Did the Office & General (O&G) company contrive a way to make cleaning activist Juan Carlos Piedra redundant because of his trade union activities?
That is the question many trade union and migrant workers will be asking, particularly after new evidence revealed here by Socialist Worker.
A recording of a meeting between Piedra and O&G managers Guy Travers and Hector Alzate exposes management’s attitude towards trade unions.
In the meeting Travers and Alzate told Piedra that they had received a complaint from their client at the Harbour Exchange building about him.
Alzate said, “From the notes we have, they’re talking about attitude…
“Every time we check the job, the client are happy with the cleaning. The only problem we’ve got is about attitude…
“Paul [Piedra’s manager at Harbour Exchange] told me he doesn’t like your attitude, not only the English, you. He didn’t really trust you.”
There follows a long discussion about Piedra’s failure to do things quickly enough.
Piedra says that, “This is the first problem I have with the client. I don’t know why they think my attitude is bad.”
Alzate replies, “You are in some sort of organisation, you keep telling every single one about it. You are in… ” “a trade union,” finishes Travers.
Alzate later continues, “You could be in whatever organisation, which is fine… There’s no point if you keep telling everyone, if you get touched… then you go for tribunal. If you did, it’s like you’re looking for trouble.”
Piedra explains that he is an organiser in the Justice for Cleaners campaign and that he writes articles about it. But he makes clear that he never writes about O&G.
Travers tells Piedra that he is being transferred to University College London (UCL).
He says, “I had a big run in two months ago with Justice for Cleaners and I sacked the rep down there.”
He tells Piedra that immigration officers had investigated the O&G and that 200 staff had “basically no paperwork, didn’t have passports or anything”. Because of this, he claims that, “we’d been deferred from the immigration board. We’re now with the secret service, which is MI5”.
Referring to the man he’d sacked, Travers continues, “And a certain guy down there, actually I can’t remember his name, starts up a campaign putting posters up – we know we should unite and stand together.”
Later he says, “This guy, it turns out, didn’t even actually work for Office and General… And he didn’t have any papers. He was illegal.
“And he got them a pay rise there [at Soas], which is good. But the difference between a pay rise, which everybody’s allowed to strike for, I’ll support you as well…
“If you want… all the cleaners on strike, not on strike, but on protest at lunchtime and breaks, saying you know, we need more money, I totally agree with it…
“But what he done could have got a lot of staff in trouble… But someone with your knowledge and the people you know, well you can say to these guys, ‘You know, you’re not doing the right thing here’.”
Travers tells Piedra that he will be getting a six months’ verbal warning.
He then continues, “I’d like to help you… Now we say, I’m gonna move him up as an assistant manager. Most of our staff at Office & General – apart from your amigos, me and Kevin, Paul – most of the other guys have been promoted through Office & General.
“And if you’re doing well and move you up… You can manage your own staff, 30, 40 people, company car like the rest of us, going around with a nice salary in the end. You know the opportunities are there for you.”
Travers tells Piedra, “There is not really enough grounds to give you a final written warning or to dismiss you.”
Piedra was transferred to UCL on 24 August. Two days later he was told by his manager that there was no position available for him at UCL.
The recording provokes a number of questions: Why was Piedra made redundant a few days after Travers admitted that he shouldn’t be dismissed? Why did both Travers and Alzate talk about trade unions and Justice for Cleaners in such a way?
Was Travers offering Piedra a position as manager? If so was this in order to use his experience to calm down any struggles involving cleaners?
Guy Travers was unavailable for comment.
More than 50 people protested on the campus of University College London (UCL) on Monday of this week in support of Piedra.
He told the protest, “I believe we have the right to carry out trade union activities, especially when we’re fighting to end low wages.” Protesters handed in a petition to the UCL provost that demanded Piedra’s reinstatement. Another protest is planned for Thursday of next week.
Hands off my workmate, organising for migrant workers’ rights conference, 10am, Saturday 17 October, Soas, Thornhaugh Street, London WC1H 0XG. Supported by the RMT, Soas students’ union, Soas UCU and Soas Unison