Despite being one of the wealthiest universities in the country, UCL implements some of the worst terms and conditions for its outsourced workforce and refuses to bring staff in house.

Currently most of UCL’s catering, cleaning, and security staff are not employed by the university but rather outside contractors, Axis and Sodexo. This means that they receive worse sick pay, pension, holiday pay, and parental leave than their in-house colleagues. Security guards employed by Axis are paid the lowest wages in the Bloomsbury area.

In response to increased pressure from trade unions UCL has announced that it will ensure equal holiday pay to its outsourced staff as of 1 st December. The university has also made a public commitment to provide equal sick pay, parental leave, and wage parity between outsourced workers and direct employees as of August 2021.
However, many of Sodexo’s employees working at UCL remain sceptical. Previously outsourced workers have had to wait five years for UCL to fulfil its promise of ensuring that all staff are paid a London Living Wage within a year.

Additionally, whilst the changes to the terms of conditions of workers’ employment are important, they do not address wider structural issues at the company, which has a reputation for mismanagement and poor
treatment of staff. Current chair of the UCL branch of Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB) and former cleaner at the university, Maritza Castillo has said that management failures by these companies are constant. She said workers are forced to work in unsuitable conditions whilst basic resources are often not provided – only workers cleaning bathrooms are given gloves whilst cleaners working in labs are not supplied with adequate protection.

Neither the outsourced company nor the university suffered any consequences after an employee was injured whilst handling waste, according to Castillo. At the panel discussion on Thursday Castillo also recalled incidences where foreign speaking workers where told, “you have to speak English, you are living in this country,” by their superiors. Despite the poor working conditions, many cleaners are too scared to raise grievances for fear of repercussions.

According to Castillo, staff who raise concerns are often assigned more work in retaliation. Speaking from experience she recalled a time when a manager ‘yelled’ at her and ‘demanded to know who she thought she was,’ after she complained about increasing workload. Afterwards she was assigned to clean 42 bathrooms in 3 hours and was removed from the building she had worked in for 5 years and assigned somewhere else.

Darcy Bounsall

Image: Joanne Land