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
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.
Caroline Lucas, Green Party joint leader and Brighton Pavilion MP, has joined the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain’s (IWGB) Senate House boycott.
In a statement she said: ‘I strongly support the action being taken by the UoL workers – it is completely wrong that they are subject to worse terms and conditions than directly employed workers. Like you, I am deeply concerned about fundamental changes in our labour market in recent decades, including the spread of outsourcing by public bodies: well-paid jobs on permanent contracts have dwindled, while bogus self-employment, zero-hours contracts, and low pay are rife.
‘With wage growth stalled, the high employment rate masks the insecurity faced by huge numbers of workers. So I am very happy to join my Green Party colleagues Sian Berry and Jonathan Bartley in supporting the boycott.’