Unite the Union members demonstrate outside James McCune Smith Building at University’s “fire and rehire”-style practices
At midday on Tuesday 13 July, members of Unite the Union and staff at the University of Glasgow gathered outside the new state-of-the-art James McCune Smith Building to protest against the University’s “fire and rehire”-style employment policy that is forcing current workers to take poorer-quality contracts for jobs they are already working in.
With speakers including Alison Maclean, Industrial Officer for Unite, alongside Pam Duncan-Glancy, Labour MSP for Glasgow, and Patrick Harvie, Greens MSP for Glasgow and co-leader of the Scottish Greens, there was a strong show of support for the affected University staff. The demonstration marked the start of mass grievance hearings taking place over this week and last, between University of Glasgow workers and the Chief Operating Officer, David Duncan.
Many workers across the University, including janitorial, library and catering staff, are looking at the ending of current work contracts to have new ones commenced on less favourable terms in what Unite has described as Glasgow’s “fire and rehire” strategy. The catering staff at the new James McCune Smith Building will operate through a brand new “wholly-owned subsidiary company” called “UoG Commercial Ltd”, which Unite state is “solely profit-driven”. The Glasgow Guardian have been informed that with the formation of the new company, current staff either face redundancy or inferior working conditions. According to a Unite spokesperson, some catering staff have been offered jobs within the new company, but have not yet been made aware of the conditions of their new contracts. Unite said that many new contracts will be detrimental to staff, with reductions in sick pay, holidays, pensions and increased weekend hours. Alison Maclean, Industrial Officer at Unite, told The Glasgow Guardian that the situation is “complex”, but that many staff felt as though “their backs were against the wall”.
Prior to the demonstration, Maclean explained that the event would be “a measure of the palpable anger felt amongst our members on campus. The University of Glasgow appears to be rolling out the appalling “fire and rehire” practices that have scourged the economy since the onset of the pandemic.
“We are demanding that the University do what they should have done from the start and transfer all catering staff on their protected terms and conditions. We also need an agreement to ensure there is no financial detriment to all staff as a result of the outcomes of the wider operational review.
“Many of these staff are the lowest paid and have continued to work on campus tirelessly throughout the pandemic. The thanks they get is a slap in the face from an employer who heavily relies on the public purse.”
Speaking at the demonstration, Maclean commented that the changes were a “disgrace for a university that is publicly funded” and they “set a dangerous precedent”. “The University should hang their head in shame,” she said, making reference to the financial losses many staff would see with these new changes. The results of a recent ballot on the University’s review of catering and facilities services was also referred to, with 88% of Unite’s members rejecting the detrimental changes, and therefore 88% of members would be prepared to take industrial action.
The first guest speaker was Pam Duncan-Glancy. Forceful in her words, she cited that these are “decisions made by people who frankly don’t know what they’re doing, or how they will impact peoples’ lives”. She went on to iterate the significance of timing: “This is certainly not a way to treat people at any time, but certainly not when there are one million living in poverty in Glasgow, and in the middle of the pandemic.” To the University staff and Unite members that had gathered, she said: “We will stand in solidarity with you to ensure you get the no detriment conditions you need in your jobs.”
“The University should be embarrassed and ashamed,” Patrick Harvie commented. “We’re not asking for a lot, except basic job protection. The rights and protection of the people who already work here should be defended.”
The co-leader of the Scottish Greens went to say that more should be demanded: “What we should really want is that our universities and colleges act as shining examples of the best possible employers so that they lift up the rest of our society and economy, instead of dragging themselves down to the rock bottom standards that we see throughout the private sector, and throughout our country and local economy.”
The University said it was “misleading” to describe the process as “fire and rehire” as it insisted nobody was being fired. A University of Glasgow spokesperson commented: “We are currently reviewing our catering and hospitality operations in response to changes in footfall and the way customers access services so they can operate sustainably in the future.
“We have committed to delivering any change with no compulsory redundancies, and we are offering those affected the chance to work within our existing catering operations or be redeployed into another role in the University, both on existing terms and conditions.
“We continue to engage and support all those affected throughout the review process, which we hope to conclude in the near future.”