Outsourced security guards at University College London (UCL), employed by subcontractor Bidvest Noonan, are returning to the picket line on 1 February.
Members of the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) will take action alongside lecturers represented by UCU, as part of a nationally coordinated day of public sector strike action.
Security guards are demanding an end to exploitative outsourcing at the university, pay at a minimum of £15/hr for outsourced staff, which would be equivalent to the wage paid to their roles 20 years ago before outsourcing began, and union recognition of the IWGB.
The strike is part of an ongoing worker-led campaign to bring an end to outsourcing, an exploitative and often highly racialised practice that creates a lower tier of workers denied the same basic pay, rights and treatment as directly employed staff. The strike also takes place against the backdrop of the proposed Minimum Service Bill, which threatens the right to strike for the public sector, including outsourced workers.
When security staff took strike action in October following a unanimous vote to do so, UCL came under fire for subcontracting additional security workers on lower rates of pay to fill gaps left by striking workers. This was condemned by UCU and the IWGB as an intimidatory strike breaking tactic and as a violation of UCL’s commitment to parity on account of these workers receiving lower rates of pay.
That commitment to parity of terms and conditions with directly employed staff was won following IWGB strike action in 2019 and resulted in improved pay, pension contributions and sick pay and annual leave entitlements. However, full equality has still not been achieved. UCL also publicly stated that it would review the outsourcing model which perpetuates these inequalities but has yet to take any steps toward bringing workers in house.
Yusuf Nur, a striking security guard, says: “I have young children and on the poverty pay I receive as an outsourced worker I am struggling to support them. I’ve been left with no choice but to strike – it’s the only way we can make our voices heard. After bullying, mistreatment and consistent basic errors with paying us our wages and pensions from Bidvest Noonan and neglect from UCL, we must fight for better conditions for each other and our families. Striking is a vital tool, and we’re going to use it no matter what.”
Henry Chango Lopez, General Secretary of IWGB says: “UCL’s use of outsourcing is outdated and exploitative. Workers face systemic discrimination in the form of poor pay and treatment from their subcontractors and are ignored and belittled when they demand change. UCL has a £90 million yearly surplus which could be used to improve conditions for these workers, yet they chose to leave them struggling in poverty.”
Matteo Tiratelli, Anti-Casualisation Officer at UCU UCL, says: “Outsourcing creates terrible working conditions for workers on the lowest grades at UCL, yet UCL management is determined to keep up this discriminatory practice. It is one of several ways in which working conditions are being worsened across the board. All staff at UCL are seeing our pay fall behind inflation, our jobs casualised and rights stripped away, and it is sadly not just staff, but students who are paying the price.”