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KCL management allegedly threatened student activists with suspension for handing out leaflets

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Cleaning staff at King's College London have been protesting outside graduation ceremonies.

The KCL Justice for Cleaners (JfC) campaign has been in dispute with the university's senior management for the past two years. They are calling for an end to the outsourcing of the university's cleaning operations, claiming that staff employed by Servest (which holds the current cleaning contract with KCL) are not offered the same employment rights as in-house staff.

The demonstrations outside the Barbican Centre are the latest in a series of escalations of this long dispute - cleaning staff also protested at the KCL Guy's Campus open day on 8 July, and students supporting their cause occupied the James Clerk Maxwell Building on KCL's Waterloo Campus for nine days during the UCU strike over pension reforms in March.

Graduates and academics alike have attended the demonstration to show solidarity with cleaning staff.

Hundreds of academics signed a letter supporting the group's cause in the spring, and the group says that more and more students are rallying to support its cause.

During the graduation ceremonies, students and academics alike were pictured wearing badges supporting the campaign's demands.

Despite KCL's senior management, including Principal Edward Byrne, promising to begin a review process that could bring KCL cleaning staff in-house once the contract with Servest ends, the campaign has accused management staff of continuing to "to show no practical action or intention of ending outsourcing and bringing the cleaners in-house.

Speaking exclusively to The National Student, Justice for Cleaners said that the institution's 'persistent reluctance' to address the issue of outsourcing was both 'undeniable and frustrating.'

'The campaign to bring cleaners in-house and end their outsourcing has been going on for over two years, both from a student and union perspective, and yet it took a 9-day occupation outside the Principal's office in March 2018 for the matter to even be addressed,' they explained.

The group also said that supporters of their campaign had been subjected to 'consistent aggression' from KCL senior management.

They told TNS that students taking part in the March occupation and other demonstrations had been threatened with disciplinary action, suspensio and police action 'for as little as giving out leaflets.'

KCL has also introduced new rules on student protests, which will see students banned from using banners and megaphones during demonstrations near the university's lecture theatres. 

According to the campaign, the cleaners themselves have also experienced repression. They said that those who resisted and spoke up about their working conditions have allegedly been "suspended and intimidated" by Servest.

The group Justice for Cleaners is sceptical about Principal Ed Byrne's proposed review that could bring cleaning back in-house. They believe that the process is 'unnecessarily convoluted and frequently opaque.'

'It is imperative to exert pressure adjacent to the review, in the build-up to the cleaning contract renewal deadline in February 2019, to ensure that cleaners get justice,' they added.

'Only by disrupting the university’s day to day activities, public shaming and creating solidarity with other campaigns will senior management listen.'

The group has supported other campaigns to end the outsourcing of staff and improve worker's rights at universities across London, including Goldsmith's, LSE, SOAS and the University of London.

The group warned that outsourcing is a 'huge problem' across the University sector, and is 'is consistently used by universities to entrench a worker hierarchy and allegedly cut costs.'

Featured images courtesy of the Justice for Cleaners campaign

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