Although Sadiq Khan declared COVID-19 to be a ‘major incident’ in London, many workers are still being compelled to provide cleaning and security services in non-essential buildings across universities in London.

The Universities of London branch of the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) are concerned of the health risks that are posed as a result of this, and are demanding the immediate closure of all non-essential university sites. They are also demanding that workers are granted a furlough.

After multiple IWGB members working at London universities contracted COVID-19, and with at least 20 self-isolating at UCL, there is an increased impetus to ensure that their safety is prioritised.

Despite writing to universities, and requesting the closure of non-essential buildings on 21st December, IWGB received no response. Moreover, workers were told to come back to campus on the 4th of January – the same evening that the lockdown was announced.

Henry Chango-Lopez, the General Secretary of the IWGB, said: “We need essential rights for all essential workers and meaningful enforcement of Covid safety rules because businesses are still putting profit before peoples’ lives. The rights of our city’s precarious workers are now a public health issue.”

Workers are being obliged to tend to non-essential buildings at UCL – a move that is not only reckless, but also demonstrates little consideration for the safety of staff.

Maritza Castillo Calle, Chair of the IWGB Universities of London Branch, also argued for the need to place staff on furlough: “I’m now home sick with Covid-19 after being compelled to work through lockdown as a janitor in an empty office. It’s been a painful, frightening and debilitating illness. I don’t want to see more people getting sick and losing their lives because universities wanted to keep up their profits. That’s why we’re demanding furlough for non-essential workers and hazard pay and basic rights for those who are essential.”

This week, the UCL branch has also learned of half a dozen more cases of workers having to self-isolate.

IWGB are insisting that UCL reintroduce the Bonus Scheme for those who remain working at essential buildings, given the overwhelming risks they are facing.

_______________________________________________________________________________

Riddhi Kanetkar