Hundreds outsourced cleaners, porters and security staff at University College London went on strike on Tuesday demanding equal employment rights, and demanding an end to “bullying and intimidation”.
Outsourced workers employed by Sodexo and Axis marched through the university grounds, causing some lectures to be cancelled and other staff to be advised to work from home.
The outsourced are calling for the same working conditions and benefits as their colleagues who do the same jobs but are employed directly by the university.
Staff, the majority of whom are migrants or from ethnic minorities, receive worse sick pay, pension and parental leave than in-house colleagues. Some say they have been forced to go into work while unwell because statutory sick pay is not enough to live on.
“I had a car accident and was supposed to be off for months but came back early when I was still recovering,” one porter for Sodexo told The Independent.
He said his workload increased significantly, soon after Sodexo took over the contract. “It’s too much. There is a physical impact, you are already you are so tired after three hours.”
He added: “They asked cleaners to do in one day what they had been doing in two days. We’re not going to take this. We’re here to be strong and not to take these changes.”
Outsourced workers, organised by the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB), say they just want the same employee benefits as in-house staff, including equal pension contributions, sick pay and holiday pay.
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 UCL 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.
IWGB General Secretary Jason Moyer-Lee told striking workers: “We’ve had lots of reports over the past couple of weeks of Sodexo and Axis managers trying to intimidate workers, trying to say they can’t go on strike.
“Axis even hired a law firm to write us letters threatening to sue us if we go on strike. As if the IWGB is going to be intimidated by a court case!… We take all this to be a good sign. It means we’re having an impact.“
An Axis spokesperson said: “Due to client confidentiality, Axis is unable to comment on the ongoing negotiations with Unison, the officially recognised union within UCL, at this time.”
Striking UCL Security officer Oladitan Olasiende said: “Until our voice is heard, until our pay is paid, we will continue to fight our battle. Everybody deserves to be happy. That is why everybody deserves the right to go on strike.”
The university says it is in negotiations Unison and plans to bring in equal holiday pay for outsourced workers on 1 December. It sims to 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, which is not recognised by UCL, is demanding changes are made sooner.
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.”