AMEY WORKERS:APPEAL DISMISSED:DEMO AT HQ

On Saturday we learnt that the appeals against dismissal by the five cleaners (Julio, Pedro, Ruben, Juan Camilo & Jorge) represented by their union Prospect, were rejected by Amey PLC.

It now seems likely this case will go to a Employment Tribunal. If so it could be a drawn-out process of several months. We hope to keep the pressure up throughout and this initial action is our response to the company’s decision.

This follows last Sunday’s packed public meeting with speakers from Amey, CAIC and other disputes (see http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2008/11/413214.html) and the picket last Friday of Amey in Bristol.

So the current timeline is:

Friday 28 November: London protest (as above)
Sunday 30 November: CAIC meeting where we will discuss future tactics and assign campaign work
Monday 8 December: Protest at Amey’s national HQ in Oxford, at 11am. Details to follow. Transport from Bristol(e-mail bristolnoborders@riseup.net) and possibly elsewhere.

If you can’t make it:
you can call or email Amey, NPL or the DIUS (govt dept): see updated model letters below.
YOU CAN INVITE A NPL-AMEY CLEANER TO YOUR MEETING and/or make a donation. Email latin_americanworkers@hotmail.com


Email for DIUS: Complaints.DIUS@dius.gsi.gov.uk

Dear Sir/Madam:

I am writing to you to manifest my concern at the recent sacking of five cleaners working at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) for Amey PLC, contracted to work there by the DIUS. As you may know, the reason given for this measure was that these workers had brought Amey into disrepute by distributing a leaflet in which they informed other NPL staff of abuses being committed by Amey. The have now had their appeals against fdismisal turned down.

Considering these workers had tried to move grievances against their management, and Amey had failed to respect its own grievance procedure, what this effectively means is that they are being scapegoated for engaging in legitimate trade union activity and defending their rights, and being used as a threat to other workers should they wish to follow the same path, in the same way that a number of cleaners were made an example of in an immigration raid organised by Amey at NPL.

The abuses the cleaners were communicating to other NPL staff concerned health and safety; failure to consult over contractual changes; failure to fulfil pledges to replace staff (there are now 10 of the original 36 left), and thereby attempt to get rid of the London Living Wage (approved by the Mayor) which the original cleaning workforce had previously earned and pay them instead the minimum wage. Indeed, of the skeleton staff remaining almost half are temporary workers earning the minimum wage.

As a governmental body, the DIUS has a social responsibility to ensure that the businesses it outsources work to adhere to minimum standards when it comes to ethics and basic human and employment rights. It is not enough, therefore, for NPL to simply wash its hands and say this matter only concerns Amey. If the DIUS fails to tell Amey to change its practices, it allows itself to become guilty by association.

I am also particularly disturbed that two of the sacked workers are refugees who themselves had escaped persecution for trade union and political activity in Colombia and been granted protection, only to be persecuted here by a rogue employer. Their sacking would seem to fly in the face of the government’s refugee integration policies and in general it’s aim of supporting vulnerable groups to secure stable employment. This issue has also caused great concern in the Latin American community and has been aired at public meetings and in the community media. There are therefore issues of community cohesion to consider.

I would therefore urge you to intervene as a matter of urgency and instruct Amey to reinstate the sacked workers and recognise all workers’ union rights, and to terminate the contract with them should they fail to do so. The longer this situation remains unsolved, the worse it will be for the DIUS’s image, which will be publicly associated with the worst kind of conduct as information regarding this case keeps on spreading far and wide.

Yours sincerely

Email to Martyn Sene, Managing Director of NPL martyn.sene@npl.co.uk

I wish to express my deep concern and indeed disgust at the sacking of 5 Latin American cleaners working at National Physical Laboratory for Amey Business Services. They have now had their appeals against dismisal refused, and it looks like this dispute will ‘run and run’.

The ‘crime’ of these long-serving staff was to alert NPL staff of the failure of their employer to address legitimate grievances. This followed the stress and uncertainty of a near 3 month suspension.

These abuses related to: health and safety; failure to consult over contractual changes; failure to fulfil pledges to replace staff (there are now 10 of the original 36 left), and thereby attempt to get rid of the London Living Wage (approved by the Mayor) which the original cleaning workforce had previously earned and pay them instead the minimum wage. Indeed of the skeleton staff remaining almost half are temporary staff earning the minimum wage.

I believe that both NPL and the DIUS have a responsibility as a socially responsible governmental body to ensure that the businesses it outsources work to adhere to minimum standards when it comes to ethics and basic human and employment rights. These are demands a number of statutory bodies, such as local councils, are nowadays placing on cleaning companies, due to overwhelming evidence of abuses in this industry, as evidenced by the recent report on Commission on Vulnerable Workers and the measures the government is now taking as a result of this report.

This situation has already caused considerable concern in the Latin American community in London as evidenced by a recent public meeting held in their support. Indeed the community had barely recovered from the traumatic and totally avoidable immigration raid at NPL premises last year, which itself damaged community relations. I am however pleased to learn that NPL staff of different grades have expressed support for the cleaners’s situation. I am also aware of growing interest in the national media and the scientific community, especally given the fact that two of the sacked cleaners are Colombian refugees, and the scientific community in Britain has a long and proud history of supporting scientists and academics who have been persecuted for trade union and poltical activity in their own countries.

I would therefore urge you to intervene as a matter of urgency in the face of Amey’s out-of-control site management and instruct them to reinstate the sacked workers. We believe that this should have been done much earlier in order to avoid the extreme situation at which we have arrived.


– Email for Amey Chief Executive: mel.ewell@amey.co.uk

Dear Mr Ewell:

I am writing to you to manifest my concern at the refusal of Amey PLC to reinstate five long-serving cleaners working at the National Physical Laboratory follwoing their recent appeals against dismissal.

As you may know, the reason given for this measure was that these workers had brought Amey into disrepute by distributing a leaflet in which they informed other NPL staff of abuses being committed by Amey management on site. Considering these workers had tried to move grievances against their management, and Amey had failed to respect its own grievance procedure, what this effectively means is that they are being scapegoated for engaging in legitimate trade union activity and defending their rights, and being used as a threat to other workers should they wish to follow the same path, in the same way that a number of cleaners have recently been made an example of in a migration raid organised by Amey in your premises.

The abuses the cleaners were communicating to other NPL staff concerned health and safety; failure to consult over contractual changes; failure to fulfil pledges to replace staff (there are now 10 of the original 36 left), and thereby attempt to get rid of the London Living Wage (approved by the Mayor) which the original cleaning workforce had previously earned and pay them instead the minimum wage. Indeed, of the skeleton staff remaining almost half are temporary workers earning the minimum wage.


This situation has already caused considerable concern in the Latin American community in London as evidenced by a recent public meeting held in their support. Indeed the community had barely recovered from the traumatic and totally avoidable immigration raid at NPL premises last year, which itself damaged community relations. I am however pleased to learn that NPL and Amey staff of different grades have personally expressed support for the cleaners’s situation. I am also aware of growing interest in the national media and the scientific community, especally given the fact that two of the sacked cleaners are Colombian refugees, and the scientific community in Britain has a long and proud history of supporting scientists and academics who have been persecuted for trade union and poltical activity in their own countries.


I therefore ask that Amey reinstate the sacked workers and recognise all workers’ union rights. The longer this situation remains unsolved, the worse it will be for Amey’s image, which will be publicly associated with the worst kind of conduct as information regarding this case keeps on spreading far and wide.

Yours sincerely

– Background on what’s been going on at NPL

Two months ago five Colombian cleaners working for Amey Plc at the National Physical Laboratory were suspended for daring to criticise Amey for putting an excessive workload onto ever fewer staff, for unilaterally changing terms and conditions and for disrespecting grievance procedures. The five have since been sacked. Theyare all members of the Prospect union and some of Unite-T&G as well.

When Amey took over the contract in December 2006 it found itself faced with a largely Latin American migrant workforce that was organised and conscious of its rights. They had recently unionised and were taking steps to gain recognition – a right afforded to all other staff at the NPL.

In order to enforce a serious increase in workload and downgrade in conditions, Amey tricked the cleaners into attending a fake training session, only for the doors to be bolted and 7 of the workers to be taken away by the police. Of these, three were deported – one to Colombia and two to Brazil. All lost their jobs.

These workers were never replaced, and there are now 10 cleaners doing the work previously done by 36! The sacking of the five workers is a direct result of the remaining workers’ attempts to protest against this trend. Amey say that they were fired for bringing the company into disrepute – that is, handing out a leaflet to other NPL staff stating what was happening. Considering these workers had tried to move grievances which were never listened to, what Amey is actually saying is: these workers were sacked for taking the only course of action available to them, or to anyone whose rights are not recognised by their employers.

***

But this small story is a perfect lesson in how migration controls work, and what role they play in the economy. It’s clear that, in order to take the contract at NPL, Amey had to make a bid stating that it could do the same work as the previous company for less money. This ‘race to the bottom’ is the way the market works.

But how can a company do the same work for less? By keeping wages down, enforcing a bigger workload on less workers, using agency workers (mostly hired as ‘self-employed’ ‘one-person companies’) that have no rights and aren’t given the appropriate training. How can they get away with this? By counting on a workforce that is not aware of its labour rights, who has less options in the work market, or is too precarious or afraid to challenge their conditions.

In other words, the migrant worker who has little or no support network in this country, and whose visa status can often be irregular, is the ideal worker for companies like Amey: the guarantee that they can keep on racing to the bottom. It is by exploiting their precariousness that Amey can make its £75 million net annual profit.

And what if they find organised workers who won’t accept such exploitation? That’s when immigration controls come in handy: to punish or threaten with deportation and sacking; to replace them with others who won’t ‘cause any problems’. Why won’t they cause any problems? Often because they are irregular themselves – but their visa status is not a problem, unless they demand their rights.

Amey knows this game very well. It is a majority shareholder in Tubelines, which cleans parts of the Underground. Tube cleaners who dared to strike for a living wage this summer were faced with a corporate response consisting of… paper checks, immigration raids and deportations to safe, prosperous countries like Sierra Leone and the Congo. Once these retaliations take place, the cleaning companies can just hire a whole new batch of migrant workers – or, like at the NPL, take advantage of this situation and just get a small amount of people to do what used to be done by many more.

But the game is the same across the building management, cleaning and security industries. Companies in this sector – often multinationals themselves – are often in the same situation as Amey: cleaning services at NPL, shareholder in the site management of the London Underground… and making profits off the back of migrant workers everywhere! Serco, the company that does the site management at NPL, can also be found at migrant detention centres like Harmondsworth and Colnbrook in London, where they provide site management and security services. It’s not much of a stretch to imagine that, while profiting from the misery of detainees and deportees, they also hire irregular migrants elsewhere!

This is ultimately more than just a matter of rights and fair treatment for migrant workers – it’s about the ‘race to the bottom’ that determines deregulation, worse pay and standards for all workers in the UK. There is only one solution to this problem: to regularise all migrant workers whose work produces millions for companies like Amey and Serco; to stop the use of raids and fear that keeps pushing down the conditions of migrant workers, but ultimately of all of us.

Latin American Workers’ Association
c/o T&G, 218 Green Lanes, London N4 2BR
tel: 020 8826 2063

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