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.