Workers win major concession over outsourcing at University of London

But the union plan to keep the pressure up, after the university offered only 'vague commitments' to take some services back in house.

The University of London central administration has announced that it will start a process to end outsourcing and bring its facilities management contracts in-house – in a major concession to the ‘Back in-house‘ campaign launched by the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) in September last year.

The announcement by the university follows a major strike of outsourced workers in UK-higher education history, with over 100 workers walking out on 25 and 26 April.

Yet workers are still planning to strike the on the 6th June until greater clarity is given – after the union accused the university of providing only a ‘vague commitment’ to bring some services in house.

The University of London launched a review of its contracted facilities management services last November, following campaigning by the IWGB.

After a student-led occupation of the UoL’s famous Senate House on Wednesday, the Board of Trustees met to considered the report and backed the Review Group’s recommendations.

In a statement, the university said: 

“[The] initiatives will be progressed over the next 12-18 months, with some services being brought in house in 2018/19 where there is an opportunity and clear rationale for doing this although the process be phased in over subsequent years.”

When contacted by Left Foot Forward, a spokesperson said they would not be responding to the IWGB’s concerns, noting ‘we have nothing further to say’.

The lack of clarity and long timeline mean the IWGB will go ahead with the strike of around 130 outsourced cleaners, security officers, receptionists, porters, post room workers and audiovisual workers early next month.

The university statement has provoked concern given it is riddled with caveats, noting: “the Board raised significant concerns over the additional costs of bringing services in-house and the impact on the University’s academic agenda.”

However, in what appears a direct concession to the union, they added:

“The Board would like the University Management to expedite the process to reduce the risk of further industrial actions as far as possible and ensure the University is not distracted or hindered from furthering its core academic mission.”

Prior to the decision the IWGB said it would consider any process to bring the outsourced workers back in house that would take 12 months or less.

Responding, the union said that “Given that outsourced workers terms and conditions have been a live issue for the past seven years, anything longer than twelve months is excessive.”

IWGB General Secretary Dr Jason Moyer-Lee said:

“[This] announcement demonstrates that collective action and pressure works. The university has clearly understood the current situation is untenable and that they need to do something. But it also shows that the University will always try and squeeze every last penny out of its outsourced staff. Until the University of London announces the termination of all outsourcing on a reasonable timescale, IWGB will continue to campaign.”

“IWGB representative and University of London cleaner Margarita Cunalata said: “We’re glad that the university has finally acknowledged our repeated demands to be given equal terms and conditions as other workers at the University. However putting us in this limbo is completely unacceptable. We will continue fighting until we are made direct employees and treated with the dignity we deserve.”

The IWGB campaign has been backed by figures across the left, including John McDonnell MP, Laura Pidcock MP, Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley and singer-songwriter Billy Bragg (pictured).

Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter.

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