Outsourced security staff working at University College London (UCL) from the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) have voted unanimously to take strike action over pay and union recognition.
This follows the launch of an ongoing campaign in May by the majority-BAME and migrant outsourced workers demanding to be brought in-house, after years of subcontractor mismanagement.
At the height of the cost of living crisis, security staff are demanding £15/hr, equivalent to the wage paid to security over two decades ago before outsourcing was introduced at UCL (and still paid to a small number of staff who have remained employed since that time and whose conditions are protected by TUPE).
Outsourced workers are also demanding an end to exploitative outsourcing at the university. In addition to low pay, the university’s security subcontractor Bidvest Noonan has failed to pay correct pension contributions and is responsible for repeated payroll errors.
The university’s previous subcontractor Axis was responsible for many of the same issues, and also attempted to reduce staff working hours without consultation.
In 2019, outsourced workers took strike action over the university’s two-tier employment system; outsourced workers were denied the same rights as directly employed colleagues, including inferior sick pay, holiday, and pension entitlements.
The campaign was successful, winning parity of terms and conditions with in-house staff. However, despite university management stating publicly in 2019 that it would review the outsourcing model which underlies persisting inequalities faced by this workforce, no action has been taken to bring workers in-house.
The workers, long shut out of every decision-making process, are also demanding union recognition. The IWGB represents the majority of security staff working at UCL but both UCL and Bidvest Noonan have rejected requests for voluntary union recognition.
UCL has given a below-inflation pay increase to security staff of between 5 and 6 percent. This summer, other unions rejected this pay offer. Alongside IWGB, UNISON is also balloting workers at universities nationally over strike action.
Farhana Uddin, Security Officer, said, “I have worked at UCL for 6 years in this job and I’ve seen subcontractor after subcontractor trying to cut hours and cut corners wherever they can.
“I had to get two payday loans just to support my family after the most recent subcontractor failed month after month to pay me my legal entitlement on time.
“We deserve better than this. We deserve to be treated like the vital workforce that we are and we deserve a dignified wage that we can support ourselves on.”
Henry Chango Lopez, General Secretary (IWGB) added, “UCL is currently overseeing a real-terms pay cut to its hard working security staff during a cost of living crisis, on account of spiralling inflation.
“By itself, this is unacceptable, but it is all the more outrageous given that the university paid this workforce £15/hour before outsourcing was introduced decades ago. In 2019, these majority-BAME and migrant workers were forced to campaign and strike, just to be treated equally with directly employed staff at the University.
“Once again, they are being forced to strike in order to end the ongoing exploitation that results from the university’s two-tier system of employment.
“The workers are united, having voted unanimously to take strike action, and they are determined to win. UCL can end this dispute whenever it wants, by recognising the IWGB, paying its key workers the wages they have always deserved, and bringing them in-house.”