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Complaints over SOAS caterers’ casual contracts

Caterers Elior are at the heart of a new scandal over the treatment of outsourced workers at SOAS after whistleblowers revealed a catalogue of complaints to The SOAS Spirit.

Elior employs a number of workers at SOAS on precarious casual contracts, where workers have no guaranteed hours per week and lack a stable income. The contracts also mean that staff are not paid any sick pay.

Speaking to The SOAS Spirit, one Elior worker said the use of these casual contracts means there are substantial fluctuations in the hours staff are required to work and there are many weeks when some staff members are offered no hours at all. “I can work 40 hours one week, and none the following one” one worker said.

Another said “My hours don’t vary that much, although for me, it can drop from 30 hours to zero…For some positions, there are more variations, but I think it is impossible to draw an average line.”

The Casual Workers Agreement which Elior issues, seen by The SOAS Spirit, says: “ The Company will be under no obligation to provide you with work and there will be no regular hours.”

“The Company will be under no obligation to provide you with work”

“The Company reserves the right to give, or refuse to give work to you at any time and will not give any reasons for its decision.”

Workers allege that Elior managers have showed favourtism when allocating hours, giving more to those with whom they had a good relationship and taking away hours from others as a punishment for poor performance.

“Since they have no obligation to give you hours of work, then it is clear that if you have a good relationship with your boss you will get more hours than someone who is complaining about things.” one worker told The SOAS Spirit.

Another worker said, whilst they hadn’t experienced favourtisim personally, “it could happen easily with such a set up”.

Workers and union representatives have said the precarious nature of the contracts those working for Elior are on make it difficult to engage trade union activities which could help improve their working conditions out of fear they may lose hours. SOAS’ UNISON branch, which represents support workers at the School does not have a formal recognition agreement with Elior although a number of catering staff are union members.

Elior won the five year contract to provide catering services to SOAS in August 2011 and has invested more than £600,000 in renovating the refectory facilities. The company also provides catering for Kingston, London South Bank and Chichester universities as well as elite private school Charterhouse.

The nature of the written agreement between Elior and their casual workers at SOAS means they are treated as “independent contractors and at no time will you hold yourself out as being an employee of the Company.”

The document states that it “constitutes a contract for the provision of services and not a contract of employment.”

The revelations come as cleaners at SOAS, employed by ISS, are balloting for strike action over the terms and conditions of their employment.

Speaking to The SOAS Spirit, a worker contracted on these terms said the “contracts gives you no financial stability. Its not possible to make plans, you may allow yourself to spend a bit of money one week, but if the next week you have no job, then you won’t be able to pay the rent, hence there is no quality of life.” The contracts means that workers can be paid £200 for one week and then receive no wages the next.

“You can’t really plan for anything because of the money, and also because you only know your planning for the next week something like three days in advance.” one of the casual workers told The SOAS Spirit.

A spokesperson for Elior said “Elior UK is proud to be a good employer, recognised as the only contract catering company listed in The Sunday Times Top 25 Best Big Companies To Work For in 2013. This award is based upon the views of our employees,achieved through the consistent and unequivocal delivery of an excellent HR policy.”

“Elior UK has an employee turnover of just 18.8% (the lowest in the contract catering industry) against the industry average of 40%.”

They added that “Casual colleagues are offered work as it arises – often this is related to functions and events.”

“Unlike zero-hours contracts, it is up to the individuals whether they choose to work the hours offered.”

“The number of hours offered is dependent on the requirements of the business and the skills needed for a particular event or service coverage.”

The Elior spokesperson said that whilst casual staff are not given sick pay they can claim Statutory Sick Pay and that the company has a good working relationship with the unions.


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