6 November: Cleaners, porters and security officers have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action at University College London (UCL), London’s largest university. The strike will take place on 19 November and will be the biggest strike of outsourced workers in UK higher education history.
The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) balloted almost 300 workers over their terms and conditions, as part of the union’s campaign to end outsourcing and zero hours contracts at UCL. 98% of the cleaners and porters that voted in the ballot and 98.75% of the security officers that voted backed strike action.
Following the launch of the campaign in October, the university has made vague statements regarding an improvement of terms and conditions for outsourced workers, without offering any guarantees nor a clear timeline. The overwhelming vote in support of industrial action by the IWGB’s members shows the extent to which the university’s offer has fallen short of workers’ demands for equality. Outsourced workers receive worse sick pay, pension, holiday pay, and parental leave than their in-house colleagues. They are also more likely to suffer from bullying and discrimination than directly employed workers.
IWGB University of London branch chair and former UCL cleaner Maritza Castillo Calle said: “Outsourcing forces us to work sick and injured, to work all our lives and still retire in poverty. For decades, UCL has treated its majority migrant and BAME outsourced workers like second class citizens, condemning them to a system of bullying and discrimination. By voting overwhelmingly in favour of strike action, UCL’s outsourced workers have sent the university a clear message. They will no longer stand for half measures and endless delays. They want equality and justice, and they want it now.”
The strike ballot specifically demands that the facilities management companies that manage the security and cleaning contracts, Axis and Sodexo, give the outsourced workers the same terms and conditions as UCL's direct employees. The IWGB has today launched an appeal to raise money for the strike fund, which can be found here.
While direct employees of UCL can receive up to 26 weeks of pay when they are off sick, outsourced workers are on the statutory minimum. This means they receive no pay on the first three days they are off sick, after which they are entitled to just £94.25 a week. This forces many to work while sick or injured, rather than risk losing a day's pay. (See comparisons of other conditions in notes below)
Over the last year the IWGB has also documented a number of severe management failures and discriminatory practices by the outsourcing companies. The IWGB brought complaints on behalf of 30 Axis security officers that were owed over £15,000, when the company failed to properly pay their holiday pay over a period of three months, between December and February. Following these formal complaints by the University of London branch secretary, the money was paid, but there have been other instances of non-payment of holiday pay since.
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