Tuesday 15 November: The ongoing strike followed a unanimous ballot for industrial action by hundreds of outsourced security workers from the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) demanding £15/hour, union recognition and an end to outsourcing where they work at University College London (UCL). Over 150 people attended the picket line yesterday, which begins again today at 6am at the entrance to UCL on Malet Place, followed by a protest with guest speakers including Owen Jones and John McDonnell MP from 8.15am.
On the morning of Friday 11 November, a few days before industrial action was due to begin, UCL security staff woke to find their overtime shifts for the following days and weeks had been cancelled without explanation. Further enquiries revealed that the directive came from Bidvest Noonan’s managing director, Sarah Cork, and that Bidvest Noonan workers at UCL have been stripped of all overtime shifts, which for some amounts to as much as a one third cut to their monthly take home pay.
The base £15/hour rate demanded for all outsourced workers is equivalent to the wage of security staff over twenty two years ago, before outsourcing was introduced. The predominantly Black and minoritised workforce were paid London Living Wage until 2019 when IWGB members led the largest strike of outsourced workers in the history of UK higher education to secure the current rate of around £13/hour and a commitment from UCL to give equal terms and conditions to all workers. The current influx of agency workers represents a breach of that commitment, as well as UCL’s policy as a London Living Wage employer. The Systematic Security agency is known to pay workers as little as £10/hour.
The strike is part of an ongoing worker-led campaign to bring an end to outsourcing, an exploitative and often highly racialised practice that creates a lower tier of second-class workers who are denied the same basic pay and worker rights as directly employed staff. IWGB members have led campaigns against outsourcing in public institutions across London and in 2020 successfully eliminated the practice at the University of London, of which UCL is a member, as well as more recently ending outsourcing at Goldsmiths and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
One UCL security guard, anonymised due to fear of reprisals, says: “It puts students at risk, not investing in a secure and well trained security staff, yet for years now it’s been one incompetent cowboy company after another. The parents would be horrified if they knew how UCL puts profit before student safety. Meanwhile the overtime shifts I’ve just lost amount to a third of my income. After rent I will have £200 left for the month. How am I supposed to support my family? I have colleagues who have been forced to take payday loans and won’t be able to pay those back now. These are working people with children who could lose their homes and for what? So UCL can perpetuate racial segregation and exploitation of its workforce? That’s what outsourcing is.”
Henry Chango-Lopez, General Secretary (IWGB), says: “Draconian strike breaking measures like these often backfire for institutions like UCL, which claim publicly to respect workers' rights. If they continue, it will force workers to escalate their public campaign because they simply cannot afford to shoulder the cost of UCL's hypocrisy. They will not be denied the dignity, equality and basic rights they have fought for, been promised and more than earned.”
Matteo Tiratelli, Anti-Casualisation Officer, University College Union (UCU), says: “Outsourcing has created terrible conditions for workers as well as being a drain on the university as a whole. Management’s determination to keep these key workers outsourced is part of a wider attack on everyone working in Higher Education. Across UCL our pay rates are slipping far behind inflation, colleagues in all kinds of jobs are subject to insecure, fixed term contracts, and it’s students who ultimately pay the price as the university is turned from a place of learning to a place of profit.”
For more information, contact:
Marienna Pope-Weidemann, Head of Media & Communications