Independent Workers Union of Great Britain – Universities of London Branch

UCL: Time to Step Up


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:

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

4. Coronavirus Mitigation Group to include all Trade Unions on Campus

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:

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