Sodexo presses ahead with disgraceful redundancies – Birkbeck must take responsibility

Two weeks ago, we announced that Sodexo is threatening catering staff at Birkbeck with redundancy. Since then, it has become clear that the restructure has involved very little real consultation. UNISON and staff have been working collaboratively to get more information on the decision and process, seeking to avoid detrimental compulsory redundancies.

Birkbeck UNISON therefore demand two things from Birkbeck and Sodexo:

  • Pause this rushed restructure until it is clear what the true extent of the pandemic is this Autumn and whether outlets will re-open or the government will extend the furlough scheme;
  • if Sodexo and Birkbeck believe this restructure, in these uncertain times, must continue, they should work together to meet the salary gap for any staff offered new positions starting with Sodexo or Birkbeck in January 2021.

Extremely worrying details emerge about the restructure

After the initial announcement on 27 August that our Sodexo colleagues were at risk of redundancy, Sodexo left staff to worry about the lack of further information for 11 days of the 30 day consultation period until finally beginning 1-to-1 consultations in the week commencing 7 September.

In the 1-to-1s it quickly became apparent why there had been such a delay: the giving of bad news is not something even a company with a worldwide yearly profit of €686 million relishes.

At the presentation given on 27 August, much was made of the 8 Barista positions available to staff in the new structure. It transpired in 1-to-1 consultations that of these 8 roles, 3 do not start until January 2021. Anyone offered one of these 3 roles will be placed on a ‘non-term time’ contract from October until January.

A non-term time contract means non-payment of wages!

The same applies to 1 of the 3 supervisor roles offered in the new structure. UNISON representatives asked what incentive Sodexo proposed to offer employees given roles starting in January, thereby not qualifying for a redundancy payment and having to find work in the meantime.

An answer was not forthcoming.

Many of the positions in the new structure are on reduced hours and yet include additional responsibilities, increasing the workloads of staff. It was also revealed that, of the remaining 5 Barista positions that do start immediately, only 3 are working Monday to Friday and 2 are weekend shifts.

Therefore the new structure disproportionately affects anyone with childcare responsibilities, particularly women. Potentially only 1 Barista position starts and ends in the morning, with the other Monday to Friday Barista positions finishing in the middle of the afternoon (home-time for most schools) or late in the evening.

Sodexo gives little hope of secure redeployment during the pandemic

Those not successful in the selection process will be offered the chance of redeployment. An internal vacancy list has been circulated including jobs in Newcastle, Wiltshire, Yeovil, Exeter, and Cork in Ireland. For staff already pushed to the margins of London by increasing rents, being given a list of redeployment opportunities hundreds of miles away or in a different country shows the lack of actual opportunity for those at risk of redundancy.

Of the limited positions available in central London, Sodexo’s main ‘growth opportunity’ for staff is as Covid-19 ‘Multi-Skilled Operatives’, working on a casual, week by week basis. These positions remove any remaining notion of security in terms of wages and introduce a whole new element of risk to the workplace.

Sodexo hopes that business with Birkbeck will pick back up in January, and even expand if all is well with the impact of the pandemic. UNISON therefore asks, does it make business sense to make locally experienced staff redundant in October (as the Government’s furlough scheme comes to an end), only to potentially advertise for new positions in January to cope with increased demand?

The amount of stress inflicted on loyal and hardworking staff for the sake of saving a potential 2 months’ wages is entirely disproportionate.

We call for Sodexo to work more closely with Birkbeck and UNISON to explore alternative arrangements to avoid redundancies, and stop the restructure until it is clear whether outlets will re-open or the government will extend the furlough scheme.

Birkbeck shares responsibility and must act

Sodexo’s actions are disgraceful and at odds with Birkbeck’s ethos of creating an inclusive working and learning environment. This however is the reality of privatisation. Choosing to outsource services to a company run entirely for profit makes Birkbeck morally responsible for the impacts caused on staff wellbeing. It is Birkbeck’s duty to step in when that company acts without care or thought for those staff on whom those vast profits are built.

Furthermore, Birkbeck must also take responsibility for its decision to deal last with insourcing the catering staff in its Facilities Review , which has meant that the workers were not been brought in-house by the end of 2019 (the target), or by the onset of the pandemic. In November 2019 we received assurances that the insourcing of Sodexo workers (under an Executive Lease arrangement) would be pursued. It is not acceptable to watch at a distance as hardworking staff with decades worth of experience and service at Birkbeck are left to fend for themselves.

We are therefore calling on Birkbeck management to treat Sodexo catering and support staff as truly part of the college community.

Management and the unions have agreed a Jobs Protection Scheme for teaching staff, an excellent initiative which has put Birkbeck ahead of many university employers. We need this kind of support to be extended to all staff on campus, including these workers at risk of redundancy.

We need a Jobs Protection Scheme for Sodexo workers!

While we appreciate that Sodexo staff have been encouraged to apply for internal vacancies within Birkbeck Facilities, only 7 of these start immediately: 2 start in November and the rest in January 2021.

In the short term, Birkbeck must (as a minimum) negotiate with Sodexo to meet the salary gap from October to December, in both internal vacancies and the new Barista roles.

This could be done at very little cost and would mean safety and security for loyal staff.

In the longer term, UNISON asks why management ruled out insourcing the affected staff, considering the assurances we received last year.

Get involved

This week, UNISON had an incredibly supportive and productive meeting with our comrades from the Students Against Racism Network (SARN) and UCU. We discussed ways to galvanise further support and to campaign with a united voice. We stand determined, ready and resolute to support our Sodexo colleagues in fighting this decision, taken at a time when this horrific pandemic still impacts our daily lives. Birkbeck UNISON calls on all who wish to join us to make their voices heard now – you can get in contact with us here.

A cartoon of protesters against Sodexo redundancies

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