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.
You can donate to the Strike fund: https://www.gofundme.com/f/ucl-outsourced-workers-strike-fund
Notes to Editors:
- 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.
- 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.
- Sodexo and Axis took over the cleaning/portering and security contracts, respectively in November 2018.
- 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 (Central Administration).