Time to take our catering back, and reward our catering staff properly

Some years ago, a campaign by the Combined Union Committee saved the jobs of the majority of GCU catering staff – due to be paid off by Glasgow Caledonian University just before Christmas 2016. This involved a threatened boycott by staff if the redundancies went ahead, and also led to questions in the Scottish Parliament.

The combined unions went on to argue that as a University for the Common Good, our catering staff should be taken ‘in-house’ and made a direct part of the university, given that some catering staff had worked for students and staff for over twenty years. Although we saved jobs, we were unsuccessful in this, with the university, (despite our supplying evidence from elsewhere to the contrary) stating that ‘contracting out’ to others would provide the best service to students and staff.

We were assured catering workers’ conditions would not suffer despite being taken over by Baxter Storey – who recently in 2020 were criticised for plans to replace staff by vending machines at Glasgow College. Despite GCU itself being a Living Wage Employer which means the minimum hourly wage any member of staff can be paid is £10.90 per hour, our catering staff are currently on £9.90 per hour.

Staff and students were promised more choice and a voice in what was produced, with multiple outlets throughout the university.

Despite these promises, and despite being in a post-covid situation, outlets have been closed in both the Learning Cafe, and also at the bottom of the Mbeki building. The ‘healthy choice’ of what is provided has shrunk tremendously with takeaway sandwich offerings being reduced to a majority of white bread sandwiches, and including very limited vegetarian/vegan options. The decision of what is provided by Baxter Storey is of course, not up to the local catering staff.

In fact anyone searching for a healthy option in late afternoon in the Library when the refectory is closed, is unlikely to find it as the photo below indicates.

Apart from four rather tired oranges, not many healthy options supplied by our contracted-out caterers

In November, university staff were informed that the Executive Board had decided ‘due to the impact of the cost of living crisis‘, and ‘given the University’s current strong financial position‘, the University would provide a contribution to staff (defined as those employed on a GCU contract of employment, effective from 31 July 2022, and still employed by GCU on 30 November 2022), of £1000 to be paid in their November salaries. The Executive Board believed that ‘giving all staff in scope the same amount, regardless of salary or full or part-time status, is fair and we hope it will have a particularly positive impact on staff on lower salaries’.

Catering staff – despite being paid below the living wage (see above) are denied this payment however, due to the Executive Board’s decision to contract out the service back in 2017.

On Monday 21st November on arrival at the university, catering staff (currently depleted by illness and with only three full time staff currently employed by Baxter Storey), were extremely surprised to find that the university had decided to instigate free breakfasts for students and staff – with catering staff given little time, if any, to prepare.

Without mentioning the co-incidence that this had been instigated to co-incide with the first day of strikes by Unison, this soon led to long queues forming, with 600 using the service on Monday, 700 on Tuesday and 800 on Wednesday.

The instigation of free breakfasts for staff and students, is of course a welcome development, although it is scandalous that some staff have overall salaries low enough that they have to use this. Surely this is again an argument for fair pay for all staff at university (in particular our catering staff).

As a University for the Common Good, the Combined Campus Unions still believe that catering services – currently inadequately provided, despite service from our underpaid catering staff well above and beyond what should be expected – needs to be taken in-house. The contract is coming up for renewal – we expect the Executive Board to do the right thing and would ask the University Court to insist that they do so. 

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