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Cleaning staff sweat over their University future

The future of the cleaning staff at the Faculty of Science is in jeopardy because of an outsourcing round. Cleaning staff fear they don’t fit into the University' of Copenhagen's 'elitist project'

Forty cleaning staff dutifully attended a work meeting at their workplace, the University of Copenhagen’s (UCPH) North Campus during autumn break. They were to meet the new service manager of the Faculty of Science, Kell Matthies.

The purpose of the meeting was for Matthies to deliver one message to staff: The Faculty has decided it is time to outsource the cleaning.

This means that UCPH’s own Cleaning Service has to re-apply for its own job, in competition with private companies.

Staff rep: We saved the university millions of kroner

»I think that those of us that have been here long enough, feel that this is unfair and out of order,« says staff rep for Cleaning Service Søren Møller.

»Four years ago – the last time our work was outsourced – we were exactly DKK 3.9 million a year cheaper than the average price offered by private companies.«

Søren Møller has calculated that the Cleaning Service has saved UCPH DKK 15-16 million since 2008. At least.

»And this is the thanks we get – another round of outsourcing,« he says.

Cheaper and better vs. costly and worse

The outsourcing round itself is costly too. The university has hired a consultancy to evaluate the applicants, and the Service Manager of the Faculty, Kell Matthies has acknowledged that it cost quite a bit to do so. He would not divulge the precise amount at the meeting.

In 2008, a similar outsourcing round cost the Faculty of Humanities approximately DKK 200,000.

Many of the cleaners said that they were uneasy with not knowing what the state of their jobs would be come summer 2013. If the Cleaning Service loses its bid, they will be offered to work for the private company that takes over, but if the company decides that it does not need them all, it is perfectly legal for them to fire people.

»We know what will happen – we’ve seen it before,« said one member of staff at the meeting.

In 2011, cleaning at Panum was outsourced to the private company Allianceplus, despite it costing DKK 900,000 more, and despite an external evaluation saying that the original cleaning staff were better.

‘We have to beat this thing’, says staff rep

But it isn’t just a case of competing for a better price. Absence and sick rates, work environment etc. are all taken into consideration, said the cleaning manager Lis Møller. She did, however, remain positive that Cleaning Service stood a decent chance.

According to staff rep Søren Møller, the UCPH cleaning staff are treated worse than university staff with academic titles.

»Just walking around UCPH on a daily basis, I see hundreds of tasks that could be outsourced,« he says »But that will never happen. It’s not university policy, and I don’t know whether that’s because we’re too stupid and too ugly and that we don’t fit into some elitist project.« he says.

Director: Tender is obligatory

According to rules for public institutions ‘ private contracts, the cleaning contracts must be put out for open tender at least every five years. This is according to the Director of the University of Copenhagen Jørgen Honoré.

»The University of Copenhagen has, as a part of the public sector, a direct obligation to offer up tasks for private tender on a regular basis. And if an external offer is best and cheapest, we have an obligation to outsource the task,« he says.

Until then staff rep for Cleaning Service Søren Møller hopes that what happens is not a copy of what happened at the Faculty of Health Sciences’ Panum building.

Have to beat this thing

»I hope they don’t ’pull a Panum’ on us: That we emerge as the better and cheaper option, but that they still let us down. We have to keep our heads up – we have to beat this thing.«

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