Hundreds of UCL cleaners and security launch campaign to be brought in house after subcontractor neglect during COVID

Wed, May 4, 2022, 8:00 AM
  • Hundreds of outsourced cleaners, porters and security officers working at UCL are demanding to be brought in house as part of IWGB’s campaign to end outsourcing and zero hours contracts and for fair pay.
  • Outsourced workers want equal terms and conditions to directly employed staff, fair pay and an end to routine failures under their subcontractors. Their terms and conditions are currently far worse than direct employees, for example many are on zero hour and precarious contracts. Outsourced workers have also faced routine abuses from subcontractors during the pandemic, including redundancies and severe payroll issues.
  • Amidst the cost of living crisis, outsourced workers are also demanding a return to pay standards in place pre-outsourcing, including £15/hr minimum pay.

4 May: Outsourced cleaners, porters and security officers at University College London (UCL) are launching a campaign to be brought in house for equal rights and fair pay, after experiencing neglect and discrimination by their subcontractors throughout the pandemic.

Outsourced workers at UCL won improved sick pay, annual leave and parental leave entitlements and pensions in 2019 after a campaign by the Independent Workers union of Great Britain (IWGB). However, their demand to end outsourcing was not met and the campaign was unable to continue in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

During the pandemic, outsourced workers continued to face issues both in pay and treatment. Security subcontractor Bidvest Noonan repeatedly failed to handle payroll correctly for staff each month for 6 months, resulting in repeated unlawful deductions in wages. UCL’s security subcontractor also threatened redundancies and cuts to working hours of staff until threatened with a campaign by the IWGB. Similarly, UCL’s cleaning subcontractor Sodexo made redundancies through the pandemic and re-introduced widespread zero hour and insecure contracts for new staff.

On 21 December 2021, 135 security officers signed a joint letter to UCL management listing these issues and demanding an end to outsourcing. However, UCL management has refused to engage with the IWGB on the issue of outsourcing. Today a petition signed by over 150 cleaners demanding an end to outsourcing and fair pay has also been sent to UCL management alongside the launch of this campaign.

As part of the IWGB campaign, outsourced workers will organise a large protest on 26 May at UCL, alongside other activities such as leafleting days, public meetings, a Latin American-themed party and a ‘sticker up day’ today on 4 May.

Martin Johnson Wogido, Chair of IWGB Universities of London Branch and a UCL security officer says, “I have been a security guard at UCL for almost 5 years now, and in that time have developed relationships with students and staff alike. We are launching this campaign to end outsourcing, to end the use of middleman subcontractors who profit off the backs of key workers such as myself. It is clear UCL does not want to engage with outsourced staff and our union, the IWGB, as they attempt to intimidate us and scare us away from fighting for in-housing. The subcontractors are failing to uphold terms and conditions we have won in the past, including failing to remit pensions, losing personal data, issuing zero hour contracts, as well as wage deductions and a denial of adequate break times. We key workers deserve dignity and justice and demand an end to this structural discrimination.”

Maritza Castillo Calle, Vice-President of IWGB and former UCL cleaner says, “We have seen this tactic of outsourcing used many times before as a way for companies to wash their hands of responsibility for their most vulnerable employees. They hide behind subcontractors which mistreat and mismanage workers, all the while claiming that this is in the interest of efficiency and pragmatism. In reality we can see that the majority of outsourced jobs are done by BAME workers, often migrant workers, and the conditions under these subcontractors are far worse than those enjoyed by direct employees. This is a clear case of institutional racism by a university that purports to be progressive and inclusive, and must end at once.”

Maria (not her real name), an outsourced cleaner working for Sodexo says, “I came to London in 2011, and have worked at UCL since 2012 to support my teenage daughter. I have seen 4 different companies used to subcontract cleaners, with abusive managers and discriminatory structures, including bosses who often engage in nepotism and favouritism. I have worked incredibly hard, once breaking my hip on the job, and have continued to work excessive hours to get by, terrified to complain to management for fear that they will punish me and take away shifts I need to survive. Management are vindictive, they don’t respect me or my colleagues and treat us as disposable. They are not the ones with back pains, picking up litter and lifting bins. When we are off sick, we cover for each other, and the company does nothing. We demand an end to outsourcing.”

Interviews are available on request.

For more information, please contact:
Jake Thomas, Press and Communications Officer

James Vail, Head of Communications (on leave until 09/05/22)
+44 7883 887613

Notes: In January 2022, UCL management initiated an ongoing consultation process with outsourced staff and direct employees and several unions at the university regarding insourcing. However, the university has refused to engage the IWGB, which represents a majority of both the outsourced cleaner and porter workforce and security staff, in this process despite requests to do so. The IWGB has also collected testimonies which show that a survey conducted by UCL as part of this consultation has been used to attempt to intimidate outsourced staff and turn them against outsourcing, with surveyors falsely claiming that insourcing would lead to cuts to workers’ working hours. As a result, the IWGB is concerned that this process has a predetermined outcome unfavourable to insourcing and is launching this public campaign.

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