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I've long admired the work of multi-award-winning British director Ken Loach, but only recently learned that he has a habit of championing the underdog, not just through his film work, but in real life too. It was quite by chance I discovered he'd rejected the Turin Festival award, back in 2012, in support of struggling cleaning and security staff. In rejecting the award, he referred to the “serious problem” of contracting out services under the pretext of saving money, with the winning contractor, once appointed, cutting jobs and keeping wages low.
"It's a recipe designed to fuel conflict," he said. "The fact that this happens all over Europe does not make this practice acceptable. In Turin the cleaning and security services of the National Cinema Museum have been outsourced. After a cut in salaries, the workers have reported bullying and mistreatment. Several people have been fired. The most underpaid workers, the most vulnerable, have lost their jobs to oppose a pay cut. Obviously, it is hard for us to distract ourselves from the details of a dispute taking place in another country, with working practices different than ours, but that doesn't mean that the principles are unclear. In this situation, the organisation that provides services cannot close its eyes, but must take responsibility for the people who work for it, even if they are employed by an outside firm. I would expect the Museum, in this case, to have dialogue with workers and their unions, to ensure the re-recruitment of fired workers and rethink its own outsourcing policy. It is not right that the poorest have to pay the price for an economic crisis that they are not responsible for. We made a film dedicated to this very topic - 'Bread and Roses'. How could I not respond to a solidarity request from workers who have been fired for fighting for their rights? Accepting the award would be weak and hypocritical behaviour."
Those in our industry know that outsourcing CAN work in the right hands. Many large UK contractors, for example, pay a proper 'living wage' according to Living Wage UK ideals and treat their staff well, while some overseas contractors do similar. Their size allows them to buy equipment & consumables at reduced rates, which enables them to pay an acceptable wage. Sadly, too many companies still keep the profits to themselves though. Good on Ken Loach for recognising the difference & standing up for the lower paid! And good on those companies which recognise that cleaning staff are an essential part of the team and should be adequately rewarded for their expertise.
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2nd December 2021