A lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) has seen security guards walk out in protest at a major south London university.
The guards, working at St George’s University (SGUL) in Tooting where many students are self-isolating due to the Covid-19 outbreak, say their health is being put at risk.
They are employed on zero-hour contracts by outsourcing company Bidvest Noonan and claim they have been forced to improvise their own safety measures as management work from home.
This comes as Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show that male security guards have the highest coronavirus death rate of any occupational group.
Cetin, a supervisor on site, said: “The guards still working are concerned, they don’t want to go in, but they have no alternative as they can’t afford to lose money.
“They have to pay the bills and put food on the table for their families which is totally understandable.
“We are not only putting our well-being, but our families and colleagues’ well-being, at risk. Noonan have failed us.”
Rounding out our #MayDay2020 videos we have incredible UVW member Cetin talking about the fight for sick pay and adequate PPE during #COVID19 at @StGeorgesUni. Every worker should have a living wage, sick pay and PPE. Join us for our May Day event at 6pm: https://t.co/6rG85QanDh pic.twitter.com/GvEW8Jxrik— United Voices of the World (@UVWunion) May 1, 2020
Cetin claimed the workers had only been issued with gloves and hand gel, despite the fact some have reported passing dead bodies in hallways being taken to the mortuary of St George’s Hospital, found on the same site.
It is not known whether the bodies are those of Covid-19 victims.
The university hospital has paused all research to focus full-time on finding a cure to the virus and testing patients.
Cyril, another guard, added: “I asked for all deliveries to be suspended because we deal with them and that didn’t happen. I also asked for all students’ visitors to be suspended during this time but had no response.
“University management via email requested one of us to escort a student into another room without PPE to retrieve a plant. We keep getting these requests from them while they sit in the safety and comfort of their homes.”
According to ONS data up to April 20, the overall death rate for men aged 20-64 in England and Wales linked to Covid-19 was 9.9 deaths per 100,000, compared with 5.2 for women.
Male security guards topped the list by occupation at 45.7 deaths per 100,000, well ahead of the 36.4 figure recorded for taxi drivers and chauffeurs, the next most vulnerable group.
The analysis factored in age but did not take account of people’s ethnicity, location, wealth or underlying health conditions.
As a result, it cannot prove definitively that the deaths were caused by the jobs people do.
The greater provision of PPE in other sectors such as health and social care could be a factor, however.
The security guards had already been in dispute with SGUL before the coronavirus outbreak, demanding the same rights as university staff who are entitled to six months sick pay, 28 days holiday per year, and a better pension scheme.
An offer of a revised contract which included three weeks’ guaranteed sick pay was made by Noonan to the security guards on March 31, but the loss of a paid lunch break meant it included an effective pay cut according to the security guards.
A lack of consultation with the workers or their union United Voices of the World (UVW) exacerbated the situation according to Cetin.
“This is outrageous. They have had no dialogue with us. They haven’t attempted to contact us, they’ve sprung [the new contract] on us,” he said.
“It’s stressful as it is.”
UVW executive committee member Petros Elia said: “Our workers are in a very difficult position.
“The new contract is an attempt to unilaterally impose a pay cut.
“All of those failures point to what an abhorrent and callous contractor Noonan is, and quite frankly to how abhorrent and callous St George’s is.
“When it comes to low-paid, often out-sourced migrant workers, they’re treated like dirt and with contempt.”
An SGUL spokesperson said: “The University takes its responsibility for all staff and students’ health and safety very seriously.
“An emergency plan has been put in place for students in halls of residence and distributed to the onsite contract manager for the security team. The plan ensures that students who are self-isolating are kept separate from other students.
“Delivery practice is following guideline social distancing measures to keep any contact to an absolute minimum.”
Bidvest Noonan declined to comment.
Featured image credit: UVW Facebook page