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.

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UCL security officers detail “serious issues” relating to outsourcing contractor — March 11, 2019

UCL security officers detail “serious issues” relating to outsourcing contractor

Nearly 100 security officers working at University College London have signed an open letter to the University Council drawing its attention to extremely serious issues relating to Axis, the university’s outsourcing contractor.

Dear Professor Arthur,

We are writing as security officers currently employed by Axis on the University College London contract to bring to your attention and that of the wider UCL community the conditions, which those staff who keep your buildings and people safe currently endure.

The security contract was taken over by Axis on 1 November 2018, more than four months ago. We consider this to have been a probationary period, and one which they have unfortunately failed, as a result of their inability to resolve the following issues:

1. Loss of personal data

As part of the TUPE process when an employee moves over to a new company they are asked to supply a comprehensive schedule of data. This includes bank details, copy of passport, national insurance number, full name, addresses in the last 5 years and other biographical details.

Guards provided this information to Axis (in hard copy), only to be later contacted and asked to supply data that had already been provided. We estimate around 70% of the guards were asked to resupply data, including passports and bank details.

We believed that Axis had lost a quantity of the hard copy data we had given them, and this was confirmed in an email by an Axis manager in response to union enquiries. Despite this, Axis have subsequently denied losing the data and claimed that it had just not been sent in the first place by the guards.

Not only the loss of this data extremely serious, but the fact that Axis have chosen to blame officers and cover up the truth makes them unfit to hold this contract. The matter has now been referred to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

2. Loss of all holiday information

Despite Axis having had 3 months prior to the 1 November 2018 transfer to shadow the outgoing contractor (CIS), they made the astonishing revelation after the handover that they had not obtained any of the holiday records for the 200 or so officers who had TUPE’d from CIS.

Quite simply, this meant that they had no record of the holiday that had already been taken that year, and no way of knowing what their officers were entitled to. When this came to light, rather than take responsibility for the situation, they blamed CIS.

We believe that it is one of the basic requirements of an employer to be able to handle holiday issues, and would add that the failure to flag this up prior to handover casts grave doubts on the capability of the UCL facilities team tasked with overseeing the transfer.

3. Failure to pay holidays correctly, as well as other pay problems

As a consequence of the above, the payment of holidays to Axis staff has been utterly chaotic for the last 4 months. Issues regarding holidays and pay break down into a number of categories:

  • Paying guards at a rate lower than their usual hourly rate.
  • Holiday pay missing completely from pay.
  • Paying holiday at less than the 12 hours that they work in a shift.
  • Not recognizing the correct number of holidays a guard had remaining for the pay year.
  • Not recognizing when guards had been given permission to carry over holiday from the previous year by the previous security company.
  • Guards unable to book holiday on the company’s holiday system (Timegate).
  • Guards being placed for months on the wrong tax code, in some cases depriving them of thousands of pounds.

For December alone, the IWGB union reported more than 30 cases where errors had been made, and there were doubtless many more errors, which were not brought to their attention. That this should occur for one month is shameful. That four months after the contract was taken over by a company that boasted of their record of low payroll issues guards should continue to be underpaid on a regular basis is unacceptable.

Indeed, given the frequency of these payroll errors for a predominantly BAME outsourced workforce versus the virtually zero rate of error for mostly white in-house staff, this constitutes indirect discrimination.

It should be re-iterated that we (with cleaners and caterers) are the lowest paid staff in the University – one missed or reduced wage packet can lead to direct debits bouncing, mortgage payments failing and overdraft charges being incurred. It is a scandal that this has been allowed to occur with nothing more than a shrug of the shoulders from UCL.

4. Failure to communicate

Since taking over the contract, the communication from Axis has been extremely poor. Some key examples of this are:

  • Failure to remedy mistakes. Despite the fact that they must have realised that they did not have the correct holiday information for any of their guards (see above) Axis made no effort to contact them. When the IWGB flagged this up, they then promised to send a letter to all staff to elicit the relevant missing information. No such letter was sent – and when challenged on this Axis first lied and claimed it had been, and then when confronted with the truth said they had email ‘some’ of their staff.
  • Lack of response. Axis managers often do not reply to or even acknowledge emails. Staff were constantly being told another manager is dealing with a problem, or that they need to talk to head office, who then passes them back to a site manager. Now they have one manager to deal with problems, but it took too long to appoint and communicate this to the guards.
  • Passing the blame. First of all they blamed CIS, the previous security company, saying that they had not supplied the information they were required to supply, or that it was just inaccurate. They seemed to suggest that the very guards who they were failing to pay properly were LYING about having supplied information to them and about the details of the holiday entitlement. They hinted that individual CIS managers, some of whom themselves were TUPE’d over to Axis, were taking actions designed to sabotage the handover. This is very subjective, but they seemed, at times, to suggest that UCL had not told them everything they should have been told before tendering for the contract.
  • Failure to honour promises. At and IWGB meeting on 9 January with Mark West and Lesley May we asked Mark and Lesley to request Axis send a written apology to each guard’s home address, as a first step in winning back the guard’s confidence in Axis. They promised this would happen. We assume Mark and Lesley relayed our request. A letter was sent, but it did not contain anything we believe could pass as an apology. Finally an email containing an apology was sent – on the 5 February, nearly a month later.

5. Failure to provide uniform

Despite the contract having been in place for more than 4 months, many security guards at UCL are still without proper uniforms. Some guards are still wearing CIS uniforms, while others have had to purchase their own garments have been issued with inappropriate items for their gender. This has been flagged up by guards on many occasions but without resolution.

6. Worst terms and conditions of security staff in the whole of Bloomsbury

The terms and conditions under which security at UCL work are a disgrace to the institution. Security are the lowest paid staff (along with cleaners and caterers) and work extremely long hours. We do not have work related pensions (only have the Statutory Enrolment Pensions).

Unlike outsourced security in other Bloomsbury universities, UCL guards receive only the statutory minimum 28 holidays (in-house staff get 41), and just 4 weeks company sick pay (in-house staff get 6 months full and 6 months half-pay). In addition many security guards (working 3 on 3 off etc) are only receiving 22 days holiday, not 28.

There are no additional payments for overtime, whether that be at weekends or nights.In addition, staff are forced to stand outside without relief for huge stretches of the day, and breaks are frequently missed or delayed.

While Axis have failed to resolve these issues, it is at least fair to say that many of them pre-date them. The issue here lies with the very nature of outsourcing itself, which is a cruel, inhuman and discriminatory way for a supposedly progressive institution like UCL to avoid its responsibilities to its most vital workers.

As a consequence, we would contend that although Axis are demonstrably unfit to run this contract, these problems would exist to a greater or lesser extent under any outsourcing company (under CIS payroll problems were rife, as was the rapid turnover of managerial staff which continues to hamper efforts to run a competent service).

UCL therefore does not just need to cancel this particular contract (re which, if the above evidence is not enough, the IWGB can provide copious detail on Axis’ failings and incompetence) but to end the process of contracting out entirely, and restore security to their rightful place as UCL employees, with the humane treatment and decent terms and conditions this implies.

We are calling on you too make this decision as soon as possible – before UCL’s reputation is permanently tarnished before the wider world and its security staff lose their patience entirely.

Best wishes,

Your security guards

University of London contractor delays paying staff the London living wage —

University of London contractor delays paying staff the London living wage

In December 2018, a group of city investors wrote to listed firms urging them to pay all employees a living wage, which in London is £10.55 and hour.

Coordinated by the Share Action campaign group, the letter pointed out that “paying the living wage to all staff and contractors is the hallmark of a responsible business.”

What pity that Nurture, the gardening outsourced company contracted to look after the University of London’s (UoL) grounds at Senate House, doesn’t buy into that “responsible business” sentiment.

The living wage is a powerful weapon against poverty. Yet, nearly four months after the London Mayor announced a new London Living Wage of £10.55 per hour (an increase of 35p per hour) some of the staff employed by Nurture are still being paid at the old rate.

Hopefully that will change now that the secretary of the UoL branch of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) has sent the company a gentle reminder (see below).

Dear Greg

It has been brought to my attention that some staff employed by Nurture on the University of London contract are being paid below the London Living Wage (LLW) rate of £10.55 an hour.

As you are aware, Nurture is obliged under the terms of its contract to pay the LLW as a minimum.

Can you confirm that this will be corrected with immediate effect, and back-dated to November?

Best wishes,

What do Goldsmiths security officers want most? To be treated fairly and with dignity and respect — February 13, 2019

What do Goldsmiths security officers want most? To be treated fairly and with dignity and respect

Security officers at Goldsmiths, University of London are tired of their second-class treatment. As outsourced workers managed by CIS, they do not enjoy equal treatment and the same terms and conditions as the university colleagues they protect and defend every day.

They want to be treated with dignity and respect, and are taking action over inadequate holiday pay, sick pay and derisory pensions by launching a campaign to be brought back in house immediately. As part of this campaign, they are holding a protest on Valentine’s Day at Goldsmiths HQ, 8 Lewisham Way, London SE14 6NW, 12–2.30pm.

So, come on Goldsmiths; do not continue to keep these men and women who serve you loyally at arms-length. Why don’t you just  Listen to what your security officers and students have to say.

You pride yourself on being a ‘close-knit community’ with a ‘special commitment to our local communities within south-east London’. Don’t you think it is time to end your dirty affair with CIS and show some love for your security officers?

Senior research fellows urge UoL to treat all workers the same — November 16, 2018

Senior research fellows urge UoL to treat all workers the same

While the University of London’s (UoL) senior management team continue to delay providing full details of how it will bring all staff in-house and confirm that they will do so by June 2019, academics continue to show their support for its precarious workers. Below is and open letter from fellows at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies confirming their concern for the workers in view of recent revelations about managers at Cordant Services.

Jules Winterton
Director
Institute of Advanced Legal Studies
University of London
Charles Clore House
17, Russell Square
London                                                                                                                                                                                       16 November 2018

Dear Jules,

We are fellows of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS) who have signed this letter in support of outsourced workers at the Institute as we believe that all staff at the Institute should be treated equally.

We support the bringing of all outsourced staff in-house as a priority.

We kindly request on behalf of these workers that the Institute provides full details of how it will seek to bring all staff in-house and confirm that it will seek to do so by June 2019.

We are especially concerned about the outsourced workers’ position in view of the recent revelations about managers in Cordant Services, the company that employs these workers. Three women workers have brought the exact same accusations of sexism and homophobia against one Cordant manager. Another manager in charge of these staff had to be moved from this role after he was found to have shared xenophobic and far-right posts on social media. Given that the many of the outsourced staff are women, migrant and BAME, we share their concerns that they cannot be assured that they will be treated in a fair and non-discriminatory way until the University of London takes direct responsibility for their employment and working conditions.

We value our association with the Institute, and wish this association to continue, and we hope to have your support in ensuring that we can continue our association with an institution where all workers are treated the same regardless of their role.

We, the undersigned,

  1. Dr Sinéad Agnew, Senior Associate Research Fellow, IALS (Faculty of Laws, University College London)

  2. Professor Diamond Ashiagbor, Senior Associate Research Fellow, IALS (Kent Law School, University of Kent)

  3. Professor Rosemary Auchmuty, Senior Associate Research Fellow, IALS (School of Law, University of Reading)

  4. Professor Ilias Bantekas, Senior Associate Research Fellow, IALS (College of Law & Public Policy, HBKU)

  5. Dr Francis Boorman, Associate Research Fellow, History of Arbitration Project, IALS

  6. Lydia Clapinska, Associate Research Fellow, IALS (Office of the Parliamentary Counsel)

  7. Clare Cowling, Associate Research Fellow and Project Director, Legal Records at Risk project, IALS

  8. Dr Richard Danbury, Associate Research Fellow, IALS

  9. Dermot Feenan, Associate Research Fellow, IALS (Law and Compassion Research Network)

  10. Professor Rosemary Hunter, Senior Associate Research Fellow, IALS (Kent Law School, University of Kent)

  11. Professor Harry McVea, Senior Associate Research Fellow, IALS (Law School, University of Bristol)

  12. Professor Sa’id Mosteshar, Senior Associate Research Fellow, IALS (London Institute of Space Law and Policy)

  13. Professor Derek Roebuck, Senior Associate Research Fellow, IALS

‘In-house’ fundraiser gives £2,000 boost to IWGB strike fund — September 18, 2018

‘In-house’ fundraiser gives £2,000 boost to IWGB strike fund

Thanks so much to everyone who came to the University of London ‘back in-house’ fundraiser party on 15 September, and to those who helped raise the money in a range of creative ways. These included raffle prizes donations and the organising of a well-run bingo session.

Some 200 people descended on SOAS for the event. We had an amazing time and managed to raise more than £2,000 which will help us continue the fight for justice and equality and support the next strike by outsourced workers at Senate House.

Translation

¡Muchísimas gracias a todos los que vinieron a la fiesta de recaudación de fondos para la campaña de la rama Universidad de Londres anoche, y tambien a todos quienes nos apoyaron y ayudaron a recaudar el dinero de diferentes maneras!

Definitivamente la pasamos genial y logramos recaudar más de £2000 para la próxima huelga y para seguir luchando por justicia y igualdad!

 HASTA LA VICTORIA SIEMPRE!

One university should mean one workforce: it is time to end discrimination at UoL — August 15, 2018

One university should mean one workforce: it is time to end discrimination at UoL

Despite the wishes of the majority of its staff, the biggest strikes by outsourced workers in higher education history, support from high-profile politicians, and £700,000 wasted on extra security, the University of London (UoL) refuses to commit to ending its discriminatory two-tier workforce.

Not even the acres of negative press nor the heartfelt pleas from outsourced staff, the majority of who are from BME backgrounds, have managed to make a chink in the armour of the university’s senior management team.

Incidentally, 80 per cent of the institution’s directly employed staff are white. And guess what? Unlike their outsourced BME colleagues, they have enviable pension arrangements and holiday entitlements, are entitled to sick pay and good maternity and paternity pay. Moreover, the university’s ‘dignity at work’ policy ensures they are treated with respect.

All of this point to institutionalised discrimination, and it is a disgrace.

Please email the university’s new vice-chancellor, Peter Kopelman (vice-chancellor@london.ac.uk) and ask him to end discrimination at UoL and bring workers in-house by June 2019.

 

 

 

Birkbeck Justice for Workers Campaign Update #2 — July 10, 2018

Birkbeck Justice for Workers Campaign Update #2

Below, is an extract from a letter from Birkbeck Justice for Workers, which provides an update on its campaign to bring Birkbeck, University of London’s cleaning, catering and security staff back in house. They also share a letter in solidarity received from the South Africa’s Outsourcing Must Fall movement.

Dear all,

Our campaign is gathering pace. We have over 450 signatures on our petition – we’d love to get that to 500, so please keep sharing with your friends and colleagues. Birkbeck UNISON are having positive negotiations with management and we know the weight of support for our campaign is strengthening our hand. We have also received a heart-warming message of solidarity from the Outsourcing Must Fall movement in South Africa – you can read that below.

The message of solidarity mentions fighting unions. We’d like to thank the University of London IWGB for joining us at our demonstration last month.

Best wishes

Birkbeck Justice for Workers

 

Solidarity from #OutsourcingMustFall Campaign, South Africa

We write to you in solidarity with your struggle for the insourcing of workers at Birkbeck College. Our struggle against outsourcing received national prominence during the student protest against fee increases in 2015 when insourcing of workers was included as part of #FeesMustFall movement’s demands. The solidarity from students raised the profile of our struggle against poor working conditions and wages we had endured since our universities introduced outsourcing of what it called, ‘non-core functions’ in the late 1990s.

Although outsourcing is commended as ‘cost effective’, ‘efficient’, ‘productive and strategic’, it has been shown through a cost accounting analysis based on the experience of the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, that it results in increased ‘transaction costs’. These include cost creep from an increase in complaints and worker unrest, the loss of coordination efficiencies and of tacit skills and organisational memory (Adler et al., 2000, in Dumba, 2014).  The combination of these elements have shown the opposite of organisational efficiencies claimed to justify outsourcing.

Notwithstanding the victories scored to be insourced at some of the institutions in South Africa, there is still a long road ahead against outsourcing in our country. Not only are many higher education institutions still using workers from outsourced companies, the #OMF  has had to extend its campaign to include the whole of the public sector where cleaning, security, catering and landscaping services have been outsourced at local, provincial and national government level including parastatals.

We have combined different tactics of protests such as pickets, occupations and strikes to make our voices heard. We have also approached political parties to pass motions against outsourcing in the Legislature but we have yet to see results from this approach.

While we have worked with a union, and many members of #OMF have subsequently joined this union, we have had to fight on two fronts, of the union and #OMF campaign. The latter has proven to be much more flexible to respond to the immediate concerns of workers. We are also of the view that our campaign has the potential to revive and rebuild fighting unions in the process of struggling to ensure outsourcing does fall.

We wish you all the success with your struggle against outsourcing at Birkbeck College.

Yours in solidarity

#OMF Co-ordinating Committee Convenor

Executive Mukhwevho

 

End outsourcing at Birkbeck: petition and demonstration — June 20, 2018

End outsourcing at Birkbeck: petition and demonstration

The campaign to end outsourcing at the University of London is picking up momentum.

Birkbeck had decided to start its own in-house campaign beginning with a demonstration on 26 June, and a call to sign the ‘Birkbeck Justice for Workers’ petition as detailed below.

Dear all,

Sign the Birkbeck Justice for Workers petition: https://tinyurl.com/bbkj4w
Join the demonstration: outside the Birkbeck main building, Tuesday 26 June, 4–6pm

There is inequality at the heart of our university. Cleaning, catering and security staff are outsourced. The workers get lower wages and worse conditions, such as sick leave and pensions.

UNISON and the other trade unions at Birkbeck are organising the campaign to end outsourcing: we want the workers brought back in-house. This means they would be directly employed by the university. We believe that these services are essential: without cleaning, catering and security, there could be no teaching or research.

We ask that Birkbeck commits to bringing all of its outsourced workers back in-house within six months, without any reduction in jobs or services. This means the workers will get equality when it comes to pay, sick leave, holidays, pensions; and also access to the library and IT, study assistance, family leave, and an end to zero-hours contracts in catering.

We call on the Master of Birkbeck, Professor David Latchman, to make a written commitment to this effect as soon as possible.

How you can support the campaign:

Best wishes

 

Birkbeck Justice for Workers