Lecturers and cleaners stand together as 1,000 picket UCL

Up to 1,000 members of academics union UCU and base union IWGB and their supporters walked the pickets today as part of the first-ever joint strike between cleaners and academic staff at University College London (UCU).

The IWGB, representing cleaners, security officers and porters, joined UCU chanting, “Two strikes, one fight!” and, “UCL you’re out of time – outsourcing is a crime.”

Protests started at 4am and lasted until lunchtime as part of campaigning to reverse what has been a long-running saga of increasingly pervasive commercialisation in learning and the related outsourcing of support staff.

Security staff, who get £10-12 an hour, have seen pay decline throughout the last ten years as inflation eats at the value of their wages. Cleaners meanwhile have seen increasing precarity at work alongside invasive surveillance including the introduction of a biometric time management system in March of this year which scanned their fingerprints coming in and out of work. It took significant union pressure to reverse the system.

The current strike is specifically demanding that the facilities management companies which run the security and cleaning contracts, Axis and Sodexo, give the outsourced workers the same terms and conditions as UCL’s direct employees. The IWGB has launched an appeal to raise money for the strike fund, which can be found here.

Outsourced workers don’t trust UCL to deliver on this promise — the university pledged in 2017 to bring everyone in-house within a year. In fact this only happened for 10% of staff, and a boycott is ongoing to push for that promise to be honoured.

Writing in the Guardian, cleaner Leia Maia Donda noted:

I’ve been at University College London for seven years and worked hard to become a cleaner supervisor. Despite my promotion, I haven’t had a single day off for two years. I’ve undergone two major surgeries and had to use up all my holiday time on recovery because I can’t afford to be off sick

As an outsourced worker, I am not entitled to the sick pay granted to the university’s direct employees. Instead, I get statutory sick pay, which means I am paid nothing the first three days I am sick and then after that I only get £94.25 a week. My pension contributions from the university are far below those of direct employees and we are entitled to only the legal minimum maternity leave. 

IWGB University of London branch chair Maritza Castillo Calle said:

“Outsourcing forces us to work sick and injured, to work all our lives and still retire in poverty. For decades, UCL has treated its majority migrant and BAME outsourced workers like second class citizens, condemning them to a system of bullying and discrimination. By voting overwhelmingly in favour of strike action, UCL’s outsourced workers have sent the university a clear message. They will no longer stand for half measures and endless delays. They want equality and justice, and they want it now.”

UCL UCU branch vice president Dr Saladin Meckled-Garcia said:

“Our action represents a wholesale resistance to the turning of universities into businesses and commercial concerns, rather than communities of learning and scholarship. Our Vice Chancellors are more interested in building new buildings and campuses into which to pack students so as to benefit from their fees. We see the struggle of IWGB outsourced workers as continuous with this resistance and that is why we are proud to be on strike with them on 4 December. All out!”


Photos Credit: Pietro Sambuy