New officers elected at annual general meeting — June 14, 2019

New officers elected at annual general meeting

Last week (7 June), members of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) converged on Brixton, South London, for their annual general meeting(AGM). 

Their numbers were swollen by volunteers, employees, activists, supporters and friends, who have witnessed this small but feisty union rise rapidly since its inception in 2012. Over the years IWGB has fought many battles on behalf of its members and is showing how unions can thrive again.  

Among the agenda items for the 2019 AGM were the election of national officers. And the following appointments can now be confirmed:

President: Henry Chango Lopez
General secretary: Jason Moyer-Lee
Vice-president: Max Dewhurst
Treasurer: James Tiplady
Women’s officer: Catherine Morrissey
BAME officer: Muhumed Ali

The meeting was voted a huge success, and the after party too!

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UCL Provost’s achievements are built on the back of exploitation – letter from our branch secretary to the Guardian — June 6, 2019

UCL Provost’s achievements are built on the back of exploitation – letter from our branch secretary to the Guardian

Dear Guardian Letters Editor,

Michael Arthur may reflect ‘with pride that the university is now on a sound financial footing, with borrowing as a percentage of turnover below the Russell Group average’, but what your article does not mention is that this achievement has been built on the back of massive discrimination against UCL’s outsourced workers, the vast majority of whom are from BAME backgrounds and whose terms and conditions are far worse than those of their mostly white directly employed counterparts.

Nearly all UCL’s cleaners, caterers and security guards receive the legal minimum of holidays and sick pay, and are barred from the generous defined benefit pension schemes available to university staff. While all other adjacent institutions have either brought staff in-house or enhanced their benefits, UCL has steadfastly dragged its heels (despite posting a surplus of £156.4m last year according to its latest annual report). Had Peter Wilby spoken to one of these workers he might well have found a whole host of further reasons for the hostility to Professor Arthur he describes.

Best wishes

Danny Millum

Branch Secretary, University of London IWGB

Read the letter on the Guardian website here.

UCU congress votes overwhelming to support Senate House boycott — May 31, 2019

UCU congress votes overwhelming to support Senate House boycott

The IWGB’s boycott of Senate House, the University of London’s (UoL) central administrative headquarters in Bloomsbury, has been given a boost.

Last week (25–29 May), the University and College Union (UCU) Congress overwhelmingly passed a boycott motion. This means that it is now official UCU policy to NOT attend nor organise any events in UoL’s central administrative buildings until all its outsourced workers have been brought in-house.

The UCU’s support has empowered the mainly BAME cleaners to release a short video asking higher education staff and academics to help their case by supporting the boycott – please check it out here. They have been fighting for some two years for equality of employment.

This level of national solidarity is unprecedented. At the Congress speaker after speaker pledged their support for our workers and Jo Grady, UCU’s new general secretary, also confirmed her commitment to the campaign.

The boycott motion was brought to the UCU Congress because, while the in-house campaign has forced the university to commit to the principle of in-housing, there are still many outstanding issues:

  • only 10% of workers have been brought in-house
  • current plans are so vague that the 90% of workers who are not in-house have only been promised ‘reviews’, some of which will not take place until 2021
  • there are no guarantees that any of these 90%, which includes all the cleaners, catering staff and the majority of security staff will ever be brought in
  • these workers are still being massively discriminated against in terms of sick pay, holidays, pensions and more

In addition, as outlined below, UoL has launched a crackdown on the workers and their union, the IWGB.

University of London crackdown

The university and the outsourced companies have not only refused all offers of talks with the workers and their union – the IWGB – its management has responded by attacking trade union rights. Moreover, it has increased discrimination against the outsourced workers.

First the IWGB’s branch secretary was threatened with disciplinary action for accepting an invitation to attend a seminar to talk about the boycott.

Second, cleaning company Cordant Services introduced a draconian new sickness phone-in policy solely for the cleaners. Rather than reporting to managers or supervisors they must now call a centralised number to report all absences. Failure to do so will result in instant disciplinary action. 

There was just one catch. Many of the cleaners speak little or no English while no-one in the call centre speaks anything but. Listen here as an Ecuadorian cleaner tries to call in sick.

Third, Cordant Security has refused to allow trade union representation for migrant security staff at the university. The company has gone so far as to hire EXTRA security to physically block the IWGB representative from attending a meeting to which he was invited by the worker.

This is all happening at OUR university and is in response to pleas by the lowest-paid and most vulnerable workers in the building to be treated equally.

‘Convenors against outsourcing’ members asked to sign up for the Senate House boycott for the 2019-20 academic year —

‘Convenors against outsourcing’ members asked to sign up for the Senate House boycott for the 2019-20 academic year

Dear all,

We are writing following the UCU Congress last weekend to bring you an update on the Senate House Boycott and to ask for your (continuing) support.

Congress overwhelmingly passed the boycott motion, which means that it is now official UCU policy NOT to attend or organise any events at the central University of London administration buildings (essentially Senate House, Stewart House, Student Central, the Warburg Institute and the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (Charles Clore House)) until all outsourced workers have been brought in-house.

In addition, University of London cleaners have just released a short video asking for support for the boycott – please check it out here.

The reason the boycott motion was brought to Congress is that while the in-house campaign has forced the University to commit to the principle of in-housing:

  1. only 10% of workers have been brought in-house.
  2. current plans are so vague that all the rest are promised are ‘reviews’, some of which will not even occur until 2021.
  3. there are no guarantees that any of these 90%, including all the cleaners, catering staff and majority of security will ever be brought in.
  4. furthermore, as we outline in more detail below, the University has launched an unprecedented crackdown on the workers and their union.

We are therefore writing to you as signatories of our original letter in support of insourcing and the outsourced workers to sign up to the Senate House boycott for the 2019-20 academic year.

It is important to remember that this is a boycott of the University of London, not the IHR – events of all sorts are being moved from the University, and we are determined to maintain our relationship with the Institute to allow the seminar programme to return once everyone working in the building the IHR is housed in is treated equally. As part of this we have set up a Convenors Against Outsourcing group to provide a conduit between the IWGB union and convenors and are also able to offer help in finding rooms for any seminars which need to relocate.

University crackdown

The University and the outsourced companies have not just REFUSED all offers of talks with the workers and their union, the IWGB – they have responded by attacking trade union rights at the University of London and increasing discrimination against outsourced workers.

First they threatened the branch secretary of the IWGB with disciplinary action for attending a seminar to talk about the boycott.

Second, cleaning company Cordant Services introduced a draconian new sickness phone-in policy JUST for cleaners – rather than reporting to managers / supervisors they were now expected to call a centralised number for ALL absences or face disciplinary action.

There was just one catch – most of the cleaners speak little or no English – but no-one in the call centre speaks anything but. Listen here as an Ecuadorian cleaner tries to call in sick.

Third, Cordant Security refused trade union representation to migrant worker security staff at the University – hiring EXTRA security to physically block entry to a meeting to the IWGB representative.

This is all happening at OUR University – and all in response to the lowest-paid and most vulnerable workers in the building asking to be treated equally.

It is vital that we show that we will not tolerate this – and therefore we are asking ALL seminars to sign up to the Senate House boycott for the 2019-20 academic year. This will force the University to see sense, end its policies of repression and discrimination and return to being an institution that we can all be proud of.

We are asking that you speak to your fellow convenors, confirm that you will be supporting the boycott and if possible volunteer one person from each seminar to join our Convenors Against Outsourcing committee.

Please do let us know if you have any questions at all.

Kind regards,

Dr Dion Georgiou
Convenors Against Outsourcing Group

Background to the boycott
At the central University of London a huge in-house campaign has been raging since September 2017. Security and cleaning staff have held no fewer than 17 strikes, as well as innumerable protests, with students also occupying Senate House in support of their campaign.

The demands of the campaign are simple – for equality of terms and conditions. Currently outsourced workers have much worse holidays, pensions, sick pay, maternity and paternity pay than their directly employed colleagues. They also suffer from vastly higher levels of bullying and harassment from the outsourced companies they work for.

Eighty per cent of these workers are from BME backgrounds. Ninety per cent 90% of the cleaners are women.

The University’s response has been draconian – they have threatened TU activists, allowed their hired goon security to beat students, spent £1.3m in just 6 months on additional security and turned Senate House into a fortress.

The campaign has forced them to commit to the principle of in-housing, but this far only 10% of workers have been brought in-house, and their current plans are so vague that there are no guarantees that any of the others, including all the cleaners will ever be brought in.

To win this campaign the workers need external help, and in December 2018 they called for a boycott of events at the University of London central administration in support of the campaign.

The response has been fantastic – More than 35 Senate House seminars  and 180 events have relocated in support of the boycott and more than 440 academics have individually pledged solidarity. In addition, more than 25 UCU branches have passed a motion of support.

The boycott is working, in that the University is now looking to speed up its in-housing. We are on the verge of winning this campaign and achieving equality and dignity for these workers but without your help many of these gains could evaporate.  

Academic explains why he is proud to back the IWGB’s University of London boycott — May 24, 2019

Academic explains why he is proud to back the IWGB’s University of London boycott

Dr Dion Georgiou, a senior lecturer at the University of Chichester, calls on academics to “stand in solidarity with cleaners and security staff, and fight precarious employment.”

Writing in the Guardian, Dr Georgiou who has been organising seminars and events at Senate House for more than a decade, said outsourcing has to end and he is proud to back the University of London boycott.

In his article he also points out that universities routinely invest huge amounts in real estate while neglecting to invest in their staff. And commenting on the difficulties the outsourced workers at the University of London have been facing since their campaign began in 2017, he said “… they face an intransigent university management with skewed priorities, whose response has all too frequently blended short-termism with heavy-handedness.

“Refusing to negotiate directly with the workers’ chosen union representatives, it has instead expended heavily on policing the workers’ industrial action and student protests taken in support of them, spending over £400,000 on additional security over a two-month period last year alone.”

Remembering the IWGB members who supported academics who themselves had to take industrial action against their employers, Dr Georgiou said “Last year, while I was stood on the picket line outside King’s College London (where I myself was then precariously employed) during our strike over pensions, IWGB members supported our action, with some refusing to cross UCU picket lines. Now we must stand with them. We are all in this fight together.”

Read the full article here.

Campaigners against outsourcing take their battle to the Palace of Westminster —

Campaigners against outsourcing take their battle to the Palace of Westminster

The battle for the outsourced workers at the University of London (UoL) has entered the lofty corridors of the House of Parliament. 

This week (22 May), members of the IWGB union joined a panel led by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell MP to discuss how outsourcing is used to drive down working conditions and what can be done to fight back.

As well as John McDonnell, speakers included Maritza Castillo Calle, IWGB’s UoL’s branch chair, Liliana Almanza, union representative and cleaner. They were joined by Katie Leslie, London south branch secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) representing staff at Business Energy and Industrial Strategy, and representatives from the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT).

Since 2017, IWGB has been campaigning for UoL, one of the UK’s largest university in terms of student numbers, to end outsourcing and directly employ the workers who provide cleaning, catering, security and other services.

Outsourcing is one of the underhanded methods used by employers for decades to drive down our employment conditions. By using middlemen in the form of outsourcing companies such as Cordant, employers are able to offer some workers far worse pay, holiday entitlements, sick pay and pension contributions. 

But the abuse doesn’t stop there. The unaccountable nature of outsourcing companies means the workers (who are often from minority ethnic and migrant backgrounds), employed by them are much more likely to suffer from bullying and discrimination. 

But recent years have seen outsourced cleaners, security officers, receptionists and catering staff, win a number of important victories that have pushed back against some of the worst abuses of the outsourcing industry. 

At the event in Westminster, Maritza Castillo Calle and cleaners’ representative, Liliana Almanza, spoke movingly about their experiences as outsourced migrant workers, and how they had been empowered by joining a union. John McDonnell pledged his support to end outsourcing in general AND for the Boycott Senate House campaign in particular.

Workers from other outsourced campaigns also spoke, including the representatives from the PCS and RMT unions. All committed to building closer links between unions to strengthen the fightback.





Couriers working for The Doctors Laboratory strike over pay and conditions — May 17, 2019

Couriers working for The Doctors Laboratory strike over pay and conditions

On Thursday and Friday next week (23 and 24 May) medical couriers at The Doctors Laboratory (TDL) will be going on strike, and IWGB members are encouraged to show solidarity for our cycle couriers who provide blood delivery services to more than 50 NHS and private hospitals on behalf of this private company.

The focus of the action will take place at TDL’s Euston Road headquarters (95 Euston Rd, Kings Cross, London NW1 2RA) from 7.30am–1.30pm on both days. However, the main event that as many people as possible are being encouraged to attend will be from 12 noon–1.30pm on the Thursday. A range of speakers have accepted invitations to take part. 

All sorts of activities are lined up for the two days and a Facebook event “SAVE LIVES NOT PENNIES” has been launched. IWGB members are urged to show their support at this Facebook page, which will reassure and empower the workers taking part in the strike – a decision that was not taken lightly.

After years of mistreatment TDL couriers unionised in 2018 in the hope of achieving better working conditions and an increase in pay that had stagnated for years. The IWGB has been engaged in talks with TDL for the last year, but the company has done everything it can to delay negotiations and has continued to treat the couriers with contempt. 

Indeed, TDL decided to cease negotiations and instead pursue forced employment on its self-employed couriers which would mean huge pay cuts. This was the final straw. The couriers decided there was no other option than to ballot for a strike with 84.6 per cent voting to take industrial action.

A large part of TDL’s ridiculous wealth is founded on the dismantling of the NHS through privatisation. As the NHS is slowly broken down TDL hoovers up services and transform them into huge profit for the senior management and shareholders.  

TDL’s refusal to meet the workers’ demands for modest increases in pay is in sharp contrast to the generous pay rises it has given its top two executives. They earned a combined £2.6 million in 2017with the highest paid director doubling his pay since 2013 to £1.6m,far more than any NHS manager. The company’s Australian owner, Sonic Healthcare, has received £60 million from the business over the last 5 years. While this company is turning over such astronomical profits, it is looking for ways to squeeze the long-serving, hardworking couriers.

As Alex Marshall, a TDL courier and IWGB member, said: “While TDL investors and managers get fat off NHS contracts, the couriers that risk their lives every day to deliver emergency blood and pathology samples are being left to suffer under a regime of pay cuts and neglect.”

AGM and end of year celebration for IWGB’s University of London branch — May 10, 2019

AGM and end of year celebration for IWGB’s University of London branch

The IWGB’s annual branch meeting on 27 April, was attended by a capacity crowd at SOAS in London’s Bloomsbury.

It was the once-a-year chance for members to find out everything the branch had done in the last action-packed year; approve the union’s finances, stand for election, vote for our officers, and make plans for next year.

Voting for officers at 2019 AGM

Just as important though, it was an opportunity to meet with colleagues, and to show their appreciation for the tireless volunteers and activists whose vital day-day-day role is instrumental in helping the union give its members a voice.

The AGM reflected the international make-up of the union at the most basic level. Conducted in English and Spanish (Spanish and English lessons are offered free of charge to all members), it demonstrated the power of unity and cohesion among its supporters.

Arguably the most important date in the branch calendar, the AGM was celebration of a highly democratic organisation that is doing something new, demanding national institutions do the same.

Ballots resulted in a refreshed line-up of officers and representatives. The new officers are as follows:

Delegates for central union AGM

  • David Kalanzi
  • Adbul Bakhsh
  • Joe Trapido
  • Rebecca Dooley
  • Catalina Punguil
  • Marty Steer
  • Talitha Wachtelborn
  • Jose 
  • Mark Murphy
  • Franki Cunha

Branch officials 2019

  • Chair: Maritza Castillo Calle
  • Secretary: Danny Millum
  • Vice chair: Abdul Bakhsh
  • Assistant secretary (job share): Rebecca Dooley and Mark Murphy
  • Treasurer: Lindsey Caffin
  • BME officer: David Kalanzi
  • Women’s officer: Talitha Wachtelborn 
  • Recruitment officer: Abubakar Mohamed
  • Education officer: Jamie Woodcock
  • H&S officer: Jonathan Blaney
  • Campaigns officer: Joe Maggs
  • Trustees: George Orton and David Kalanzi
Serious concerns re the ongoing TUPE process for Cordant staff — May 9, 2019

Serious concerns re the ongoing TUPE process for Cordant staff

Danny Millum, secretary of the University of London’s (UoL) branch of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB), locked out of Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations (TUPE) meeting between UoL’s contractor Cordant, and IWGB member. See below his letter to UoL’s director of property and facilities management, which raises some serious concerns about this denial of an employee’s right to be accompanied to such meetings by a ‘representative of their choice’.

Dear Ghaz

I am writing following an incident on Tuesday to raise serious concerns with regard to the ongoing TUPE process.

As you will be aware, as part of this process Cordant have been conducting 121 consultation meetings with transferring staff.

It is normal practice at the University of London for outsourced staff attending such meetings to bring a representative of their choice. I have attended dozens of such meetings in the past, as part of TUPE transfers from the University to Balfour Beatty, as part of the transfer from Cofely to Cordant etc. The union affiliation of the rep has NEVER been an issue.

Furthermore, the invite letters stated that ‘You will also have the right to be accompanied to the consultation with [sic] a fellow employee or trade union official.’

Even more egregiously, this would never be an issue for a direct employee, who would always be allowed a rep of their choice at any meeting of this sort.

Obviously, these are very important meetings, and it is very important that these workers be able to be accompanied by someone that they trust and have chosen themselves.

Despite all of the above, when members notified Cordant that I would be accompanying them, the response from Darren Cox (Operations Manager) was to inform them that I would not be allowed to attend, but that should they wish to be accompanied by a Unison rep he could help arrange this.

I wrote to Mr Cox and made the points above – to which he replied that he was acting on advice from Cordant HR.

I confirmed that nevertheless I would be attending.

On Tuesday I arrived at Stewart House basement with my member only to be confronted by a security officer who refused to allow me entrance to the corridor outside the room where the meeting was to take place. When I asked him on what authority he was denying me access, he told me it was neither Cordant nor the University of London, but that he had been given these instructions by his manager. He refused to tell me what company he worked for.

After explaining to him the situation and still being denied access myself and the member left.

I would like to put on record that I consider this behaviour to be completely unacceptable – for all the reasons above, my presence was completely legitimate. Furthermore, it is clear that the member concerned, a vulnerable migrant worker for whom English is a second language, was denied their right to a representative of their choice for a meeting of the utmost importance, an experience which they found extremely distressing.

The importance of having a rep present was confirmed when I spoke to another member who had attended the meeting alone – they were asked to sign a form giving permission for Cordant to pass their personal details to the University. When they asked what details were involved, they were told that this could not be specified, and then pressured to sign anyway, which they did despite having strong reservations.

Workers have been therefore left in a nightmarish scenario where either they take part in a meeting they are not properly equipped for OR refuse to take part and therefore leave part of the TUPE process undone.

I would like to know:

1. If the University signed off on this behaviour on the part of its contractor?
2. Who is paying the bill for the additional security officer employed solely to exclude me from these meetings?
3. That now the University is aware of this situation it will commit to ensuring that all workers get the representative of their choice at these 121 meetings?

Could you please respond to me as a matter of urgency as the date of transfer is rapidly approaching?

Best wishes

Danny