Outsourced cleaners at the University of London are celebrating victory in a 10-year battle to be recognised as staff, which involved strikes and a boycott of the university’s Senate House complex supported by academics and politicians.
Since the start of this week the cleaners, who previously worked under contracts for outsourcing firms including OCS, Balfour Beatty and most recently Cordant, have been working as directly employed staff. The Independent Workers of Great Britain trade union which led the campaign said it was an achievement that had cost a lot in terms of stress and energy for the workers since they started to organise in 2010.
It follows the insourcing of porters, receptionists, post room and audio visual technicians by the university administration earlier this year. The University and College Union which represents 120,000 academics and support staff was among the organisations joining the boycott. It is the latest victory for the IWGB union which has emerged in recent years to represent precarious workers on short contracts and in gig jobs, who are not normally unionised. It has also challenged the business models of Uber, Deliveroo and other courier companies.
“I am very proud of our achievement,” said Henry Chango Lopez, IWGB president who was a cleaner at the University of London in 2010 when they started to organise in response to problems with remunerations and disrupted dismissals. “We fought so hard and for so many years. My father still works there as a porter. This has been a lot of stress to all of us involved. We had to stay strong and remain united and that has been a long process that has cost a lot of energy.”
The campaign’s original aims of winning sick pay, paid holiday and pensions – known as the Tres Cosas [three things] in Spanish because most of the workers came from Latin America – was later extended to achieving full staff status.
“Outsourcing is one of the biggest problems in society and we fought outsourcing on a daily basis,” Lopez said.
Wendy Thompson, the vice-chancellor of the University of London, said in an email to staff last month that the “strength of feeling” about the issue among colleagues and the impact of the boycott helped shape her decision to press ahead with insourcing.
“One of my first acts as vice-chancellor was to recommend that the university bring its cleaning and reception staff in-house,” she said in a statement on Tuesday. “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.”
The breakthrough for IWGB comes as Lopez bids to become the next general secretary of the union after its founding leader, Jason Moyer-Lee, announced last month that he was standing down at the end of this week.