Queen Mary University of London post-doc Akshi Singh writes in support of the boycott of Senate House, the administrative centre of the University of London, and calls for solidarity with outsourced workers. “If the people who clean our rooms in our university cannot live with dignity, then our intellectual work is based on exploitation.” Continue reading
Here she reflects on her time at the union and urges members to keep on fighting, “whether it be as part of a campaign, or an individual employee issue – don’t give up! You are in the right place and have the right support so keep pushing until you are able to assert your rights.” Continue reading
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:
- only 10% of workers have been brought in-house.
- current plans are so vague that all the rest are promised are ‘reviews’, some of which will not even occur until 2021.
- there are no guarantees that any of these 90%, including all the cleaners, catering staff and majority of security will ever be brought in.
- 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.
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.
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.
World renowned research NGO Corporate Watch has today released a damning report into the University of London’s outsourcing plans.
Outsourced workers at the University of London have been campaigning for an end to outsourcing since September 2017. Despite countless strikes, protests and a boycott of the university which was launched last year, the university has only agreed to bring in-house around 35 of a total of more than 250 outsourced workers that work at its premises.
The Corporate Watch report found that:
- the university has substantial cash reserves, with £45 million in the bank.
- financial problems used by management to argue against in-housing have been a direct result of their own expansion strategy.
- many of the staff at the consultancy chosen to review the costs of in-housing used to work for outsourcing companies.
- The University of London has refused our Freedom of Information request for a copy of that review. Similar reviews by other universities found in-housing would not be significantly more expensive.
The report can be found here.
For more information:
Emiliano Mellino, press officer
Yesterday (26 February) hundreds of London’s outsourced workers, including cleaners, security and catering staff, walked out in the latest in a series of strikes over pay and conditions.
Coming together in a show of solidarity, they timed their protest to mark what the Guardian describes as a “landmark case on collective bargaining that could empower the UK’s 3.3 million outsourced workers to negotiate directly with their de-facto employers – the companies buying the outsourced services – as well as their direct employers.”
Starting from Senate House, home to the University of London’s administrative offices, members of unions including the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB), United Voices of the World (UVW), and PCS, marched through central London. University of London students and the RMT union’s London Regional Council supported them.
Each group of workers had their own particular grievances, but what they all had in common was the desire to end the “discrimination between those who count and those who don’t count at all,” as eloquently voiced by IWGB member, Emma Margarita Cunalata.
Speaking in front of Winston Churchill’s statue opposite the Houses of Parliament she said, “We have the right to earn money, and to the profits that are taken from us. We have the right to a better life.”
Their employers might have chosen to turn a deaf ear to their pleas to clean up outsourcing, but the UK’s media organisations were listening.
More than 15 national and regional publications such as the Financial Times, the Press and Journal, The Times and the iNews, covered the walkout.
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.
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.
At last some good news. The lowest paid staff at the University of London (UoL) are set for a pay increase as both Cordant Security and Cordant Cleaning, the university’s outsourcing companies, confirm they will adopt the uplift in the rate of pay set by the Living Wage Foundation on 5 November.
It means the outsourced workers struggling with the rising cost of living in London will see their pay rise to £10.55 an hour, an increase of 3.5%. For workers in the rest of the country the rate will rise 2.9% to £9 an hour.
The salary boost for Cordant’s UoL staff, which is effective from 5 November, was confirmed in an email from Guy Pakenham, Cordant Cleaning Limited’s managing director.
In his response to repeated requests for information from Danny Millum, the University of London IWGB branch secretary, Pakenham said, “I can confirm that both Cordant Security and Cordant Cleaning [will] introduce the new LLW rate from the date of announcement and it is paid on the next applicable pay rate, which in this case, falls within November for all our affected staff.”
The UK living wage pay rate is a voluntary measure adopted by more than 4,700 employers and is calculated by assessing how much workers need to meet the basic cost of living in Britain. It is £1.17 higher an hour than the statutory national minimum wage imposed by the government for those over the age of 25.
Currently £7.83 an hour for workers who are over 25, the government’s national living wage, will itself rise to £8.21 an hour from next April. For 21–24-year-olds, the current rate of £7.38 will become £7.70; and the rate for 18-20-year-olds rises from £5.90 to £6.15.
I am writing briefly in response to the email below, the tone of which I am afraid I find disappointing.
While I completely agree that professionalism, respect and mutual trust and indeed laudable principles on which to base an institution’s culture, I don’t see how that can be squared with the reality of the University of London.
Currently, predominantly BME outsourced workers at the University suffer much worse terms and conditions than their mostly white directly employed counterparts. This is blatant discrimination and incompatible with the principles you outline.
In addition, the main outsourcing company Cordant have been allowed to employ first a manager that was an open supporter of the far right, and now another manager who has been accused by no fewer than 3 women of blatantly racist, sexist and homophobic behaviour and yet remains in post. These women continue to work in fear on a daily basis, a fact difficult to square with any declaration that no member of staff should work ‘in an environment where they feel uncomfortable’.
Finally, while it’s definitely a positive development that you have met with the cleaners, it is worth bearing in mind that they have just voted 100% yes for strike action following the failure of the University to engage with them.
It is these predominantly middle-aged Latina cleaners, along with your own security officers, who will be forming the bedrock of the 30 October demonstration. When UCU struck earlier this year for 14 days the University continued as usual with no additional security – yet when low-paid migrant workers take action this is cause for a massive lockdown and pre-emptive yet vague accusations of intimidation. This can only be seen as further double standards.
As stated in numerous emails, the IWGB as the chosen union of these workers remains open for negotiation. All of our offers have been ignored. Until the University engages in dialogue to end its discriminatory employment practices there will continue to be strikes and demonstrations, and we believe it’s clear the responsibility for any disruption clearly lies with the side that refuses to negotiate.
University of London IWGB
From: Fiona Bernardone On Behalf Of Vice Chancellor
Sent: 26 October 2018 10:11
To: Central-University <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Message from the Vice-Chancellor
I have now met with most of the heads of member institutions and I have been impressed by their support for the University, and their wish to work closely with us. They all see membership of the University as a benefit to their institution. This is important when considering the University of London Bill which is currently passing through Parliament. The Bill establishes member institutions as universities in their own right. It was debated in the House of Commons last week and successfully passed through its second reading and now progresses on to the Bills Committee. Each Head sees the Bill as a means of consolidation within the federal university.
Evidence for this came from a recent visit by Chris Cobb and I to Paris. We were invited by Professor Ed Byrne, President of KCL and Deputy VC UoL, to attend the signing of a preliminary agreement between KCL and the Founding Institutions of the University of Paris for a strategic partnership. Ed was generous in his speech in emphasising UoL’s presence at the ceremony and the opportunities from closer working between the two federal universities. You will be aware of the University of London in Paris which I visited for the first time in the afternoon. It is an impressive building superbly located in the centre of the city. Our exploration with Member Institutions about how we may utilise this “asset in Europe” post Brexit has been met with considerable interest and positive proposals.
As you will have read, the Board of Trustees have firmly supported our plan for Facilities Management Services (intranet post here). I am conscious that this is a matter that has generated strong feelings, some of which have been expressed in communications directed at me and my executive team in a tone that I have found personally disappointing.
I am mindful of the planned demonstration on 30th October and of the feelings that some of you have expressed in relation to the impact of previous demonstrations at the University. In this regard I would wish to echo the message expressed toward the end of the recent intranet post on this matter, that is, that I do not expect any member of staff to work in an environment where they feel uncomfortable.
My background as a doctor is one of professionalism, respect and mutual trust. I have previously worked closely elsewhere with colleagues and recognised representatives to foster a culture based on these principles. I will carry on with this approach here at UoL. I am continuing to visit the University’s departments and meet staff to enable as many as possible to connect with me directly. I have come in early to Senate House on a number of occasions to meet the cleaners and porters. I am constantly impressed by everyone’s very evident loyalty and commitment to the community of the University, whatever their background and would like to thank you all for the welcome you have given me.
At a recent FM Services meeting at Senate House, Chris Cobb, the University of London’s chief operating officer, attempted to play down SOAS’s plans to bring their outsourced workers back in-house by 1 September. Below Danny Millum, the IWGB’s branch secretary, responded to his claims that the SOAS situation does not compare to that of the University of London.
Following last week’s FM Services meeting, I just wanted to clarify a couple of issues that were raised relating to the SOAS in-house process.
Firstly, I can confirm that this is proceeding as planned, and will be completed on the planned date of 1 September 2018. The relevant documents are attached, and I think it’s very clear from these what a straightforward process this is. Secondly, you stated in the meeting that the University of London was 4 times bigger than SOAS. However, I have had it confirmed that the SOAS transfer will involve 160-170 employees, and at the University we are probably talking about around 300, so I think it’s important to be clear that the difference between the two cases is much less than was claimed.
Thirdly, it is worth noting that prior to their in-house announcement SOAS was occupied for weeks and had been subject to endless protests and bad publicity. Since Baroness Amos made her clear announcement they have had a year without problems and controversy.
I hope this clearly shows that SOAS provides a straightforward model that the UoL could and should adopt tomorrow, which would be benefit workers and University alike.
University of London IWGB