How outsourced workers at the University of London lost their fear

Submitted by AWL on 3 December, 2013 - 6:24

Outsourced cleaning, catering, and security workers at the University of London have been fighting for sick pay, holiday, and pension equality with directly-employed staff through the “Tres Cosas” (“Three Things”) campaign since they won the London Living Wage in 2012. On 27 and 28 November, they struck to win those demands, as well as to stop job cuts at the Garden Halls, and to win recognition of their union, the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB).

Workers mounted pickets at the university’s flagship Senate House building from 6am on both strike days, and succeeded in turning away delivery vans, dozens of students, and some staff from using the building’s facilities.

The strike succeeded in winning significant concessions on sick pay and holidays, bringing workers employed by Balfour Beatty onto terms much closer to those of directly-employed staff.

Solidarity spoke to an IWGB University of London branch officer about the strike and the campaign.

We’re very happy with how the strike went. We worked so hard to get the members out on strike. There was a real feeling of unity amongst us. People have lost their fear.

The next time we strike, or take other action, workers won’t have that sense of fear or intimidation any more. Outsourced workers are worried about victimisation if they stand up for their rights. They are often migrant workers, and think they don’t have the same legal rights as other workers or directly-employed staff. The strike we’ve had shows that we have power and can take action

This was our first ever strike of outsourced workers at the University of London, and there’s a mixture of feelings about the results. We’ve won some very important concessions on sick pay and holidays, but it’s not a total victory. Our aim is to win full equality between outsourced workers and the directly-employed staff, and we haven’t won that yet. We also want to stop job cuts at the Garden Halls, and win union recognition, so there’s still a lot to fight for. The strike mainly involved Balfour Beatty workers, but we also have Aramark employees in our union branch. We’re fighting for full equality.

The most positive thing coming out of the strike was the display of unity we showed as a workforce and a union branch. We’ve won are a partial victory, but in some ways the unity we’ve shown is a bigger victory and achievement.

The university and Balfour Beatty have negotiated with Unison, and they’re claiming credit. They’re taking advantage of our action. I think Unison felt under great pressure because of our action. We built a union branch of over 100 workers in less than six months, Unison don’t meaningfully represent outsourced workers at the university.

We’ll discuss the next steps for the dispute within our union branch and within Tres Cosas campaign meetings. We’re very clear that our demands haven’t been met and that the fight must continue. We’re very grateful for all the support we’ve received from other workers, trade union branches, and students, including donations to our strike funds, and we hope that solidarity continues.

We have some directly-employed workers in our union branch. They struck on 31 October and 3 December alongside UCU, Unison, and Unite members as part of the Higher Education workers’ pay dispute. We support that dispute, and we’ll be visiting their picket lines in solidarity.

Our strike, and our campaign, sends a signal to other low-paid workers, other precarious workers, and other migrant workers that we have power and that, if we are united, we can act.

Through organising and taking action, we won the London Living Wage, we’ve won some concessions on sick pay and holidays, and we’re still fighting for equality.

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