UCL strike: Outsourced workers to walk out in protest over ‘bullying and discrimination’

Cleaners, porters and security staff working for Sodexo and Axis demand the same terms and conditions as colleagues employed directly by university

Ben Chapman
Wednesday 06 November 2019 13:30 GMT
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Ninety-eight per cent of cleaners and 98.8 per cent of security guards voted in favour of striking
Ninety-eight per cent of cleaners and 98.8 per cent of security guards voted in favour of striking (Pletro Sambuy)

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Hundreds of cleaners, porters and security guards at one of the UK’s largest universities are set to go on strike in a bid to overturn a “system of bullying and discrimination” against outsourced workers.

Staff at University College London employed by outsourcing firms Axis and Sodexo voted overwhelmingly for strike action to take place on 19 November. Ninety-eight per cent of cleaners and 98.8 per cent of security guards who took part in the ballot voted in favour.

Outsourced workers, the majority of whom are migrants or from ethnic minorities, receive worse sick pay, pension, holiday pay and parental leave than in-house colleagues.

They are not paid at all on the first three days off sick, after which they are entitled to just £94.25 a week. By contrast, in-house staff receive up to 26 weeks full pay, depending on how long they have worked at the university.

Outsourced workers are entitled to as little as 28 holiday days, including bank holidays; the lowest amount allowed by UK law. Direct employees get a total of 41 days.

Maritza Castillo Calle, a former UCL cleaner and current branch chair for the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB), said: “For decades, UCL has treated its majority of migrant and Bame outsourced workers like second-class citizens, condemning them to a system of bullying and discrimination.

“By voting overwhelmingly in favour of strike action, UCL’s outsourced workers have sent the university a clear message.

“They will no longer stand for half measures and endless delays. They want equality and justice, and they want it now.”

The University says it plans to bring in equal holiday pay for outsourced workers on 1 December and will achieve parity on other employment benefits, including pay, overtime, sick pay, maternity and paternity payments and carers’ pay “as soon as possible”.

It has committed to a target of August 2021 but the IWGB claims that no firm guarantees have been made, only “vague statements”.

The union is campaigning to end zero-hours contracts across the University of London, which includes UCL and a number of other higher education institutions.

It has so far won a series of victories against the university and outsourcing companies.

In March, Sodexo tried to introduce a biometric time management system, which would require cleaners to have their fingerprints scanned when logging in and out of work.

After protests by the IWGB and its members, Sodexo called off implementation of the system, IWGB said.

Sodexo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In an email obtained by the IWGB, an Axis employee said this week that UCL was in talks with the Unite union to discuss improvements to employment terms and conditions. However, the university had not yet informed Axis what improvements were being discussed.

The IWGB launched an appeal on Wednesday to raise money to support the strike.

A UCL spokesperson said: “UCL has committed to ensuring that security, cleaning and catering staff will receive the same or equivalent pay and benefits as directly employed staff, following constructive negotiations with our recognised trade union UNISON.

“Our colleagues working in security, cleaning and catering fulfil essential roles at UCL, on which we all depend. We have listened carefully to their concerns and we are acting. We will continue to listen and respond to concerns raised by our community.”

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