staff are employed by Cordia they provide a face for the University for students

Management confirmed that the new catering model that they want to provide in their view will not be covered by TUPE regulations.

The trade unions made it clear that they fundamentally disagreed with this approach and put forward plans of a different model for the catering staff to be transferred in-house

This could be overseen by a board consisting of staff, management and student reps.  This would allow existing Cordia staff to transfer and the University to get the full profits of the catering service 

The trade unions will be promoting and campaigning on this proposal to ensure the security of staff at GCU in the next two months.

 

 

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