UCL’s Bad Move — October 11, 2019

UCL’s Bad Move


Today, UCL outsourced workers at IOE were given letters stating that “they should not speak to press” and were told they could breach company policy if they decided to speak out about their working conditions.

IWGB’s General Sectetary has written to UCL’s Provost to warn him about this bad move and alert him of the possible consequences:

Dear Professor Arthur,

I am writing to give you the opportunity to correct yet another idiotic blunder of your contractors.  You might remember that when I wrote to you on 16 September, offering the opportunity to avoid a campaign (which you rejected), I put a little side note to your contractors (who were copied in), saying: 

“I know it might be tempting when reading this to try and prove your worth to UCL by reacting in some way towards the workers. Let me take this opportunity to tell you that’s not a good idea.”It seems unfortunately my advice as not been followed as the attached document was handed out to cleaners, porters, etc.  As you can see, and not for the first time, Sodexo management is a little confused as the document is clearly meant to be instructions for them on what to say to staff and not a document to be handed directly to staff.  Or, in the terminology of Sodexo, the message was meant “to be cascaded via line manager during team huddle”.  But as you and the general public will become more and more aware of over the coming months, this sort of incompetence is par for the course with cowboy contractors.

But more seriously, the message says that workers are not to speak to press or express views about their work on social media.  Apparently this is set out in the “what to do in a crisis” document.  I’m glad you guys are recognising UCL is now in a crisis, but having your contractors attempt to silence your workers through intimidation is no way to deal with it.  
Professor Arthur, if you don’t want UCL cleaners to talk about their exploitative working conditions, then don’t exploit them.  If you don’t want them to talk about the inherently discriminatory outsourcing regime at UCL, then end the regime.

I suggest you correct this and I suggest you do it now.  Given that this threat comes off the back of widespread coverage of the proposed strike of outsourced workers, which comes as part of an anti-outsourcing campaign against UCL, it is quite clear that the threat is being made on your behalf.  If not corrected, this will have consequences for you both from a campaign perspective and a legal perspective.  I’d also encourage you to think for a moment about the backlash UCL would receive if you actually followed through on the policy and discipined a cleaner for telling the Guardian how she is compelled to work sick because she has no occupational sick pay.  I’ll give you a hint: it would be a PR disaster.

I look forward to the correction being made as a matter of urgency.  The IWGB and its members will not be intimidated by these desperate tactics, and we will not hesitate to take whatever legal action is required to put an end to them.  And as long as you continue to exploit and discriminate, we will make sure the world knows about it.

Kind regards,  

Dr. Jason Moyer-Lee
General Secretary

Hundreds of UCL cleaners, porters and security to vote on strike action over pay and conditions — October 9, 2019

Hundreds of UCL cleaners, porters and security to vote on strike action over pay and conditions

Hundreds of UCL cleaners, porters and security to vote on strike action over pay and conditions

  • Strikes will be part of the IWGB’s campaign, launched on 8 October, to end outsourcing at UCL.
  • Workers have far worse conditions than directly employed staff, including not being paid the first three days they are off sick.
  • The IWGB has documented a number of management failures and discriminatory practices, including the failure to pay over £15,000 in holiday pay to 30 workers.

9 October: The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) is to ballot cleaners, porters and security officers for strike action at London’s largest university, UCL, in what could be the biggest strike ever of outsourced workers in UK higher education history.

The IWGB will be balloting almost 300 workers over their terms and conditions, as part of the union’s campaign, launched yesterday (8 October), to end outsourcing and zero hours contracts at UCL. The strike ballot will specifically demand the outsourcing companies that manage the security contract, Axis, and the cleaning contract, Sodexo, put cleaners, porters and security officers on the same terms and conditions as UCL’s direct employees. The results of the ballot are expected on 5 November.

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.

Specifically, while direct employees can receive up to 26 weeks of pay when they are off sick, outsourced workers are on the statutory minimum, which means that they get no pay on the first three days they are off sick, after which they are entitled to £94.25 a week. This means that many workers chose to work while sick, rather than risk losing a day’s pay. (See comparisons of other conditions in notes below)

IWGB University of London branch chair and former UCL cleaner Maritza Castillo Calle said: “UCL would not be able to function without its cleaners, porters and security officers, however for years the university and its contractors have been happy to treat them like second class workers. They are overworked, underpaid and mistreated, while UCL is happy to look the other way when issues are raised about the abject failure of its contractors to treat people with basic dignity. We gave UCL a clear deadline by which to present a plan to end outsourcing which it failed to abide by. Now we are left with no option but to strike.”

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.

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 complain that managers assign them an excessive amount of work, resulting in significant levels of exhaustion and stress. Attempts by management to further increase these workloads have so far been stopped by the intervention of IWGB reps.

BREAKING NEWS: Imminent Campaign at UCL — October 7, 2019

BREAKING NEWS: Imminent Campaign at UCL

BREAKING NEWS: Just hours before the IWGB’s in-housing deadline to UCL expired this afternoon, we heard that UCL intends to offer parity of terms and conditions with in-house staff to outsourced security guards, which would be a massive improvement on the status quo.

But parity of terms and conditions is not the same as going back in house, as it does not address issues of accountability, mistreatment and mismanagement. What’s more, there is no clear timetable for delivery of this and nothing has been offered to the cleaners and porters.

Later this evening we received an insultingly lazy response email from  UCL to our letter of demands, which was totally non-committal and offered no guarantees of any progress whatsoever.

UCL Clearly thought they could prevent an IWGB campaign with this last ditch move. But it has not worked. The deadline has expired. Our members will be launching their campaign tomorrow morning!