Following a unanimous ballot for industrial action, hundreds of outsourced security workers from the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) will go on strike 14-16 November, demanding £15/hour, union recognition and an end to outsourcing where they work at University College London (UCL).
On the mornings of 14, 15 and 16 November, a picket line will begin at 6am at the entrance to UCL on Malet Place, followed by guest speakers at 7:30am and a protest 8.30-10am.
Following a series of pay cuts under previous subcontractors, the current pay rate of £13-14/hour was only secured following IWGB-led strike action in 2019, which was the largest strike of outsourced workers in the history of UK higher education. The base £15/hour rate demanded for all outsourced workers at the university, is equivalent to the wage it paid security staff over twenty two years ago, before outsourcing was introduced. This still amounts to a real pay cut, with an equal pay rate accounting for inflation amounting to £25/hour.
The strike is part of an ongoing campaign by the majority Black and minoritised workers to bring an end to outsourcing, an exploitative and often highly racialised practice that creates a lower tier of second-class workers who are denied the same basic pay and worker rights as directly employed staff. IWGB members have led campaigns against outsourcing in public institutions across London and in 2020 successfully eliminated the practice at the University of London, of which UCL is a member.
The workers’ current employer, Bidvest Noonan, has been responsible for repeated payroll errors and incorrect pension contributions, with some workers owed hundreds of pounds that have been unlawfully withheld for months. This was also the case with UCL’s previous subcontractors, Axis and CIS Security, reflecting the level of exploitation and poor accountability involved in outsourcing.
Henry Chango-Lopez, General Secretary (IWGB), says: “For twenty years these workers and their families have been driven deeper into poverty, for profit. The current cost of living crisis has been the last straw. This is more than a fight for fair pay, it’s a fight for survival. It’s also a preview of what workers nationwide can expect if we don’t come together behind our most precarious workers on the frontlines against exploitation. That makes this a dispute of profound importance not just to the lowest paid workers in society who face it today, but the millions of workers who may face it tomorrow.”
Farhana Uddin, a security guard at UCL says: “I’ve been a security guard for 6 years and have always been treated like a second class citizen by our subcontractors. All of us pull our weight, taking on more responsibilities than we should do, yet mismanagement and neglect from Bidvest Noonan is leaving me struggling to support my family at home and my sick mother in Bangladesh. Their only motive is profit, and we are treated as a means to an end.”