One in three school janitors face the axe in Glasgow

They are the mainstay of schools throughout Scotland and the first point of contact in emergencies ranging from broken heating to smashed windows, maintaining security for pupils and staff.

GMB branch secretary Rhea Wolfson says the importance of janitors has been underestimated. Photograph: John Devlin

But now one of the country’s largest unions has warned that cost-cutting plans to transform janitors into a mobile workforce travelling to schools across Glasgow, will impact on children’s safety and put jobs at risk.

The three-month pilot scheme being implemented by Cordia, one of Glasgow City Council’s arm’s-length operations, starts a week tomorrow and will see a reduced workforce of four janitors travel between six sites in the city’s southside.

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Schools affected include Crookston Castle primary school, Howford primary school and St Monica’s primary school and Linthaugh nursery school.

Rhea Wolfson, GMB Scotland branch secretary, said Cordia had told them: “It’s just a cultural thing that people expect to have a janitor. That needs to change.”

Wolfson said: “This cut goes to the heart of our communities and goes against the ethos of keeping schools safe and clean environments.

“There has been minimal consultation and staff were only told about it on the 27 October.

“Cordia has been unwilling to confirm what numbers of jobs will be lost if the cluster scheme is rolled out across Glasgow. Judging from the proposed pilot scheme, Cordia could be set to lose 30-40 per cent of janitors.

“Janitors do a lot more than people realise, especially from a safety point of view, from clearing paths in the snow and ice to checking that alarms are working, things that are essential for the well-being of the entire school.”

She added: “Cordia said they will have a manager liaising with head teachers for them to contact if they need something done and there is no janitor on the premises. I’ve heard head teachers are angry about this. We have lodged a grievance asking for the status quo to remain.”

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland union, said permanent on-site janitors were essential in schools.

“Having janitors is more than ‘just a cultural thing’. The janitor is an absolute key member of staff who creates a safe environment and by doing so supports teaching and learning. Having peripatetic janitors travelling across a city diminishes their role.”

A Cordia spokesman said: “This pilot is the result of consultation involving all stakeholders, including the trade unions. Different ideas and approaches were discussed, the unions were fully informed and all participants are taking part voluntarily.

“It is part of a complete review of janitorial services aimed at offering a service which can operate in Glasgow schools for many years to come, and any efficiencies will form part of the £130 million savings Glasgow City Council and its arm’s- length external organisations are having to make over two years.

“Throughout all of this, pupil safety is an absolute priority. Head teachers are responsible for health and safety in our schools and this will continue under any new arrangements.”