Low-paid workers protest at UCL’s ‘callous’ employment system

Hundreds of UCL cleaners, porters, security officers and catering staff will demand their outsourced jobs be returned to the university, so workers doing the same jobs receive the same pay, pension and annual leave, says UNISON today (Thursday).

This afternoon (from 1pm to 3pm) support staff from across UCL will gather outside the university’s main entrance to draw attention to the campaign for their jobs to be taken back in-house.

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis will be there to hear how UCL’s outsourcing programme has affected their lives and to address the workers in the UCL Quad at 1.30pm.

The 900 staff – among the lowest paid at the university – have had their roles contracted out to a string of private companies in recent years, as part of the university’s cost-cutting programme. Sodexo and Axis currently hold the current cleaning, catering and security contracts.

UCL’s outsourced workers receive lower pay, don’t qualify for sick pay, are not paid overtime, have fewer paid holidays and an inferior pensions plan compared to colleagues directly employed by the university, says UNISON.

London universities including the School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS), King’s College London, London School of Economics (LSE), and Goldsmith’s have all recently agreed to return to directly employing their cleaning, security and catering staff.

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Endless outsourcing and privatising key contracts across the university has led to a callous system that treats poorer workers as second-class citizens. They’ve been pushed from pillar to post as contracts are moved from one private company to another.

“Support staff that are key to the smooth running of the university shouldn’t be treated like this.

“Cleaners, porters, security guards and catering staff should be afforded the same consideration as that shown to academic, administrative and technical workers whose jobs haven’t been privatised.

“UCL should follow the lead of other London universities and bring these workers back in-house now.”

UNISON London regional organiser Boyana Petrovich said: “For more than a year, outsourced workers have been campaigning to reverse this injustice, and won’t stop until fairness and common sense prevails.

“Senior managers at UCL recognise that affected staff feel very strongly but they need to act now to end the outsourcing, which has become such a nightmare for so many low-paid staff at the university.”

Notes to editors:
– The protest will take place at the Quad, UCL main entrance from 1pm to 3pm on Thursday 17 October. UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis will address workers at 1.30pm.
–  Hussein and Colum are both outsourced workers at UCL who will be taking part in the protest. Hussein Omar Al-Bushuaib works as a building attendant for Axis Security. He says: “I have to work 63.5 hours a week to pay the rent and put food on the table, and many of my colleagues work even longer hours. When UCL closes the building I work in, I have to take holiday if I want to get paid. This means I am only left with 13 days of leave to take every year. UCL Staff have 41 days leave in total, which shows how unfairly UCL has been treating us.” Colum McDermott works as a chef in a hall of residence and has worked at UCL for 20 years. He says: “I was outsourced in 2017 and my pay still more or less remains at a UCL’s level. But a colleague of mine, doing the same job and the same hours is paid roughly £500 less a month. This is the inequality of the two-tier system we’re fighting against.”
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union, with more than 1.3 million members providing public services – in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in both the public and private sectors.

Media contacts:
Garfield Myrie T: 0207 121 5546 M: 07432 741565 E: g.myrie@unison.co.uk
Emma Davey T: 0207 535 6581 M: 07432 733187 E: e.davey@unison.co.uk