UNISON cleaners claim victory at SOAS

UNISON today signed a historic agreement with private company ISS to improve the terms and conditions of the 65-plus workers based at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London. 

A long-running dispute had included three days of strike action and a series of negotiations, but last week, UNISON members overwhelmingly voted to accept a vastly improved offer from ISS.

The members’ campaign for parity with in-house SOAS staff has been long and arduous, but has now paid off.

Workers at ISS were, until now, receiving just the statutory minimum on annual leave, sick pay and access to a government pension scheme, but will now receive:

  • 27 days annual leave, excluding bank holidays (after four years service);
  • six months full sick pay (after six years service);
  • access to the ISS group pension scheme.



It was crucial for members and stewards that workers with less service should also benefit from any improvement. The deal includes two weeks sick pay for workers with less than three months service and four weeks sick pay for those with three months to one year’s service.

UNISON regional manager Maggi Ferncombe said: “This settlement has only been achieved due to the strength and tenacity of the members, stewards and UNISON organiser, Ruth Levin.

“Throughout, the campaign has been focussed, impassioned and an inspiration, proving what an organised group of trade union members can achieve.”

She noted that UNISON had been clear from the beginning that, although ISS employed these cleaners, “SOAS as the client had a vested interest in seeing the dispute end successfully”, and added that the union was “pleased that eventually all parties played a positive role in finding a resolution.”

The union’s head of higher education Donna Rowe-Merriman observed: “I believe that this sends a message to the higher education sector looking to privatise areas such as cleaning services.

“UNISON will campaign for the rights of its members who have been outsourced to private companies by universities.

“We do not believe that workers who are privatised should have any worse terms and conditions than those working at the same university.”

UNISON in education

UNISON Greater London

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