Major concession won: On March 19, UCL announced that one of our key demands during the current COVID-19 crisis will be met: UCL’s subcontractors Sodexo and Axis will be harmonising sick pay with the UCL scheme from Monday 23rd March, ensuring that outsourced workers at UCL get decent sick pay. Furthemore, any absence due to COVID-19 will not count towards normal absence trigger points.The IWGB welcomes this announcement, which is the result of the relentless pressure and the determination of the outsourced workers. We also welcome the confirmation by UCL that their subcontractors Sodexo and Axis will be honouring the contracted hours for all outsourced staff over the coming weeks, through the period of closure due to COVID-19 at UCL.Whilst these announcements from UCL are important steps, they are not sufficient.
The current public health crisis has revealed the disregard shown by UCL and its subcontractors to the outsourced workforce, who have been forgotten when it comes to implementing health and safety protections, ignored when they have requested information, and in some cases callously laid off by the subcontractors as buildings close. There are still a number of outstanding issues which must be dealt with.
UCL must take a more robust response to this crisis. Mainly:
1. Immediate reinstatement and guarantee of full payment for all workers who have been laid off during COVID-19 Crisis
Following a flurry of complaints by our union and by UCL staff and students, UCL declared yesterday that no outsourced workers have lost their jobs as a result of the current crisis, merely that ‘as and when’ staff have not been booked in for further shifts.
Juan Camilo, Maria Arias, Luz Mary, Betty Marina, Pam, Onailda… these are only a few names of the more than 30 outsourced workers who have lost their jobs and their only source of income over the last few days.
All workers, including casual workers, deserve security and UCL should not allow its subcontractors to lay off staff during this crisis, even if they have only worked here for one month. Nonetheless, it is bizarre for UCL to claim that these workers are ‘as and when’ staff:
- Camilo has worked at Gordon Square since October 2019 for 3 hours per day. He was given a zero hour contract by Sodexo and promised he would be given a permanent contract, but this never happened.
- Maria Arias has worked at Hawkridge House for 3 hours per day since September 2019. She was given a Zero hour contract and was also hoping to be made permanent.
- Pâmella Montezano Cora has worked regularly at Gordon Square for 3 hour per day.
These workers are part of the team at UCL and it is disgraceful that Sodexo has treated them like they are disposable. A full list of these staff can be provided by the IWGB, should UCL want further evidence that these staff work on their site regularly.
Sodexo has laid off all of its casual staff and all those on zero hours contracts. In some cases some of the employees had not even signed a contract of employment, despite many of these workers having worked here for months or even over a year.
UCL must insist its subcontractor Sodexo immediately reinstates all of these staff and ensure that they receive full payment of wages during this crisis at their weekly average income (based on the average of their earnings over the previous 12 weeks) and that they receive the new occupational sick pay entitlement in line with the rest of outsourced staff.
2. A ban on all zero hour contracts at UCLThe situation described above has brought to light the inhumane nature of zero hour contracts and the precariousness to which they condemn workers, particularly in situations such as the COVID-19 crisis. UCL should not allow a model to operate at this university which encourages its contractors to abandon their staff during times like this.
This is why we call for a ban on all zero hour contracts on campus. All outsourced workers who have been laid off must be reinstated and provided with written particulars of employment (the content of these, of course, to be agreed with each individual).
3. Payment absences due to COVID-19 or closure
- Any absence due to COVID-19 (self isolation/sickness) must not be deducted from a worker’s Sick Leave balance.
- In the case of building closure all workers must receive full pay.
- This must be calculated based on their average working hours over the past 12 weeks. Many security staff at UCL routinely work 20+ hours above their contracted hours. This is how Axis, the security subcontractor, wishes to run its contract during normal business, so staff should also be paid for these regular overtime hours during this extraordinary situation.
- This closure period is an extraordinary situation and all staff who are not required to work should receive pay as though they are at work. For instance, some security staff at UCL receive an attendance allowance, this must be provided to them as long as they are fit and available to work, regardless of whether they are required to come in during the closure period.
4. Coronavirus Mitigation Group to include all Trade Unions on Campus
- UCL has announced that they will include every Trade Union on Campus in their Coronavirus Mitigation Group, with the exception of the IWGB.
- The IWGB, which represents the majority of outsourced workers on campus, has been leading the way raising issues of health and safety faced by outsourced workers. The IWGB has offered emergency meetings with UCL and its subcontractors to help develop solutions to issues, made clear demands and brought 3 legal challenges against employers for their failure to ensure health and safety.
- We publicly condemn the failure to include the IWGB as part of the Coronavirus Mitigation Group. The exclusion of the IWGB is part of a longer pattern of irresponsible behaviour by UCL that fails to step up to the current circumstances. Outsourced workers deserve a voice in shaping UCL’s response to this situation.
5. Health and Safety demands
Despite persistently demanding for UCL to take robust action to ensure the Health and Safety of all outsourced workers on campus, no action has been taken to address the multiple concerns raised. Mainly:
- ensure that all subcontractors carry out appropriate risk assessments and issue health and safety guidelines for members of staff. Risk assessments should be performed following the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH). This is a legal requirement and it is shocking that proper assessments have not yet been undertaken, despite numerous concerns raised by outsourced staff across different sites.
- ensure that all subcontractors carry out an assessment to identify those workers who are at risk (and those that take care of people at risk) and make sure those people are supported to immediately self-isolate.
- ensure provision of appropriate Personal Protective Equipment – e.g. masks, gloves and hand sanitiser for all staff, as determined by risk assessments for each site. For example, all operations security staff should have at least 2 pairs of gloves per day for conducting their two shifts of patrols.
- Immediate action regarding high risk zones. In particular Residence Halls & Medical facilities: Residence halls are a high risk area due to many students living there in close proximity. Already our members have seen notices in these halls where areas such as communal kitchens have been designated for use by only those in self-isolation. However, cleaners are being required to clean these areas. Similarly, in UCL’s medical facilities, such as Queen Square House, there has been transfer of infected material (such as 4 dead bodies in QSH) through areas cleaned and secured by UCL’s outsourced staff.
- UCL must immediately complete robust health and safety risk assessments and demonstrate the implementation of strict health and safety protocols, including strict rules for students residing in halls of residency with symptoms to fully self-isolate.
- All non-essential staff will be granted full pay special leave and the remaining staff will operate on a rota system.
- For rooms of individuals self isolating and common spaces such as kitchens and toilets to be cleaned by Specialist subcontractors who ensure that the highest levels of health and safety are implemented to ensure that disinfection of all areas with residents self-isolating
6. Clear up your communications
UCL has put out daily communications to all staff, which is commendable. Regrettably, UCL’s subcontractors have not followed your example and have been woefully lacking in their communications with outsourced staff.
Moreover, your security subcontractor Axis has on several occasions directly contradicted announcements and statements made by UCL. For instance, last week UCL announced that all staff, including outsourced staff, would be entitled to 14 days special leave on full pay should they need to self-isolate. However, last night Axis emailed all security staff on the contract at UCL to inform them that there had been some confusion and they would not be paid this rate, rather if they need to self-isolate they would be entitled only to Statutory Sick Pay (£94 per week) after several days, under their normal sickness absence policy.
The IWGB assumes that Axis is merely making another display of their usual incompetence and UCL has not reversed its position that all outsourced staff will also be entitled to the 14 days special leave. However, this sort of thing is extremely concerning for the workers, who are being given contradictory information regarding vital matters of whether or not they will get paid if they get sick during this crisis.
It is vital that UCL gets a grip of this situation and ensures clear communication to staff by its subcontractors, in line with the policies UCL has decided upon.
You may think that ignoring the demands of outsourced workers and their trade union representatives is the best course of action for now. You are excluding workers from having input into how to mitigate the worst effects of the COVID-19 crisis.
UCL, as a high profile institution with a global reputation, should be at the forefront of dealing with COVID-19. In this light, I ask you to think about how we, the wider UCL community, and the public will look back on these patterns of behaviours. Across London, workers, organisations, and communities have shown immense strength by coming together collectively to respond. You, UCL, and the outsourcing companies are, for now, on the wrong side of history. Now is the time to step up.
Dr Jamie Woodcock
Branch SecretaryUniversity of London IWGB