IWGB offers negotiations to break boycott deadlock at University of London — February 8, 2019

IWGB offers negotiations to break boycott deadlock at University of London

Dear Professor Kopelman,

I am writing you on behalf of the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB), the union which represents the majority of the University of London’s outsourced workers, to once again offer negotiations as a way out of the current crisis. But first, a little context.

In the Spring of 2011, as a University of London postgrad student, I started working with UoL cleaners. At the time they earned just a hare above the minimum wage (then £5.90 per hour), had the statutory minimum of holidays, statutory sick pay, and no company pensions. They were not unionised and the contractor at the time, Balfour Beatty Workplace, had no regard for even the basics of employment law. Cleaners and porters went months without payment of wages sometimes, abuse was rife and maltreatment the norm. These are the effects of outsourcing.

In addition to setting up English classes to try and help provide a route out of the dire circumstances of being a University of London cleaner, we also initiated a massive recruitment drive to UNISON and launched a London Living Wage campaign. After a wildcat strike and some protests the UoL agreed to implement the London Living Wage and Balfour Beatty recognised UNISON for the purposes of collective bargaining. It was industrial action and campaigning which achieved these results.

In September 2012, still in UNISON, we launched the 3 Cosas Campaign, in order to achieve the same sick pay, holidays, and pensions for outsourced workers as enjoyed by their directly employed colleagues. For while the London Living Wage represented a massive improvement in pay, their terms and conditions still effectively compelled them to work sick or injured, made it difficult for them to visit family in their home countries, and obliged them to retire into poverty. Before launching the 3 Cosas Campaign I wrote to your predecessor offering negotiations, which were rejected.

Unfortunately, during the 3 Cosas Campaign it became clear that the UNISON officials in charge of the branch and London Region had no interest in supporting the outsourced workers. We therefore ran a slate of pro-campaign candidates in local branch elections, only to have the elections invalidated on absurd technicalities. To this day the results have not been released. It is for these reasons that we left UNISON en masse and formed the University of London branch of the IWGB.

Despite the fact that virtually all of the outsourced workers left UNISON to join the IWGB, it has been the firm policy of both the University of London and its contractors since that time to only negotiate with UNISON. In addition to the fact that negotiating with an entity which has not authority to represent the workers and no say over the campaigns is utterly futile, the UoL’s decision to negotiate with the union the workers have chosen to leave in disgust is deeply offensive to these workers.

After over a year of high profile campaigning, involving multiple protests, videos, social media activity, an email writing campaign to your predecessor, and industrial action, at the end of November, 2013 the University and its contractor announced improved sick pay, holidays, and pensions for Balfour Beatty workers. The terms were still not as good as UoL direct employees but were definitely a major improvement on the abysmal conditions prevailing at the time. Once again, this episode demonstrated that it was public pressure and campaigning which led to an improvement in the working lives and dignity of UoL outsourced workers.

But the problem has not been solved. The outsourced workers still work under inferior terms as compared to directly employed colleagues, not just in terms of sick pay, holidays, and pensions, but also in terms of maternity pay and more. Importantly, the outsourced workers suffer a far inferior treatment from management compared to direct employees. The administrative incompetence and incapable management of the outsourcing companies causes immense hardship for your outsourced workers. Pay problems, abusive management, unreasonableness, and incompetence are the defining features of outsourcing at UoL, not mere aberrations. There is no justifiable reason why the predominantly low paid and BME outsourced workforce at UoL should be continuously treated worse than, and have inferior terms and conditions compared to, the better paid, predominantly white British direct employees of the University. It is for all of these reasons that we launched the Back in House campaign in September 2017.

Throughout the duration of this campaign we have had an outstanding offer of negotiations. Indeed, I personally have written to you on more than one occasion offering to negotiate. It is the University’s refusal to negotiate, and its dogged dedication to only engaging with the recognised unions, which has led us to escalate campaign pressure. And thus we find ourselves in the midst of the Senate House Boycott, supported by hundreds, including a number of MPs and political leaders. The Boycott has led to numerous event cancellations and lost revenue for the University and has caused irreparable reputational damage.

Unlike other campaign tactics which can fizzle out without constant injections or resource and energy, the Boycott simply grows with time and becomes self-propelling; the more people cancel events, the more pressure there is for others to do the same. The Boycott is not being waged out of malice or out of desire to harm the UoL; the Boycott is the culmination of eight years of struggle for dignity and decent working conditions on the part of the workers and an obstinate refusal to engage in dialogue on the part of the University. The thing you need to understand is that just as you have a responsibility to safeguard the finances, sound management, and reputation of the University, we have a responsibility to assist our members in achieving respect, dignity, equal treatment, and decent working conditions. In the absence of dialogue and negotiation, campaign tactics are simply the most expeditious method of achieving these results.

Having set the context, I therefore reiterate my offer to talk. The University of London is unique in its refusal to negotiate; indeed the IWGB has engaged in dialogue, debate or negotiation with senior Uber executives, Matthew Taylor, directors of courier companies and a range of other employers.Especially when taking into account the IWGB’s unimpugnable claim to be the representative voice of UoL outsourced workers, the UoL’s position is all the more surprising. But it’s not too late to changecourse. If you agree to negotiate we will send a delegation of IWGB officials, comprised of both full time officers and outsourced worker reps, chosen by us, and we will sit down with you in good faith to see if we can find a negotiated way out of the current crisis.

The choice is yours.

Kind regards,

Dr. Jason Moyer-Lee

General Secretary IWGB

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Academics, students and politicians to boycott University of London — December 10, 2018

Academics, students and politicians to boycott University of London

More than 100 academics, politicians and others are backing a boycott of the University of London, including the iconic Senate House building, over the institution’s continued use of outsourced workers to provide essential services.

The supporters of the boycott, which include shadow chancellor John McDonnell MP, the National Union of Students and several high-profile professors, are demanding that the university end outsourcing and directly employ the outsourced workers that provide cleaning, catering, security and other services.

A full list of current signatories to the boycott will be found on the page http://www.boycottsenatehouse.com and https://iwgb.org.uk/boycottsenatehouse from Monday 10 December.

Outsourced workers at the University of London have been campaigning to be made direct employees with equal terms and conditions as other staff for over a year. These workers – who have worse sick pay, holiday pay, maternity pay and pension contributions than directly employed staff – have taken up to 15 days of strike action.

Instead of agreeing to negotiate with the workers, the majority of which are migrant and BME, the university has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on heightened security in an attempt to stave off industrial action and protests. More information here, here and here.

After initially stating that it would bring services in-house last May, the university has now gone back on its commitment, only guaranteeing that a small portion of the workforce will be made direct employees by this summer.

The bulk of outsourced workers – maintenance, cleaners and catering – will remain outsourced at least until their contracts are up for tender in 2019, 2020 and 2021. At that point an in-house bid will be presented alongside other commercial bids, leaving the door open for the workers to remain outsourced indefinitely.

In the meantime, outsourced workers continue to suffer under a regime of bullying and discrimination. In 2018, the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain handled over 50 complaints on behalf of outsourced workers a the University of London. Notably the IWGB raised a complaint in July when it discovered that a senior manager of outsourcing company Cordant was supporter of the far right.

In October, the IWGB raised a separate complaint when the university failed to act after three separate women brought complaints of sexism and homophobia against a separate Cordant manager.

London School of Economics Anthropology Professor Dr David Graeber said: “It is completely reprehensible that people that provide such an essential service continue to be treated as second class workers by the University of London. As academics who benefit from the work of the cleaners, catering staff and other outsourced workers, we have a moral duty to stand in solidarity with them and boycott the university until it ensures that they are given the same terms and conditions as other staff.”

University of London cleaner Margarita Cunalata said: “For over a year, we have been asking the university to respect us as equal members of staff, yet it has made clear that it sees us as less than human. We have sent letters, we have been on protests and we have gone on strike, but the university doesn’t even have the basic decency to sit down with us and negotiate. We are tremendously grateful that academics are willing to support our fight by boycotting the university until it makes us direct employees.”

Kings College London Lecturer Nick Srnick said: “At a time when university Vice Chancellor pay is surging across the country, it is an outrage that the least well-off workers of the university continue to face a situation of hyper-exploitation and abuse. Yet there’s an easy solution to immediately improve the lives of the workers that keep the university running: join numerous other universities in bringing them back in-house and paying them a decent wage.”

The boycott asks supporters to not attend or organise events at the University of London central administration, which besides Senate House includes Stewart House, The School of Advanced Studies, the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies and Student Central (formerly ULU).

Events make up a significant proportion of the university’s income. According to its latest financial report, the University of London made GBP 43m from residences, catering and conferences in the year ending July 2018.