Cleaners and Porters to Protest at Sotheby’s London

by Leighann Morris on June 25, 2015 · 2 comments Events

united voices of the world

Image via United Voices of the World’s “Dignity under the hammer: protest at Sotheby’s auction house” Facebook event page.

In February of this year, cleaners and porters at London’s Sotheby’s auction house successfully campaigned to receive the London Living Wage of £9.15. The triumph was part of an extensive campaign by union United Voice of the World (UVW) to pressure both Sotheby’s and the contracted cleaning service Cleaning & Maintenance London (CCML) into negotiating several other terms for these employees, often migrant workers, who had complained of ill treatment—and unfair pay.

But the victory of a living wage, among other gains, is now proving short-lived.

The prestigious auction house strategically dropped CCML, and announced on March 24, 2015, awarded a three-year contract to the cleaning service provider Servest. According to representatives with UVW, Sotheby’s contract with Servest differs vastly from the one with CCML. With Servest, Sotheby’s does not need to implement contractual sick pay or backpay the London Living Wage.

In a May 22, 2015 letter to cleaners and porters, Servest threatened disciplinary action (“the sack” says UVW) to employees choosing to exercise their legal right to protest (Articles 10 and 11 of ECHR: Freedom of Expression and Assembly) against the retraction of terms and conditions originally agreed by CCML. In addition, a key union representative is in the process of being unfairly “disciplined” by Sotheby’s, says UVW, for a number of timely “conduct and performance” issues. A previous complaint made by the same employee, documenting threats from a colleague in management to “break his nose” and “cut his throat,” has been completely ignored.

In term of pay, this obviously isn’t an issue of affordability. It’s been a record-breaking year for Sotheby’s, who continue to deny their workers basic rights and pay poverty wages, all the while making sales of £184.4 million—the highest total for any single auction ever held in London.

“They are more interested in their egos than providing good terms and conditions of employment to their employees,” a spokesperson for UVW added.

In an attempt to draw attention to injustices taking place within Sotheby’s, UVW have planned a protest to coincide with the London auction house’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction on July 1, 2015, when a series of works by Andy Warhol will be sold for an estimated £13-18 million along with paintings by Francis Bacon, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Yves Klein, among others.

“Servest and Sotheby’s have teamed up to deny the cleaners their hard fought for rights,” said a UVW spokesperson. “They are also engaging in shameless union-busting tactics. The cleaners, however, will not be intimidated. This fight will be fought until Servest apologies and Sotheby’s agrees to backdate the Living Wage and introduce contractual sick pay for the cleaners. It is time they stopped treating them like second class employees.”

Sotheby’s did not respond to an invitation to comment.

[To support the protest, join United Voices of the World’s ‘Dignity under the hammer: protest at Sotheby’s auction house’ Facebook event.]

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