Biggest strike of outsourced workers in UK higher education history voted through at UCL


6 November 2019

  • Hundreds of cleaners, porters and security officers expected to strike on 19 November as part of IWGB’s campaign to end outsourcing and zero hour contracts at UCL.
  • Over 98% of the workers that voted in the ballot backed strike action.
  • Outsourced workers want equal terms and conditions to directly employed staff. These are currently far worse, for example workers are not being paid anything for the first three days when off sick.

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.

For more information: [email protected]

Notes to Editors:

  • Photos attached of 29 October IWGB demonstration to end outsourcing at UCL. Credit: Pietro Sambuy
  • Conditions of outsourced workers vs direct employees Sick pay: outsourced workers are on statutory sick pay, while direct employees are entitled to up to 26 weeks of fully paid sick pay, depending on length of service. Holiday pay: outsourced workers are entitled to as little as the statutory minimum of 28 holiday days, including bank holidays. Direct employees get a total of 41 days, including 27 days of annual leave, 8 bank holidays and 6 closure days. Parental leave: outsourced workers are only entitled to the statutory maternity leave, while direct employees get 18 weeks full pay (or 9 weeks full pay and 18 weeks half pay) statutory maternity pay.
  • Pensions: Outsourced security officers and some cleaners get a 3% employer pension contribution, while direct employees get enrolled into the SAUL pension scheme with up to 19.5% employer pension contribution.
  • In March, Sodexo tried to introduce a biometric time management system, which would require cleaners, the vast majority of whom are migrant workers, to have their fingerprints scanned when logging in and out of work. Following a collective grievance, and protests by the IWGB and its members, the introduction of this discriminatory system to monitor workers was called off.
  • In September, the IWGB launched a collective grievance on behalf of 30 cleaners and porters who said managers assign them an excessive workloads, resulting in severe exhaustion and stress. Attempts by management to further increase these workloads have so far been stopped by the intervention of IWGB representatives.
  • On 16 September, the IWGB gave UCL a three week deadline (7 October) by which to publicly commit to end outsourcing or engage in good faith negotiations with that end.
  • Previously, the biggest strike of outsourced workers in UK higher education took place in 25 and 26 April 2018. More info here and here.
  • UCL has 42,100 students according to its website. It is the biggest university in London and the third biggest in the UK, by number of students, according to the HESA.
  • Following a separate campaign launched in September 2017, the IWGB won a commitment by the University of London (Central Administration) to bring outsourced workers in-house in July 2018. Since then, only 10% of the workers have been brought in-house, and a boycott of the university is ongoing until there are concrete plans for the insourcing of the remaining 90%.
  • In 2013, following the landmark 3 Cosas Campaign, the IWGB won improved sick pay and holiday pay for outsourced workers at the University of London.