Why are workers asking seminar groups to boycott the University of London?

Outsourced workers at the University of London suffer from far worse terms and conditions than their directly employed colleagues. This means they receive worse sick pay, holiday pay, maternity pay and pension contributions than their colleagues for no other reason than they are outsourced. They are also much more likely to suffer from bullying or harassment than directly employed staff.

It is worth bearing in mind that the vast majority of these workers are from BME backgrounds or migrants, compared to only 20% of direct employees.

These workers and their union, the IWGB, have been campaigning to be brought in-house since September 2017, and have repeatedly been on strike, some for as many as fifteen days, but the university still refuses to sit down and negotiate with them.

As a result, these workers are appealing for solidarity from people and groups who use the buildings that they clean, keep safe, cater for and maintain.

The University has told us that this issue has been resolved – is this true?

After initially committing to end outsourcing, the University has since gone back on its commitment and said that cleaners will remain outsourced until at least 2020 and catering until 2021. Even then in-house options will be presented alongside other commercial bids, leaving the door open for these workers to remain outsourced indefinitely. Furthermore, there is no commitment to bring security officers in-house – just a vague declaration that all decisions must wait pending a ‘security review’.

Where else has outsourcing been ended?

All across the University of London colleges have been deciding to bring workers in-house – this has already happened with cleaners at LSE and all outsourced workers at SOAS.  Goldsmiths has committed to bring its cleaners in-house by summer 2019, while KCL has committed to bring the cleaners of its main campus in house by summer 2019. Birkbeck is also currently in the process of reviewing its outsourcing contracts.

What does the boycott involve?

The boycott involves committing to not attend or organise any events at the University of London central administration until all outsourced workers (including cleaners, receptionists, security officers, catering staff, porters, audiovisual workers, gardeners and maintenance workers) are made direct employees of the University of London on equal terms and conditions with other directly employed staff.

What buildings does the boycott cover?

Senate House, Stewart House, the Warburg Institute, the Institute of Historical Research, the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies and Student Central.

What about using Senate House Library?

It’s just events that are covered by the boycott – so using the libraries of in the above buildings is fine, but any further commitments people wish to make to the boycott are always welcome.

Who has joined the boycott so far?

Around 20 IHR seminars have already relocated – see here and scroll down for an up to date list.

Is it just the IHR?

Far from it, as well as eleven UCU branches, over 300 individual academics, 5 MPs and dozens of councillors, 25% of seminars scheduled at the university for this term have been moved.

Other SAS seminars, including several from the Institutes of Philosophy and English Studies have also been relocating, while the Aristotelian Society has removed itself entirely from Senate House. Again, see here for an updated list.

We want to move our seminar – where can we go?

Other seminars have relocated to the Institute of Education, UCL, Kings, Birkbeck and to the North Block of Senate House (the SOAS Paul Webley Wing). They have had no problems relocating and letting people know the new location.

If you do need help finding a room then please email Laura at 646219@soas.ac.uk and she will be happy to help.

What effect will the boycott have?

The boycott is already having a massive effect – the Vice-Chancellor has been forced to issue statements to all staff justifying the University’s position, emergency meetings have been called of the senior management team and there is already talk of accelerating the FM Review process.

We support the workers, but we’re worried about the impact on the Institute and the School

It is the University of London which makes decisions as to the outsourced contracts of the workers who service the different Institutes – and therefore the onus is on them to end outsourcing.

In order to bring pressure to bear on the University, the boycott threatens its academic reputation, which is why it is such an effective device.

All those participating in the boycott and publicising it on social media have been clear that their target is the University itself, and so far there has been no suggestion that any of the Institutes themselves are to blame for the situation OR that their reputation will suffer.

In essence, the boycott is like the pension strike of last year, where academics cancelled their own events and impeded the work of their institutions in the short-term, in order to ensure better treatment of workers in the long-term. Once the IHR can proudly claim that all its workers are treated the same it will have a long-term positive effect on its reputation.

Furthermore, a swift effective boycott will bring to an end the strikes and occupations which have affected the Institute since 2017.

Seminar convenors who work for the IHR itself have moved their seminars, showing the widespread support within the Institute for this campaign.

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