The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) has launched a legal challenge that could help end discrimination against the ‘invisible’ outsourced workforce that ensures that our offices, schools and universities run smoothly day after day. They include those who work in cleaning, security, receptions, catering and maintenance.
Last year the IWGB started a legal challenge over the rights of 75 outsourced workers at the University of London (UoL) who are employed through Cordant, the facilities management company. The union believes the university is the de-factor employer with ultimate decision-making power over the workers’ terms and conditions. Therefore, they should be able to collectively bargain directly with UoL, but this has been denied putting the university, says the union, in breach of article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees trade union rights.
If successful, the case, which has been given permission to be heard in the High Court, would change the lives of the 75 workers at the University of London and some 3.3 million other outsourced employees.
But the establishment is closing ranks to try and stop it. The Tory government has decided to join the University of London in resisting our challenge and will be arguing that the European Convention of Human Rights cannot be interpreted in a way that extends these workers’ rights.
Outsourced workers, the majority of whom are migrants and BAME, tend to suffer from far worse terms and conditions because they are not employed directly by the place where they work, but by third party facilities management companies.
As the Guardian columnist and economics commentator, Aditya Chakrabortty, points out “Outsourcing breeds economic apartheid, in which workers who are nearly all from ethnic minorities, including cleaners who are almost without exception women, are exploited in a way that would never happen to the mostly white academics and managers whose employment contracts are with the university.”
Despite the establishment’s attempt to stop us from taking on the anachronistic and exploitative practice of outsourcing we are determined to fight until the end. Our fantastic legal team of solicitors from Harrison Grant, and renowned barristers John Hendy QC and Sarah Fraser Butlin, will robustly challenge the university and the government.
Unfortunately, the court has denied the IWGB cost protection. This means that if the union loses it could be forced to pay the legal costs of the university, Cordant and the government. The final bill could be in the hundreds of thousands of pounds, but we are setting up an initial target for the crowdfund of £10,000.
Thankfully, we are not alone. The Good Law Project, aware of the importance of this case, has decided to back it with an initial donation of £5,000. Please Join them and help us #CleanUpOutsourcing by pledging whatever amount you can afford. See details here and here.
Any money that isn’t spent will go into the IWGB’s fighting fund, to take on other exploitative companies and practices.