Posts Tagged ‘MITIE’

End Indefinite Detention, Don’t Sack Cleaners

Saturday, May 7th, 2022

End Indefinite Detention, Don’t Sack Cleaners – two protests I photographed on Saturday 7th May 2016, one on the edge of London and the other in the centre.


Detention Centres Shut Them Down – Harmondsworth, Saturday 7th May 2016

Mostly protests begin later than expected and I was surprised when I arrived at Europe’s largest detention centre complex at Heathrow, two Category B prisons, Colnbrook & Harmondsworth, managed by private security company MITIE to find that the action organised by the Anti Raids Network as a part of a day of action at all UK detention centres had already begun.

Most of the protesters had come out to the protest on the west edge of Greater London from the centre and had apparently got there earlier than they expected and had immediately rushed past the few security guards onto the private roadway between the two prisons to communicate with the detainees who had gathered around the windows of the two blocks behind their 20 ft high fences. I’d photographed earlier protests here where the protesters had walked noisily around the Harmondsworth block (strangely on the Colnbrook side of the complex) on the rough track around the fence, but the centre was now under new management and MITIE were determined to keep them further away.

As I arrived and talked with the small group who had remained at the entrance those inside appeared at the far end of the road, being slowly moved out by the police reinforcements who had arrived shortly before me, and I followed protesters down the road to join them.

As well as making a lot of noise with pots and pans, megaphones and kicking the solid metal bottom of the fence, the protesters also held up a large banner with a phone number so that the detainees could contact them and tell them what was happening inside. At first the police made slow progress in moving them along, but soon another police van arrived with more officers and they were able to move them quickly to the front of the complex.

After regrouping there, most decided to walk along to the public footpath that runs along the east edge of the centre. Although bushes and small trees in front of the fence made the centre almost invisible, it was easy to hear the detainees shouting from inside and for them to hear the protest. Soon phone contact was made with some of them and they were able to speak over a megaphone. As I wrote back in 2016:

“Bashir from Lebanon told us he had been held in detention for 18 months and that his wife and children need his help, but he is stuck inside, unable to see them or do anything. Indefinite detention such as this seems a clear breach of so many of the human rights that everyone in the UK should be entitled to under our Human Rights Act 1998. Treating people like our system does is simply shameful.”

Detention Centres Shut Them Down – where there is more about the protest.

Cleaners invade Barbican Centre – Barbican, London, Saturday 7th May 2016

I left to make my way to central London where Cleaners union United Voices of the World were holding a flashmob at the Barbican Centre after cleaning contractor Servest proposed making many of the cleaners redundant or severely cutting their hours and pay. As well as the UVW, the action was supported by activists from the Bakers Union, Class War, SOAS Unison, Unite Hotel workers branch and IWGB Couriers branch.

I met the cleaners close to Moorgate Station and walked with them towards the Barbican, where they burst into a run as they turned a corner and rushed into the main entrance, past a couple of security guards who had no chance of stopping the unexpected arrival. They made there way to the middle of the arts centre, to protest noisily outside the hall where customers were entering a sold-out concert of music by Yann Tiersen.

After a few minutes police arrived and told the protesters they must leave or be arrested, and after some argument they slowly and noisily made their way back towards the main entrance, with police continuing to harass them.

They continued to protest on the street outside the main entrance, and the protest was still continuing there when I left for home.

More on My London Diary at Cleaners invade Barbican Centre.


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Flowers to Yarls Wood – 2017

Thursday, November 18th, 2021

Four years ago on Saturday 18th November saw Movement for Justice’s 12th protest outside the immigration detention prison up a hill around 6 miles north of Bedford, calling for this and the other immigration detention centres to be shut down. On this occasion many took flowers to pin to the upper section of the fence where they could be seen by the women inside.

The whole system of immigration detention seems to have been designed as a deterrent to asylum seekers coming to the UK, though unsuccesful in doing so. People who had fled their countries because they were in fear of their lives and had often been subject to violent attacks and rapes were thrown into jail while there cases were being considered. Often their imprisonment made it very much harder for them to provide the evidence demanded by the Home Office of the danger they had been in and their suffering, and official reports and journalistic investigations, some by reporters who had taken jobs at the centres, both revealed the callous and often illegal treatment they received from the staff in these privately run centres, including sexual assaults and violence.

Mabel Gawanas who was held inside for a day under 3 years speaks to her friends still inside

The accomodation provided is poor and the food is of poor quality and often fails to meet the relgious ordietary needs of the detainees, and there have been numerous reported cases where necessary medical treatment has been either refused or excessively delayed. But the major problem is that immigration detention is of indeterminate length, with some detainees serving perhaps a few weeks and others up to three years. Unlike in a normal jail there is no known length to the time people serve and no way that they know when they may be released or deported. And there is no process for them to appeal their detention. The government like to pretend it isn’t a prison, and there are some differences in the routines, but those held inside cannot leave and are often restricted in their movements inside the buildings.

The windows only open a few inches

There are currently in 2021 seven ‘Immigration Removal Centres’ in the UK as well as a number of short-term holding facililites. All but one of the seven are run by private companies, Serco, Mitie, G4S, a Capita subsidiary and Geo, and they are run to make profits. The less they spend on food, staffing and facilities the more the companies make – and the more those detained suffer. In 2015 the Chief Inspector of Prisons labelled it ‘a place of national concern’.

Yarl’s Wood is in an isolated location, hidden away from roads on a former wartime airfield. As I found cycling from Bedford Station it is on the top of a hill and rather windswept. From where the protesters coaches and cars can park it takes aroud a mile walking along public footpaths to get to the field next to the prison where the protests take place. The prison is surrounded by a 20 ft high metal fence, the lower half with metal panels and the upper half with a thick wire grid material that allows the upper storeys of the building to be seen from the top of a rise in the field.

It’s difficult to take pictures through this screen, but not impossible. I’d taken with me a Nikon 70-300mm lens and was working with the D810 in DX mode which converts that into a 105-450mm equivalent and still provides a 16Mp file. Focussing was tricky as the autofocus was very good at focussing on the wire, leaving the building behind well out of focus, and although it would sometimes focus on a window frame, it was far easier to use manual focus.

I also took some pictures on a 28-200mm (equivalent to 42-300mm) which was better when I wanted to include any foreground detail, but the windows became rather small. Even at 450mm any one of the pair of windows only filled around a sixth of the frame, and some of the images have been cropped.

For photographing the protesters as well as that highly versatile 28-200mm used both as a X lens on the D810 body and a full-frame lens on the D750, I also had a 28-35mm lens for use on the D750.

Many of the exposures I made where not quite sharp. It was November and the light dropped off fairly dramatically towards the end of the protest and by 3pm I was having to work at 1/250s at the full aperture of F5.6, not really fast enough a shutter speed for a 450mm lens. So camera shake added to my focus problems. At 3.30pm the protest seemed to be nearing its end, I was getting too cold and decided it was time to get on my bike and return to Bedford Station. Fortunately except for a short steep slope it was more or less downhill all the way.

In August 2020 the Home Office announced it was ‘re-purposing’ Yarl’s Wood, which became a short-term holding facility for men arriving in the UK by boat. But by November 2020 it had also been brought back into its previous use with around ten women then being indefinitely detained there.

Shut Down Yarl’s Wood 12


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Protests – May 16th 2015

Sunday, May 16th, 2021

The purpose of protests is to bring whatever cause they support to the attention of others, particularly those who bear some responsibility for them or who could act in a different way to address the problem that led to the protest.

The current Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill seeks to make protests entirely ineffectual – allowing police to insist they will only take place where they will not be noticed and banning them from making any noise or causing any inconvenience. Given the Tory majority and the lack of concern for civil rights shown by most MPs it seems likely to come into force, but I think unlikely to actually be enforceable by police, though it will lead to clashes and arguments which will greatly reduce public trust in the force.

On May 16th 2015 I was privileged to be able to cover a protest by the grass roots trade union United Voices of the World from their meeting before the protest to the end of the event. Most of the members are low-paid migrant workers and most of the business was conducted in Spanish, with some key items translated into English for the benefit of me and the few other non-Spanish speakers.

From the meeting in Bethnal Green we travelled by bus to Liverpool St and then walked quietly as a group to meet up with others close to the Barbican. Many were carrying drums, flags and placards as they rushed past the two security guards on the door of the centre who held up a couple of them but couldn’t stop the rest, and the group made its way to the heart of the Barbican Centre, where people were already gathering for evening performances.

Rather than employ cleaners directly, the Barbican Centre uses a contractor, Mitie. The Barbican is a relatively good employer and offers its employees decent terms and conditions, but MITIE cuts costs to a minimum and has threatened the cleaners with sacking if they protest for a living wage and proper sick pay and other conditions, and the union says they employ bullying managers who disrespect staff and fail to provide proper working conditions. One disabled worker had recently been assaulted by a manager and accused of ‘terrorism’ after posting a short video clip showing his working conditions.

The protesters held a short noisy protest, using a megaphone to let the public know why they were protesting and calling for an end to the victimisation of trade unionists and for negotiations to get satisfactory conditions of work and service and a living wage. They called on the Barbican to meet its obligations to people who work there by insisting that any contracts they make include safeguards to protect the workers – rather than denying any responsibility for those who keep the centre clean.

After a few minutes, police arrived and argued with the protest organiser Petros Elia who agreed to move, and the protesters then went on a walk around the centre to make sure all those in it where aware the protest was taking place and why the union was protesting. Finally they agreed with police to leave the centre, going out the way they had come in and rejoining members who worked at the Barbican who had stayed outside to protest. The protesters then walked around some of the public streets around the Barbican before returning to protest in front of the main entrance, where I left them still protesting noisily.

Under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill all of this would have been illegal, and perhaps they might have been allowed just a small and quiet display some distance across the road from the centre, which few would have noticed.

I’d earlier photographed three other protests, two of which I’m sure would have fallen foul of the proposed new law. Newham Council had been trying to get rid of Focus E15’s weekly street stall in Stratford Broadway since it started almost two years earlier, and today’s protest celebrated the dropping of a contrived case against Jasmin Stone, one of the protest leaders. Later in the year the police and council came and ‘arrested’ the Focus E15 table – but had to release it a few days later.

While it might have been possible for the Free Shaker Aamer campaign to get permission for their protest on the North Terrace of Trafalgar Square, I think their activities and use of the megaphone would have been severely curtailed.

The small, silent ‘Stay Put’ vigil – seven people holding posters in silence by the wall in a corner of the square – is perhaps a model of what Priti Patel considers an acceptable level of protest. Though more probably she would like to go full North Korea.

Cleaners invade Barbican Centre
Silent protest over Sewol ferry disaster
Caged vigil for Shaker Aamer
Victory Rally For Jasmin Stone

A Mixed Day – May 3rd, 2014

Monday, May 3rd, 2021

Saturday May 3rd 2014 provided me with quite a range of events to photograph around London, finishing with a protest against the abuse of staff employed by MITIE at the Royal Opera House. IWGB members including the workplace rep have been sacked or lost work, with others being brought in to take their places.

This protest was one of the “noisy” events that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021 being pushed through parliament would criminalise, a very successful non-violent tactic used by smaller unions such as the IWGB (Independent Workers Union of Great Britain) to shame managements into talking with them. MITIE and the Royal Opera House had been refusing to talk with the union to which the majority of the cleaners belong, and instead recognise a large union with few members at the ROH which has come to an agreement with them which fails to address any of the workers grievances.

There were angry scenes with some of the opera goers who seemed to feel that the workers had no right to protest, and ROH security staff intervened when one man began assaulting union organiser Alberto Durango. When a large group of police arrived there was an ugly scene when they tried to grab one of the protesters, but she was pulled away by her colleagues, and the police then withdrew to form a line around the opera house. After an hour there were some short speeches, including one by another woman protester complaining that she and others had been assaulted by the police officer in charge, Inspector Rowe, and other officers.

My first event had been to cover a march to Parliament by Families fighting to abolish the 300 year old law of ‘Joint Enterprise’ that has wrongfully imprisoned family members in a gross breach of human rights. Under this people are convicted of crimes they took no part in for having almost any connection with those who actually committed the criminal act – without any real evidence being required or given. Originally intended to enable doctors and seconds who attended duels to be arrested as well as the actual duellists, it is now disproportionately used against Afro-Caribbean young men following stabbings and other street violence. As well as its inherent injustice, the sentences can be extremely long, in some cases up to 30 years in jail. In 2015 police attempted to use it against a protester after they could find no evidence of her committing the ‘criminal damage’ she had been accused of, but the court sensibly refused to consider the charge.

Next I went to the Ethiopian Embassy in Kensington, where Rastafarians from the Church of Haile Selassie I in Cricklewood were holding their annual protest calling for the restoration of the Dynasty of Emperor Haile Selassie 1st to bring about economic liberation of the country. Selassie died following an economic crisis which led to a coup in 1974 at the age of 83. Under his leadership Ethiopia, the only African country to defeat the European colonialists, was the first independent African state to become a member of the League of Nations and the UN.

I stopped off on my way back to the centre of London at Knightsbridge to photograph the weekly vigil outside fashion store Harvey Nichols calling on shoppers to boycott them for selling animal fur products, which come almost entirely from farms with exceedingly cruel practices banned in the UK. It is hard to see why using fur from these farms is not also banned here.

The largest event taking place was the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the first women to be ordained by the Church of England, and a thousand or more women priests went to a rally in Dean’s Yard before marching to St Paul’s Cathedral for a service.

I was brought up in the Congregational tradition, and the Congregational Church had its first women minister in 1919, but it took the Church of England another 75 years before they caught up. They ordained their first women as priests in 1994, and women now make up a large proportion of the church. Among those on the march was the Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin, the Jamaican-born vicar of Holy Trinity Church, Dalston and All Saints Church, Haggerston (and also finding time to be Speaker’s chaplain at the House of Commons, priest vicar at Westminster Abbey and chaplain to the Queen.) She marched with the same placard she carried when the church was making its decision to ordain women in 1994, with the message “Women – beautifully & wonderfully made in the image of God!” and became Britain’s first black female bishop in 2019.

I left the women priests marching along Whitehall to photograph a protest opposite Downing St, where Balochs were staging a token hunger strike on Whitehall calling for the immediate release of all those forcefully disappeared by Pakistani forces. The action was in solidarity with the hunger strike by student activist Latif Johar of the Baloch Students Organisation-Azad (BSO-A) who began a hunger strike outside the Karachi Press Club on April 22 in protest at the disappearance by Pakistan security forces of the BSO-A chair Zahid Baloch in March.

From Westminster I walked to Covent Garden where I was to meet the IWGB for their protest at the Royal Opera House, and sat and waited for them to arrive. To my surprise as I sat reading I heard the sound of hooves clattering on the road, and looked up to see half a dozen horse-drawn traps coming towards me up the street. They stopped briefly and appropriately at the Nags Head, where some of the drivers went in to refresh themselves, and I talked with those left holding the horses outside, and they told me the ride had started at Forest Gate and they had already visited Borough Market on their route around London.

More on all these events:
IWGB Cleaners at Royal Opera
Horse Traps at the Nag’s Head
Baloch Hunger Strike
20 years of Women Vicars
Anti-Fur Picket at Harvey Nichols
Restore the Ethiopian Monarchy
Joint Enterprise – NOT Guilty By Association


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.