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Outsourced University of London workers to strike over pay and conditions

Ben Chapman
The university, which includes University College London and several other colleges, is currently reviewing its facilities management services with a decision about whether to bring some or all contracts in-house expected to be taken in May: Thomson Reuters

More than 100 outsourced University of London workers will walk out next month over pay and conditions after a near-unanimous vote for industrial action, the union representing them has said.

The group of cleaners, porters, security officers, receptionists, gardeners, post-room staff and audiovisual staff are expected to walk out on 25 and 26 April, the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain announced.

The strike action is separate from measures being taken by university lecturers who are currently taking industrial action over changes to pensions.

The outsourced workers are employed by companies that have contracts with the University of London central administration. They are demanding to be made direct employees of the university, as well as equal terms and conditions with those that are directly employed.

The union says the outsourced workers receive worse pensions, holiday pay, sick pay, maternity pay and paternity pay entitlements than their in-house colleagues and are more likely to face bullying and deductions from wages.

For example, in-house employees receive 13 per cent employer pensions contribution compared to 1 per cent for outsourced workers, IWGB said.

Women who work directly for the university get 8 weeks full maternity pay, 16 weeks of half pay, 15 weeks of statutory maternity leave and 13 weeks leave without pay. Men receive a week of full paternity pay and a week of statutory paternity pay. Outsourced workers only get statutory maternity and paternity pay.

University of London cleaner and IWGB representative Margarita Cunalata said: “The university has done its best to deny workers like me basic rights and we have had to fight for everything, from the London Living Wage to basic sick pay.

“All we ask for is equality and we will keep on fighting until we get it.”

The IWGB said it dealt with 54 complaints from outsourced workers at the University of London in 2017, over issues including unlawful deduction of wages, discrimination and failure to provide a statement of particulars. In the same period, the union dealt with cases from two direct employees.

A spokesperson for the university said they could not comment on the conditions experienced by workers employed by other companies.

The spokesperson added: “The University announced a review of all facilities management services in November 2017 and soon afterwards the IWGB called an industrial dispute and joined a long-running campaign with UCU and Unison to call for contract workers to be brought in-house.

"The review has already undertaken detailed work on examining all aspects of the contracts as well as surveying the contracted staff to seek their views on their respective employers and their terms and conditions."

The IWGB, in fact, launched its first strike action against the university over the pay for outsourced workers in April 2017.

A decision about whether to bring some or all contracts in-house is to be taken at a meeting scheduled for May this year.

The IWGB is campaigning to bring all university workers on outsourced contracts back in-house. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley have backed the campaign.

The news comes as lectures from 60 universities entered their 13th day of strike action against changes to their pensions. This week, the University and College Union (UCU) voted against a deal made by union bosses and employers after it faced widespread opposition.

A second series of strikes from the UCU is expected to take place between April and June, with dates to be confirmed next week.