Striking cleaners at the University of London have won a hard-fought battle for improved working conditions.
Yesterday, on the second day of a 48-hour walkout, Balfour Beatty Workplace, which delivers outsourced cleaning services at UoL, announced it would improve sick pay entitlement, increase holiday pay and give access to its pension scheme to all its employees.
The strike was led by the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain, a trade union not recognised by the university – with considerable help from activist students, running what they call the “3Cosas” campaign. Most of the strikers are immigrants, who traditionally have less access to labour representation.
The new deal would see BBW staff receiving between 22 and 25 days paid annual leave on a pro-rata basis, and increased sick pay duration, depending on length of service.
The deal was agreed with the Unison union, which is the recognised union on campus, however, a spokesman for the IWGB insisted that most of the outsourced cleaners are members of his union.
“This is a victory,” said IWGB’s Jason Moyer-Lee. “We’ve won tangible, concrete results for people.”
“But it’s very much a first step. We still have a number of demands not yet won. Sick pay and holiday pay are much improved, but not yet equal with direct employees. There’s been no movement on pensions or job losses.”
Moyer-Lee added that the next step is a meeting between members, and that further industrial action is not off the cards.
A jubilant post on the 3Cosas campaign’s Facebook page claimed that the strike had produced “serious results”, but insisted that “the struggle continues”.
Picket lines first formed outside Senate House, UoL’s headquarters in central London, on Wednesday. There was a good turnout, with as many as 100 people demonstrating, and a large police presence, while some attempts were made to stop deliveries into the building.
The first day of the strike was designed to coincide with Princess Anne’s visit to the university for an honorary degree ceremony.
In a statement, the University of London said it “welcomed” the agreement with Unison.
Chris Cobb, UoL's chief operating officer and secretary, said: “This is a major step forward and I am delighted that the constructive dialogue between our contractor BBW and our recognised union, Unison, is proving so productive.
“I hope that we will soon be in a position to confirm a full agreement between the two parties.”
A spokesperson for BBW pointed out that staff were already paid the London Living Wage - £8.80.
"We are pleased agreement has been reached with the union through this process," they added.