FAIR's response to recent protests at LSHTM: An open letter to the Exec Team

Updated: May 10

Most in the School community will have heard about the recent and ongoing events involving demonstrations over pay and working conditions by outsourced cleaning, porter and security staff, which have shed light on the widespread discontent with how this employment process has been managed by the Executive Team (and former Senior Leadership Teams). This situation has been building for many years. FAIR have not taken a leading role in this fight, as it has been led by those within and closer to this struggle. However we want to highlight that these events are the product of growing resentment at structurally racist practices by the Institution over the course of many years.

The outsourced workers are largely from ethnically minoritised groups who directly experience racism and other forms of structural and interpersonal discrimination at work and in society. As evidenced by the Independent review, structurally racist practices are commonplace in our Institution. The review highlighted the deep structural issues at LSHTM, but we feel that the advice and recommendations of the review have not been proactively acted upon and applied to the matter of insourcing.

We support the decision to bring these members of staff ‘in-house’, and the commitment to moving them onto LSHTMs’ terms and conditions as quickly as possible. However, we regard the lack of accountability from the Institution about why this situation has occurred and escalated as irresponsible and unjust. We are asking the Executive Team to acknowledge that this issue is an example of structural racism and that this situation has arisen through the Institutions own oppressive and negligent practices. Consequently, we urge the Exec will take our proposed remedial steps (outlined below) and publicly and proactively use this opportunity to follow a progressive anti-racist path instead, which will lead to a more just and unified School community in both the short term and in the long run.

Below is our open letter to the Executive Team.


 


Dear Executive Team,


R.E. Outsourcing, insourcing and demonstrations at Keppel Street.


The recent demonstrations over pay and working conditions by outsourced cleaners, porters, post-room and security staff has created widespread discontent with how this employment process has been managed by the Executive Team. The disagreements and conflicting views over the process of insourcing have raised conflicting views over employment rights and entitlements from all sides of LSHTM’s community including its staff and students. This has created a difficult work environment and climate for everyone.


We support the decision to bring these members of staff ‘in-house’, and the commitment to moving them onto LSHTM pay-scales soon after the transition. However, we regard the lack of accountability from the Institution about why this situation has occurred and escalated as irresponsible and unjust. The Exec’s strategy has damaged trust, and credibility of the School’s ability to advance structural reforms through an anti-racist lens as indicated by the Independent review to address systemic discrimination at the Institution.


A toxic climate has been fuelled by divisive and heated debates, misinformation, difficult conversations and at times angry and threatening opinions from both sides of the matter. The School has attempted to address the climate through a framing that portrays the risks, threats and negative consequences they face from these demonstrations. They also reference their legal obligations to keep laboratories and high-risk pathogens safe. This sole focus, without explicit recognition of the decades long failings on race equity of the Institution to protect and support all their staff, attempts to absolve the School of its own role and culpability in these events and ultimately, lay blame on the demonstrators.

We regard this as a flawed strategy for building mutual respect and trust into the fabric of the School’s community for all members of the staff, particularly those from the School’s lowest income thresholds and who are from ethnically minoritised backgrounds. The School’s communications to date pit themselves against the demonstrating staff, in a combative “us versus them” arena, with winners and losers, where the School employs vernacular instruments such as the ‘facts’ and legal responsibilities to control and shape the narrative. This functions as a form of epistemic violence, that silences demonstrators and frames them as the perpetrators, whilst positioning LSHTM as the victim. This approach is a zero-sum strategy where everyone loses. We implore the use of an alternative approach, which views LSHTM’s strategy through a compassionate and anti-racist lens (see LSHTM x FAIR Introduction to Decoloniality and Anti-Racism Toolkit). It is only from here that all parties will be able to actively listen to one another and develop a common understanding.


Adopting an anti-racist lens, we set out our position on the demonstrations and the ensuing events in relation to two broad themes: the nature of outsourcing and the lack of support for low paid workers at LSHTM.


These events are the product of growing resentment at the apathy and structurally racist practices by the Executive Team over the course of many years, as evidenced by the Independent Review. The outsourced workers are largely from ethnically minoritised groups who directly experience racism and other forms of structural and interpersonal discrimination in society. The independent review highlighted the deep structural issues at LSHTM, but we feel that the advice and recommendations of the review have not been proactively acted upon and applied to the matter of insourcing.


The practice of outsourcing has isolated and marginalised some of the lowest-paid workers and ethnically minoritised groups from the fabric of LSHTM’s community, in doing so the individuals were not entitled to the same support, rights and entitlements, as in-house staff. Within this context, it is perhaps easier to see how the events of the demonstration may have occurred; how some of these staff, in their isolation from the wider LSHTM community, seeing no viable option to turn to, then been influenced by new and emerging trade union groups such as IWGB who in turn may have provided inadequate employment advice.

Outsourced workers are often, as in the case of LSHTM, from ethnically minoritised backgrounds, who can be employed by multiple and frequently changing companies. This constitutes a challenge for workers, especially as they are excluded from collective pay bargaining deals negotiated by unions and have different terms and conditions as compared to in-house staff. The resulting division between in-house and outsourced employees is inherently racialised: outsourcing subcontractors employ predominantly people from global majority backgrounds, compared with in-house where a greater proportion are white. This creates greater disparities in pay and working conditions between ethnically minoritised groups who have been outsourced and the white in-house staff.


In August 2017, a strategic management decision was taken to outsource the final group of largely ethnically minoritised individuals from LSHTM to Samsic. However, LSHTM’s practice of outsourcing had been in place for around 20 years prior. The reasons for outsourcing these members of staff have not been well-explained or communicated. But arguably outsourcing is the paradigm among Euro-Western institutions which facilitate lower labour operating costs and secure “value for money”. We have certainly heard strong rhetoric from LSHTM leadership about the subsequent cost implications of bringing staff back in-house, more so than the ethos and cultural value of doing so to the School’s community. In August 2021, this outsourcing decision was reversed and so began a long - and still ongoing - process of TUPE transfer to bring staff back under LSHTM employment. The complexity of the insourcing transfer process highlights the challenges and emotional difficulties faced when terms are changed from one employer to another.


Ultimately LSHTM, through a lens of white supremacy, has been practising structural racism for 2 decades and as a result, severely negatively impacted the lives and wellbeing of ethnically minoritised employees on comparatively poorer pay and conditions than the white majority at LSHTM. Such structures perpetuate inequalities and cement a 2-tier hierarchical segregation at the School. It is unsurprising that LSHTM’s continued practice of structural racism has fostered discontent among insourced staff at their working conditions, and negatively impacted their lived experiences at the School.


We, and many others, are calling upon LSHTM to proactively dismantle the racist structures (institutional policies and practices) it has created and contributed to, both internally and in the wider ‘global health’ and Development industries. This includes how it deals with this situation, which is an example of such structural racism and has arisen through its own oppressive and negligent practices.


We advise the following remedial steps to be taken.

  1. Acknowledgement; apologise to the workers, sincerely and publicly, for the protracted poor working conditions and the use of structurally racist practices, such as outsourcing, which enable them.

  2. Reparations; offer meaningful material compensation for the longstanding impacts caused by using structurally racist instruments such as outsourcing.

  3. Anti-racism; use an anti-racist lens to ensure the insourcing is a fair and equitable process for the staff impacted by the change.

  4. Reconciliation; do not support Samsic’s legal employment tribunal. Rather, apologise and pursue a restorative and reconciliation justice approach, rather than legal retribution.

  5. Pastoral support; provide care and well-being support that is co-created, culturally appropriate and tailored to the needs of the workers. Examples include liaising with other community support groups or employment groups that have been victims of structural racism.

  6. Reflect & review; ensure all policies and practices are reviewed with an anti-racist lens before School-wide implementation.

  7. End the use of outsourcing in all areas of the School’s activities.


We ask the Executive Team to publicly and proactively use this opportunity to follow a progressive anti-racist path, which will lead to a more just and unified School community.


Yours sincerely,

The FAIR Network

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