Labour’s annual conference will go ahead next month after the party finally found a company to provide security for the venue, but the firm it has selected has faced criticism for its use of zero-hours contracts, it has emerged.
OCS Security is part of the West Sussex-based OCS Group, which also provides cleaning, catering and other services, and has a major contract to clean NHS buildings.
Labour has said it wants to outlaw zero-hours contracts, and Jeremy Corbyn has criticised outsourcing within the health service.
There had been concerns that the conference, beginning on 24 September at the Arena and Convention Centre (ACC) in Liverpool, might not happen at all after G4S – which, like much of the security industry, also uses zero-hours contracts – ruled out a last-minute deal to secure the event.
But on Friday Labour’s general secretary, Iain McNicol, said the party had reached another arrangement. I am happy to announce we have agreed that OCS Group, the existing provider of security services at ACC Liverpool, will deliver security for the Labour party conference, he said.
G4S had been the regular contractor for Labour conferences, but last year the party’s national executive committee (NEC) voted to boycott the company because of its links to prisons in Israel. The only other firm to bid for the contract, Showsec, does not recognise trade unions, and the GMB union threatened to stage a picket if Labour used it.
Although Labour has never said it would boycott companies using zero-hours contracts, it may be uncomfortable for the party if delegates in Liverpool will potentially be screened and protected by staff under a form of employment that Corbyn has condemned as exploitative and promised to scrap.
In 2013 a Labour member of the London assembly, Fiona Twycross, said it was disgraceful that the capital’s then mayor, Boris Johnson, allowed City Hall staff to be employed on zero-hours contracts, among them catering contractors from OCS.
A Labour spokeswoman said the party had nothing to say on OCS beyond McNicol’s statement.
OCS Group confirmed it used zero-hour contracts for some of its workers, saying they provided the company with a pool of people who are on call for specific types of work or events, some of which are seasonal.
A spokesman for OCS told the Guardian that the firm used the contracts only when the type of work suits this way of working, and we disagree with any exploitative use.
He said: OCS processes these workers through our payroll system, they have the same sign-on procedures as permanent employees and we pay their entitlement for holiday pay. The spokesman added that workers were given plenty of notice as to when they are required.
Labour had little choice over which security provider to employ, given that earlier this week it seemed possible the conference might be cancelled after a late return to G4S was rebuffed. G4S said it would not step in to provide the security even if the NEC dropped the boycott.
Eric Alexander, managing director for G4S events, said the company would usually start planning for such a large and complex event up to a year in advance. Safety for delegates and our staff is our priority, and at this late stage, and with our teams committed elsewhere, we are not in a position to step in and provide security for the conference, he said.
Another option appeared to be to pay police officers to secure the event. Merseyside police said it was not an option at the moment, but added that it was because they had not yet been approached by the party.
Showsec withdrew its bid for the event on Friday, saying in a statement: We no longer consider the operating environment for our security delivery to be conducive to a positive experience for our staff, especially given the tone of some of the comments made by the GMB union.
The announcement of the new security provider came after Corbyn insisted that the issues would be resolved and the conference would go ahead.
Asked whether he accepted the situation looked messy, the party leader said: Many things are complicated in life. We’ll sort this out. Don’t worry about it, conference will take place.
The result of Corbyn’s leadership battle with Owen Smith will be announced in Liverpool on the eve of the formal start of the conference.
News Source TheGuardianNews