Victory for University of London workers after years of protests

IWGB workers

Outsourced cleaners working at the University of London had been long embroiled in protests to secure better labour rights. Outsourced workers had been subjected to notoriously unwarrantable working conditions, such as lower pay and pensions, and were also more likely to experience bullying, discrimination, and illegal pay deductions. The IWGB launched a campaign in 2017 called “Back In-House”, which demanded that universities end outsourcing, and abolish pay cuts and zero-hour contracts.

In 2019, hundreds of cleaners, porters and security guards at UCL called for strike action to take place, in defiance against abhorrent instances of working conditions and work-place discrimination. Maritza Castillo Calle, the branch chair for IWGB, claimed that: “For decades, UCL has treated its majority of migrant and BAME outsourced workers like second-class citizens, condemning them to a system of bullying and discrimination.”

While these protests gained momentum, the failure to safe-guard secure working conditions peaked during the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic in London, as many UCL cleaners were not provided with enough cleaning equipment and PPE when working in Halls of Residence.

Therefore, the news of workers achieving staff status is significant, as it ensures the campaign’s three aims (Tres Cosas) of winning sick pay, paid holidays, and pensions, are obtained. Henry Chango Lopez, who has now been elected the General Secretary of the IWGB, was “proud of [their] achievement”, as outsourcing was something “[they] fought on a daily basis”.

Wendy Thompson, the vice-chancellor of the University of London, released a statement on the 3rd of November 2020, which outlined how the impact of the boycott pushed her to consider insourcing.

“I did this because I believed it was the right thing to do. The Trustees approved my recommendation, one which was supported by many in the university community.”

This news is a buoyant victory that has culminated after years of resilience from outsourced-workers. A support of the boycotts had been a key strategic factor that led to this decision, and it is the responsibility of University of London to ensure that all their workers are provided with equitable working conditions.

Riddhi Kanetkar

Header image credit: Shahin Shahablou