Reinstate the Royal Opera House Six

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UPDATE: THURSDAY APRIL 12th

Demonstration tonight, Thursday April 12th at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 6.30pm

Once again, thank you to everyone who has taken the trouble to write to Alex Beard, Royal Opera House CEO, to express your concerns about the workplace abuses he’s condoning under his own roof.

Mr Beard has been sending the following standardized response to such emails:

Thank you for your email and your comments.

The dispute is about individual disciplinary issues, not union membership nor pay. I am pleased to say that there is a recognised Union onsite, Unite, and there are many members of Unite on Kier’s staff here. I’m also pleased to say that we have paid the london
living wage to all Kier staff since early 2014 and are continuing to do so despite funding cuts. This was agreed with Kier’s predecessor Mitie and Unite and was introduced at our request.

While the disciplinary issues do not involve the Royal Opera House directly it is naturally important to us that Kier has appropriate disciplinary processes in place and that they are applied consistently, fairly and in line with ACAS guidelines. Kier has
assured us that this is the case and that the employees’ actions were sufficiently serious to warrant the action taken.

Best wishes
Alex

This email contains a number of false and/or dubious claims which we would like to take this opportunity to address publicly, since Mr Beard has rudely declined to respond in any way to our multiple efforts to communicate with him directly.

  1. The dispute is about individual disciplinary issues, not union membership nor pay

    This claim has been made repeatedly, and obviously the ‘disciplinary issues’ argument provides a convenient fig leaf for what’s really going on at the Opera House. It’s also a difficult argument to definitively disprove. However it does not stand up to scrutiny, for the following reasons:

    • Every single disciplined worker happens to be a member of CAIWU. This leaves two possibilities: either every worker not in CAIWU is immaculately well-behaved at all times while CAIWU members are irresponsible and prone to acts of misconduct, or CAIWU members are being singled out for unfair treatment. It isn’t difficult to figure out which of these is more likely.

       

    • The dismissed workers have not been replaced. This is the single most powerful indicator that something is amiss at ROH. It is a common strategy amongst the cleaning companies CAIWU members work for to agree to the London Living Wage and then attempt to recoup the cost of this by reducing staff, increasing workloads, and attempting by various other means to change workers’ terms and conditions in order to implement so-called productivity gains. It seems clear to us that this is exactly what’s going on in this case.

       

    • Kier is attempting to change the terms and conditions of other ROH workers. We have been contacted by a number of non-CAIWU Kier employees at the ROH to express concerns about Kier’s management of the contract, and in particular about the way it is trying to change their terms and conditions without following any kind of process. Once again this demonstrates Kier’s attitude to unions, and to CAIWU in particular, since we have been instrumental in obtaining the London Living Wage and defending our members’ rights. Kier’s history of blacklisting and anti-union activities is a matter of public record and requires no repetition here.

    In our view this amounts to more than sufficient evidence of an anti-CAIWU agenda at the heart of events at the Opera House. Either Alex Beard is ignorant to what’s going on, or he’s knowingly complicit.

  2. …there is a recognised Union onsite, Unite, and there are many members of Unite on Kier’s staff here

    It is certainly true that Unite is the recognized union on site, and that many of Kier’s staff are Unite members. It’s also a fact for which we have documentary evidence that prior to the recent victimization of CAIWU members, Kier made an utterly unethical concerted attempt to persuade CAIWU members to leave us and join Unite instead.

    Mr Beard’s remark about Unite being the ‘recognized’ union is a complete red herring. Although union recognition has certain advantages, workers are under no obligation to join the recognized union. They are entitled to be members of whichever union they find most supportive and most active on their behalf. Workers will vote with their feet. If our members are dissatisfied with our efforts and wish to join Unite instead, they are entirely free to do so. The fact is, they have not. On the contrary, Mr Beard might be interested to know that since Kier began its campaign of victimization, our membership has increased significantly and we have been approached by a number of individuals at the Opera House seeking to leave Unite and join CAIWU instead. He might like to contemplate the fact that Kier’s campaign appears to be having the opposite effect to that intended.

  3. We have paid the london [sic] living wage to all Kier staff since early 2014 and are continuing to do so despite funding cuts

    This is almost true, but not quite. A London Living Wage agreement was indeed reached for Mitie (and latterly, Kier) staff at the Opera House in 2014. We only achieved this after the cleaners and porters began an official dispute resulting in industrial action including the threat of strike action during the prestigious BAFTA film awards ceremony. The story was widely covered at the time, for example by Joseph Blake at politics.co.uk. For Alex Beard to make it appear that all along the London Living Wage has been paid willingly by a responsible employer is simply disingenuous.

    It didn’t end there. Each year since 2014, the Living Wage Foundation’s revised London Living Wage, announced each November, has only been achieved at the Opera House after further disputes and further industrial action. The biggest dispute probably took place the following year, 2015, when a large demonstration during the BAFTAs was necessary in order to secure the increase and bring an end to attempts by Mitie, then holder of the Opera House contract, to withhold overtime pay and reduce holiday pay—reprisals typical of companies seeking to recoup costs in other ways after agreeing to a pay increase.

    It’s striking that Mr Beard’s email neglects to comment on the ongoing battles our members have had to fight to retain not just the London Living Wage, but their other rights and conditions too.

    Towards the end of 2017 we were approached once again by our members at the Opera House who were seeking support in their attempts to secure the annual LLW increase. We contacted Kier about this on November 10th 2017. After a great deal of back and forth and prevarication on their part, it was only on January 12th 2018, when we sent them formal notification of our intention to begin an official dispute, that they finally agreed to pay our members the revised rate of £10.20 per hour.

    Immediately after this agreement was reached, the disciplinary proceedings against our members began, despite the alleged acts of gross misconduct in question apparently not having been regarded at all seriously prior to that point.

    Co-incidence? Possibly, but on balance it has to be highly unlikely. And if he believes so then it seems to us that Mr Beard is either deluded or worryingly naive. From our perspective it seems reasonable to conclude that both Kier and the Royal Opera House have had enough of paying the London Living Wage and are doing everything they can to reverse the gains our members have made since 2014. Past experience suggests the workers are unlikely to receive this year’s increase. At least, not without a fight.

    The significant phrase in Mr Beard’s email is ‘funding cuts’. No doubt it is true that there have been cuts—and as so often, it is the poorest paid ancillary staff who are being expected to carry the cost through increased workloads and staff reductions. Rather than offering up half-truths and feeble justifications, Mr Beard might like to ask himself whether he considers this to be a reasonable state of affairs to be allowing on his watch.

  4. It is naturally important to us that Kier has appropriate disciplinary processes in place and that they are applied consistently, fairly and in line with ACAS guidelines. Kier has assured us that this is the case and that the employees’ actions were sufficiently serious to warrant the action taken.

    This one requires only the shortest of answers. Mr Beard, why, unless you were complicit in their actions, would you accept the assurances of a company with a long and well-publicized history of anti-union activity?

Please keep writing to Mr Beard, and if you have the energy, please follow up by raising some of the points in this post. If he won’t talk to us, the representatives of his lowly cleaning staff, then perhaps he’ll talk to the public whose ticket purchases pay his lofty salary.

   


UPDATE: FRIDAY APRIL 6th

Demonstration tonight, Friday April 6th at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 7pm

Please come along and show your support for the workers. Join us in our peaceful protest against the dismissals.

The police kindly attended one of our demonstrations during the last week, after being contacted by Royal Opera House management, who apparently accused unnamed individuals associated with the protests of behaving in a confrontational manner. So the police came along, satisfied themselves that there was nothing wrong or illegal about our actions, and went away again, leaving their crowd control barriers behind.

Big thanks to the Met for the free banner display units.

They haven’t been back since, so I guess they at least are happy that the accusations the Opera House allegedly directed at us were groundless.

   


PROTEST DETAILS FOR APRIL

Since the dismissals of two Opera House workers have now been upheld, with the remaining appeals due to be heard next week, the campaign will continue throughout April. We will be protesting outside the Opera House in Covent Garden at the following times:

Fri April 6th, 7.00pm

Sat April 7th, 6.30pm

Mon April 9th, 7.00pm

Tues April 10th, 7.00pm

Weds April 11th, 7.00pm

Thurs April 12th, 6.30pm

Fri April 13th, 7.00pm

Sat April 14th, 6.30pm

Mon April 16th, 7.00pm

Tues April 17th, 6.30pm

Weds April 18th, 7.00pm

Thurs April 19th, 7.00pm

Fri April 20th, 6.30pm

Sat April 21st – NO DEMO

Mon April 23rd, 7.00pm

Tues April 24th, 6.30pm

Weds April 25th, 7.00pm

Thurs April 26th, 7.00pm

Fri April 27th, 6.30pm

Sat April 28th, 7.00pm

Mon April 30th, 7.00pm

   


Royal Opera House / Kier Update: April 3rd 2018

Demonstration tonight, April 3rd at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 7pm

The appeal hearings for two of the dismissed workers have now been heard, and one of the dismissals has been confirmed (the other is still pending). This decision is disappointing but not at all surprising. What it means in practice is that our campaign will continue indefinitely, regardless of the outcome of the remaining appeals, due to be heard next week.

Our thanks go out to all the members of the public who have offered their support to the campaign. Special thanks to everyone who’s written to the ROH CEO Alex Beard to tell him how disturbed you are by recent events. Mr Beard has replied to these emails claiming that Kier has appropriate processes in place that are compliant with ACAS guidelines. Obviously we can’t agree with this claim since those guidelines clearly state that dismissal should be used only as a last resort. The actions of our members have been characterised as gross misconduct, which would justify instant dismissal. However, we consider this characterisation to be totally unfounded, especially given the length of service and impressive records of the workers concerned, and the fact that they all happen to be CAIWU members.

As recently reported by the BBC, Kier was among a number of companies to have allegedly received intelligence from the Metropolitan Police and Special Branch regarding the activities of trade unionists. This intelligence was apparently gathered by undercover operatives and illegally passed on to the companies involved. This looks to us like evidence of a high level conspiracy between state institutions and powerful companies, including Kier, to promote an anti-union agenda. We consider Kier’s current activities at the Opera House to be a part of the same agenda, making our campaign especially important. Remember, it took the blacklisted workers thirty years to achieve justice.

The campaign will continue for as long as necessary.

We surmise from the recent events that part of the agreement between ROH and Kier for awarding the LLW was that staff numbers would be cut in order to reduce the budget. These companies are essentially giving with one hand and taking with the other. We have no written evidence of the details of the agreement, but it is a fact that ancillary staff numbers have been reduced at ROH since the award was made through Kier not replacing workers who have subsequently left or been dismissed.

Meanwhile, the atmosphere inside the Opera House has become truly toxic, with our members being treated extremely poorly and being required to greatly exceed the terms of their contracts in terms of hours and workloads.

Check back soon for more updates – and we hope to see you at Covent Garden tonight.

   


HOW YOU CAN HELP THE DISMISSED OPERA HOUSE WORKERS

  1. Write to ROH & Kier

    Tell them how you feel. Let them know you support the workers. If you’re a Royal Opera House member or supporter, tell them you’ll cancel your membership or stop going to shows until the workers are reinstated.

    Royal Opera House: Alex Beard, Chief Executive: alex.beard@roh.org.uk
    Kier: Haydn Mursell, Chief Executive: haydn.mursell@kier.co.uk

       

  2. Support the Protests

    We will be protesting outside the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden for half an hour most evenings throughout March and on into April if necessary. We won’t stop till the workers are reinstated. Join us on the streets to show your support.

    Check back here or see facebook.com/cleanersbranch for the latest details

       

  3. Sign the Online Petition

    Please consider signing our online petition to show your support for the campaign:

    https://www.change.org/p/haydn-mursell-support-the-opera-house-six?recruiter=864782278&utm_source=share_for_starters&utm_medium=copyLink

       

  4. Donate to the campaign fund

    Every donation, no matter how small, helps us keep the campaign going.

    Donating is easy — just click the button:



       


UPDATE: FRIDAY MARCH 23rd

We will be protesting again this evening outside the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.

Please join us for half an hour at 7pm to show your support for the dismissed workers.

We’ve been there every evening this week, and the support from the public has been incredible.

The protests will continue until the workers are reinstated.

   


SHOW YOUR SUPPORT — SIGN THE PETITION

Please show your support for the Royal Opera House workers facing dismissal by signing the online petition.

Thank you.

https://www.change.org/p/haydn-mursell-support-the-opera-house-six?recruiter=864782278&utm_source=share_for_starters&utm_medium=copyLink

   


UPDATE FRIDAY MARCH 16th: Protest Tonight

Show your support for the dismissed Opera House workers. Demonstration tonight, Friday March 16th, from 6.30 to 7pm at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Further demonstrations will take place on:

Sat March 17th: 7.00-7.30pm

Sun March 18th: 7.00-7.30pm

Mon March 19th: 7.30-8.00pm

Tues March 20th: 7.00-7.30pm

Weds March 21st: 7.00-7.30pm

Thurs March 22nd: 7.30-8.00pm

Fri March 23rd: 7.00-7.30pm

Sat March 24th: 7.30-8.00pm

Sun March 25th: 2.30-3.00pm CANCELLED

Tues March 27th: 7.00-7.30pm

Weds March 28th: 7.00-7.30pm

Thurs March 29th: 7.00-7.30pm

Sat March 31st: 7.00-7.30pm

   


CAIWU General Secretary assaulted during Opera House protest

CAIWU General Secretary Alberto Durango was assaulted during a protest outside the Royal Opera House on Thursday evening, March 15th. The protest, in support of the five workers recently dismissed from their cleaning and portering jobs at the Opera House, appears to have agitated a member of the public attending the Opera House in London’s Covent Garden for a performance in honour of the centenary of composer Leonard Bernstein. The opera-goer took a swing at Mr Durango with his fist, resulting in severe bruising to Mr Durango’s chest.

This member of the public proceeded to steal a number of items from the protestors while Opera House staff stood around and watched.

The protests are scheduled to continue every evening throughout March, or for as long as it takes until the dismissed workers are reinstated. Please support the Opera House workers by coming along for half an hour.

   


Press Release: Cleaners’ Union Members Dismissed in Opera House Purge—Union General Secretary Assualted—Demonstrations Against Dismissals to Continue

Notorious trade union blacklisting company Kier has dismissed five cleaners and porters from their jobs at the Royal Opera House. A sixth workers has received a final written warning. All six are members of CAIWU, the Cleaners and Allied Workers Union.

In what appears to be an illegal crackdown on trade union activists, workers with up to fifteen years of service at the prestigious landmark building in Covent Garden have been disciplined and dismissed for a range of alleged minor timesheet infractions and unauthorised absences. The alleged acts of gross misconduct include returning from holiday one day late, and falsely signing a timesheet for forty seven unworked minutes. All the dismissed workers have long records of unblemished service prior to the recent purge. Most of them have been working extra shifts in recent months to help Kier with staffing difficulties. All have willingly worked extra unpaid hours at times, as well as carrying out duties beyond the terms of their contracts. None of these factors were taken properly into account at the disciplinary hearings which led to the dismissals.

CAIWU is in possession of video evidence that General Secretary Alberto Durango was assaulted during a protest against the dismissals outside the Opera House on Thursday evening, March 15th. The assault appears to have been carried out by an opera-goer attending a concert to celebrate the centenary of Leonard Bernstein. The same member of the public also stole a number of items from the protestors as Opera House security staff stood by and watched. In a separate incident, Mr Durango was allegedly the target of an act of intimidation committed by a member of the Opera House’s staff.

A CAIWU spokesman says the union is determined to keep fighting the dismissals. ‘The protests will continue every evening throughout March, and longer if necessary’, according to London Organizer Danbert Vanzetti. ‘Our members are prepared to go all the way to Industrial Tribunal if they have to. Obviously we hope it won’t come to that, and that Kier will do the right thing. But this has all the characteristics of a purge against union members at the Royal Opera House. Our members there recently won a campaign for the London Living Wage. It looks to us as though these dismissals and disciplinary sanctions are Kier’s way of taking revenge.’

   


Five union activists dismissed by blacklisting company

Five CAIWU members have been dismissed and a sixth given a final written warning by notorious union blacklisting company Kier.

We are organizing demonstrations against the dismissals throughout March, or for as long as it takes for Kier to reinstate the dismissed workers.

   



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