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Nationwide Building Society and Stephen Uden’s “Invisible People”

nationwide-protest-2-34487003UPDATE: Since writing this article I was sent a link via Twitter from the Nationwide Building Society Press office, denying the story. Nationwide say:

The GMB’s accusation is disappointing, surprising and, quite frankly, wrong.  We have not asked our partners Carillion to reduce the hours of its employees.

So let me confirm what I know to be factually true, and what I can prove. There are 21 cleaners employed by Carillion PLC at the Nationwide Head Office in Swindon. Each of them has been given a letter from Carillion PLC which I have seen, and of which I have a copy. The letter outlines new shift patterns, for the majority of the cleaners, their hours will be reduced so that they lose £40 per week, and they will nearly all be working anti-social shift patterns. All of this is true, I have been told it by the cleaners themselves, and I have copies of the letter.

The letter from Carillion unambiguously states (the exact words): “Why are we doing this? It is what NBS want. Therefore we are responding to our customers’ requirements“. Elsewhere in the same document NBS clearly refers to Nationwide Building Society, and there is no other meaning that could be given to this phrase other than Carillion are saying that the request to reduce hours and move to twilight shifts originates with the Nationwide Building Society.

For Nationwide Building Society Press Office to deny what I have clear documentary proof of seems odd. I will be posting PDF versions of the Carillion documents in due course.

Of course, I understand that Nationwide Press office are sensitive to their reputation, and I accept that Stephen Uden may not personally have been involved or known about these changes. But the stench of hypocrisy is very strong. Cleaners are having their hours cut. Cleaners are losing £40 pw. And Nationwide BS are puffing themselves up and bragging about what a great employer they are.

On 31st March this year, the Nationwide Building Society announced that they had been shortlisted for the Which Consumer Guide award as best banking brand of 2016

Branding is a key part of the modern corporate world, and the ethos that the Nationwide seeks to project of mutuality and social compassion is one that they hope will be a differentiator to attract customers.

As Yin Fan neatly summarized in a 2005 paper called “Ethical branding and corporate reputation“:

“Ethical branding could provide the company with a differential advantage as a growing number of consumers become more ethically conscious. It could also help overcome the increasing consumers’ scepticism and cynicism towards branding communications.”

Nationwide Building Society’s own Head of Corporate Citizenship, Stephen Uden put the business case as follows:

“There is strong evidence of a wider benefit. People feel more comfortable doing business with organisations that they trust and who pay a fair wage to their staff. For us it was a decision driven from a values perspective but in terms of selling it to other businesses there are some clear business benefits that derive from it that people should not underestimate.”

However, in a cut throat competitive world there is a genuine danger that the desire for ethical branding associations becomes unethically and cynically subverted by corporate spin; and a “Head of Corporate Citizenship” might become a spin-doctor seeking to sugar-coat some pretty sharp practice. Carillion PLC and Nationwide may be arguing about who is to blame, but it is the low paid, vulnerable cleaners who are facing the pay cut.

The Building Society has been proudly trumpeting itself as a living wage employer, and a supporter of the Living Wage Foundation since 2014; and their very own Stephen Uden, sits on the Foundation’s advisory board.

GMB trade union has previously protested over the hypocrisy that long after becoming a living wage employer Nationwide continued to deny actual payment of the living wage to contractors, cleaners and security staff, taking advantage of a loophole that allowed them two years grace

There is now an extraordinary new development, as Nationwide Building Society is at last extending the living wage of £8.25 per hour to just over 20 cleaners at their Swindon Head Office, but is paying for this by reducing their shifts, so that more than half of the cleaners will take home £40 per week less. Cleaners will now be expected to do the same amount of work in 12 hours per week less time.

The cleaners are not directly employed by Nationwide, but are employees of Carillion. This does raise the question of why Nationwide is not prepared to offer the dignity of direct employment to these staff, many of whom have been working there for 13 or 15 years. Nationwide Building Society deny they are responsible for these changes, but I have documentary proof that Carillion PC say that they are responding to what Nationwide Building Society want, and that the changes are a customer requirement. In the documents handed to the staff about the proposed change to their contractual hours, Carillion make it absolutely clear that the changing of shifts leading to the reduction in take home pay, is at the direct request of Nationwide Building Society.

Carillion are seeking to force through the changes with a rushed and perfunctory consultation involving one to one meetings with the cleaning staff, and Carillion have declined to negotiate with GMB, even though 100% of the cleaners are members of the union. At a mass meeting this week, the cleaners unanimously rejected the pay cut.

Over half of the cleaners will be losing £40 per week as their working day is shifted from daytimes to a shorter twilight shift between 5 pm and 10:30 pm; an anti-social shift pattern that doesn’t even take into account public transport, and will leave cleaners stranded with no bus to get them home. But even worse, a handful of cleaners will be required to work this 5 day evening shift and an additional full day at the weekend – a shift system that is completely incompatible with family life or human dignity.

In 2014, Stehen Uden of Nationwide told the Guardan newspaper: “In lots of companies there are those almost invisible staff who serve you a coffee in the morning or the cleaner I see when I get into the office at 7am. And it is those people that work for the Nationwide that we feel should be appropriately rewarded whether they are directly working for us or not.”

Carillion PLC supervisors have told their staff that although the Headquarters has always previously been cleaned during working hours, Nationwide Building Society have now decided that they want the cleaners to be there when the office staff have gone home. If Carillion are telling the truth, then Nationwide now wants the cleaners, the people Stephen Uden described as “almost invisible”, to become actually invisible to the other workers.

Only recently, Stephen Uden told the press. “I think most employers want to do the right thing.”

The question for him is whether forcing vulnerable and low paid workers onto anti-social shifts, making them do the same work in fewer hours, and cutting their take home pay is “the right thing” to do? The question is, if Nationwide Building Society are not responsible for cutting the hours, then why are Carillion PLC saying that this is a requirement that has come from Nationwide? And if Nationwide are saying that they don’t want the hours to be cut, then why are their contractor Carillion, cutting the hours?

11 Comments

  1. Andy Newman says:

    Worth adding that the document with the proposed shift pattern on £40 pw less pay has Nationwide Building Society’s logo on it.
    On Twitter @nationwidePress says That this doc was issued by Carillion PLC not them and that thbey categorically deny asking Carillion to cut the hours.

    Curiouser and curiouser.

    What is odd is That despite severAl requests for clarification, Nationwide are not responding to whether or not the pAy cuts will go ahead.

  2. Andy Newman says:

    Nationwide are also not responding to queries about how their logo is on the proposed shift change doc, and whether they habitually allow Carillion to use their logo

    1. Midge says:

      It’s a real plersuae to find someone who can think like that

  3. Bazza says:

    These workers are more important than royals, Presidents, PMs, Tories, the rich. Rise up with me against the organisation of misery- Pablo Neruda

  4. James Martin says:

    What is the relationship with the TUC-affiliated Nationwide Group Staff Union (NGSU) who have sole recognition with Nationwide Building Society as well as recognition inside Carillion, as it is odd that they are not mentioned in the article?

    Also, while I appreciate that companies have a responsibility regarding who the sub-contract services to, as Carillion have a poor history regarding unions (including being part of the blacklisting scandal), are not Carillion the issue here as the actual employer of these staff? Again, it strikes me as odd that they appear almost as a footnote, or is it that NBS are seen as an easy target?

    1. Andy Newman says:

      NGSU do have recognition with Nationwide Building Society for employees of the Nationwide Group.

      GMB has trade union recognition with Carillion for the bargaining unit of security staff working at Nationwide House in Pipers Way in Swindon. As the recognised with Carillion on the site, GMB also recruited the cleaners, who are in a different bargaining unit. As GMB now has 100% of the cleaners in membership we have formally approached Carillion in pursuit of the statutory CAC route to recognition. Now that GMB has made that formal approach it would now be unlawful for Carillion to offer voluntary recognition with another union.

      You say that NGSU has recognition with Carillion. I have no knowledge of that, but I do know that NGSU has no Carillion staff in membership at Nationwide House, nor has it ever sought to represent or recruit them. Perhaps they have recognition with Carillion with other bargaining units that you can enlighten us with. Certainly Carillion have never mentioned to GMB that they have recognition with NGSU, in any of our dealing with them.

      I suggest that your infomation might therefore be wrong.

      The relationship between Carillion and Nationwide will undoubtedly become unpicked over the next few weeks. But let us be clear that the documentation from Carillion handed to staff clearly states that the contractual changes are at the behest of Nationwide Building Society, and the revised rotas bear NBS’s logo.

      On balance of probability it would seem that NBS are to blame here. If Carillion are in fact lying, and the NBS have not asked for any changes, then NBS are the holders of the purse strings, and are therefore in a position to resolve the matter.

      You are correct that Carillion are a company with a chequered history, but it is Nationwide BS’ decision to employ their cleaners through an agency – rather than direct – and it is NBS’s decision to use Carillion.

      It is a good question why the supposedly ethical nationwide uses the arguably tarnished Carillion to employ and mamange the lowest paid staff at their offices.

      1. Andy Newman says:

        I have now spoken to the GMB officer dealing with Carillion, and I realy must insist that James Martin puts up r shuts up about his claim that NGSU has recognition with Carillion.

        GMB spoke to NGSU’s office in Swindon on Friday.

        It looks like James Martin is putting out misinformation with the aim of weakening a trade union that is campaigning in pursuit of decent pay and conditions for low paid union members.

        1. James Martin says:

          Andy, I was just repeating what the TUC-affiliated NGSU’s own website says, look at the ‘About Us’ section and you will see that it states that NGSU has sole recognition inside the Nationwide, and also recognition inside a number of other connected companies – including Carillion.

          Now, perhaps you will have the decency to withdraw your slanderous attack on me!

          1. Andy Newman says:

            You keep mentioning that NGSU is “TUC affilated”, that says more about the TUC than it does about NGSU.

            But clearly your comments on this story was nit-picking in a such a way that could only be of benefit to the employer side, and apart from individualistic showing off, I wonder what you were trying to achieve.

  5. Karl Stewart says:

    I don’t know any of the details in this specific case that Andy’s article is about, but it is common for companies to outsource a particular function and then to claim no responsibility for those outsourced employees.

    So a company can say that it is ethical in its employment practices, and that it pays the Living Wage to its employees, while having outsourced staff working for them on this third-party basis.

    The staff are then caught between their direct employer (the sub-contractor) who will tell them they cannot afford to pay the Living Wage from the payment they get from the contract, and their indirect employer (for whom they provide the actual service) who will tell them they need to take the issue up with their direct employer.

  6. Andy Newman says:

    Karl:

    I don’t know any of the details in this specific case that Andy’s article is about, but it is common for companies to outsource a particular function and then to claim no responsibility for those outsourced employees.

    So a company can say that it is ethical in its employment practices, and that it pays the Living Wage to its employees, while having outsourced staff working for them on this third-party basis.

    This is exactly right. And it also introduces another layer of defence against trade unions, as a lawful industrial dispute will be with the contractor, but the decisions are being made by the company employing the contractor.

    That is also why trade unions (while obviously following the legal technicalities) need to maintain fire on those actually responsible

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