Home Arts artists urge University of the Arts London to improve working conditions for cleaners

artists urge University of the Arts London to improve working conditions for cleaners

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Artists and scholars have signed an open letter calling on the University of the Arts London (UAL) to ‘treat cleaners fairly’, expressing ‘serious concern about the conditions’ workers face in one of the world’s largest art and design institutions in the capital.

The letter is the latest salvo from UAL: End Outsourcing, a joint campaign by trade unions GMB and Unison that was launched in 2018. It states that “for nearly two decades, cleaners at the university have been under- treated to a series of irresponsible private companies. . As a result, cleaners have experienced inferior working conditions to directly employed staff, including poor, irregular and incorrect pay”.

The letter also claims that “the majority of outsourced cleaning staff are women from black, ethnic minority and migrant backgrounds.” The signatories demand that “UAL end its racist outsourcing practices and commit to bringing cleaners in-house by the end of this current contract, offering them the same salary, terms and conditions than workers directly employed in the university”.

Anglo-Ghanaian artist Larry Achiampong, who last year created a permanent commission for the London underground, is among the signatories. He says The arts journal“I signed the letter because I sympathize with the workers. My mom has done a lot of cleaning jobs in the past, lots of family have (some still do) and I’ve done a lot of cleaning jobs before. Unfortunately, more often than not these people are treated like crap and at the bottom of the pecking order.

“The irony is that workers like cleaners do important work, key work. Without them, so many places crumble. It’s as if people have forgotten the workers who got things done during the shutdowns, so it’s important that institutions like UAL, for example, recognize this, reinforce their ideas and honor the cleaners.

UAL End Outsourcing Student Event

UAL: End outsourcing (2021)

Artist and scholar Zish Alexander says, “While lecturers are highly visible staff, teaching is impossible without the foundational work undertaken by UAL cleaners. Without their daily efforts to maintain and reset the learning environment, we will fall below adequate standards and our students will suffer. If we care about the well-being of our students, what about those who nurture the environment in which we all work? Other artists supporting the cleaners’ cause include Jade Montserrat and Turner Prize co-winner Tai Shani.

A spokesperson for UAL said: “Working with external specialist partners is often the most effective way to provide the highest quality services to our staff and students, often better than what we could obtain by internal. We are and remain open to maintaining a dialogue with the unions on this important issue.

She adds that following a rigorous 18-month procurement process, during which more than 100 stakeholders were consulted, UAL selected OCS as its title cleaning and management partner. “We are taking steps to ensure that the working conditions of contract staff are carefully reviewed and comply with best practice. We are working closely with suppliers so they can respond quickly to any concerns raised,” the spokesperson adds.

“UAL has paid the London Living Wage since 2014 and we are committed to including the new standard of living hours as part of our current contract benefits. This guarantees the right to a minimum number of hours for outsourced staff, as well as four weeks’ notice before any change in their rotation. The contract also includes a minimum of thirty days of vacation, plus public holidays, and up to ten days of paid sick leave under their terms and conditions.

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