Gabriel Rahman, BA Politics and Development Studies and Frances Howe, LLB
The Justice for Workers Campaign has launched a petition ahead of its meeting with SOAS Management on 3 February 2022. The petition is being circulated around students and demands that ‘SOAS Management honour their obligations to the safety and wellbeing of all staff, especially during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and increasing risks of the Omicron variant.’
The petition demands that SOAS replace the staff that were cut due to the Transformation and Change Policy in 2020. The Justice for Workers Campaign states in their petition that over 50% of all SOAS cleaning staff were let go during the summer break in 2020. This made up twenty-two of a total forty members who were cut from the team of staff. At the time, the SOAS Spirit reported that UNISON branch secretary, Sandy Nicoll had estimated that 1 in 4 professional staff members had been made redundant at SOAS due to the policy.
In speaking with the SOAS Spirit, a student member of the campaign, Gabriel Rahman (2nd year Politics & Development Studies), said that the need for the petition was clear: ‘After firing over half the cleaning team during a pandemic, SOAS management are further turning their back on the remaining staff members who are ever more overworked. The cleaners are some of the lowest-paid staff members on campus, and most are from migrant backgrounds. The fact SOAS continuously mistreats them, ignoring their working conditions in times of health and economic crises, only further speaks to the hypocrisy of this supposedly ‘decolonial’ and global institution.’
The full demands of the petition are as follows:
‘REPLACE the workers fired during Summer 2020. HIRE more workers to mitigate the impact of workers fired during Summer 2020. SHIFT the rota so there
are more cleaners in the morning and less during the day to make cleaning more effective. ESTABLISH a suitable resting space and common room for the cleaning team that includes basic provisions such as a: Fridge, Changing space, Resting space. MEET with UNISON representatives and cleaning staff to clarify the specific details of these demands. PROVIDE English classes to the cleaning team as promised. STOP planned dehumanising timing of individual tasks of the cleaning team and trust them to carry out their work efficiently, as with other members of staff.’
Hala Haidar, a first year Global Development student, shares with the Spirit that: ‘SOAS prides itself on its progressivism yet continuously mistreats the essential workers who have been working tirelessly to keep our community safe during the pandemic. The demands in this petition, from hiring more cleaners to ensuring the cleaning team have a proper resting space, are necessary.’
The Justice for Workers Campaign asserts that ‘not only are staff mitigating this destructive reduction in capacity, but they are also expected to fulfil more responsibilities required of them due to COVID-19 cleaning policies. As a result, cleaners are evermore overworked and underpaid.’
“Especially in the context of the ongoing strike actions at SOAS against pay cuts; casualisation; race, gender and disability pay gaps as well as unsafe workloads, the unacceptable treatment of the cleaning team should be a key issue.”
In speaking with the Spirit, campaign member, Charlotte Müller (MSc Migration, Mobility & Development), drew links between strike action at SOAS and the pay cuts made in part due to the Transformation and Change policy: ‘especially in the context of the ongoing strike actions at SOAS against pay cuts; casualisation; race, gender and disability pay gaps as well as unsafe workloads, the unacceptable treatment of the cleaning
team should be a key issue. In these powerful moments of collective political action with potentially more strike action to come, the struggle of the cleaning team for dignified working conditions is your struggle too. Signing the petition is a first step to highlight your solidarity with ALL members of staff at SOAS.’
Finally, the Justice for Workers Campaign urges readers to ‘scan the code and sign the petition to stand in solidarity with the cleaning staff who kept our university open and are now being callously ignored by SOAS management.’
Students and staff are able to find the petition by scanning the QR code below.
Photo Caption: The current resting space for SOAS cleaning staff (Credit: Justice 4 Workers Campaign).