Activists are back at Senate House after UoL reverses outsourcing decision.

The University of London has reneged on its promise to bring outsourced staff in-house. In spring this year, during a review of contracts at UoL, student activists from the group Justice for University of London Workers occupied Senate House.

The nine-day action aimed to pressure UoL to end their use of zero-hours contracts, bring all staff in-house, and recognise IWGB, a union for workers in the gig economy, which represents a significant number of low-paid and migrant workers across the University.

In the wake of the occupation, UoL acquiesced to bringing their workers in-house and ending zero-hours contracts, although they have consistently refused to recognise IWGB.

Vague promises

Joseph Maggs, a UCL student involved in the occupation, told The Cheese Grater the university was vague in its commitments in the aftermath of the protests, its promises amounting to: ‘if it’s economically feasible, we’ll do it.’

Now it appears that UoL is bringing only some workers in-house, including porters, security guards and receptionists. The university will continue to outsource contracts for cleaners, gardeners and catering staff. These, the lowest paid positions at UoL, will continue to lack the protections of in-house staff.

A UoL spokesperson explained the decision: ‘with logistical, contractual and financial risks, there cannot be a “one fits all” solution,’ stressing the importance for ‘value for money FM [facilities management] services.’

But UoL didn’t skimp on additional security during and after the occupation. Security costs totalled £415,000 for March and April alone, and the heightened measures extended into May.

Excessive force

The heavy-handed suppression of protesters was widely condemned as excessive. Video taken by members of Justice for University of London Workers reveals that one student was locked outside without her shoes or keys. Another shows student activists being trapped in a room as the door is drilled shut. In the weeks after the occupation, students suspected of involvement were challenged by security when trying to enter the building, and some were ejected from Senate House library.

Given the immense costs incurred in trying to end the occupation, it is hard for many to accept UoL’s claim that they cannot afford to bring all their workers in-house — especially after their previous overtures towards doing so.

UoL has made some minor concessions but continued outsourcing and refusal to recognise IWGB means further strike action and student protests seem unlikely to be far away

Sasha Baker

This article appeared in CG Issue 63.