Outsourced Unison staff at UCL win better terms in time for Christmas

University agrees to equalise pay, pensions and leave for outsourced workers, including an offer of two weeks of additional annual leave from 1 December.

Unison members working in outsourced services at UCL have won rights to equal pay and other conditions — with their holiday entitlement boosted to 42 days, from just 28, before Christmas.

According to the union, UCL has agreed to implement the new deal in full by August 2021, which will begin to bring their pay, pension and annual leave packages in line with in-house employees from 1 December 2019.

“The increase is significant, moving from 28 days of paid leave per year, to 42 paid days leave per year on 1 December. Other benefits that will follow are also significant,” a Unison spokesperson told Left Foot Forward.

“The vast majority of these workers are entitled to only the statutory minimum sick pay, paternity or maternity leave, and pension provisions.”

Nine hundred outsourced workers, including porters, security and catering staff, will benefit from the agreed changes, the union said.

For example, staff who are ill only receive a maximum £94.25 per week of statutory sick pay. The first three days of sickness are unpaid, and the provision only lasts for 28 weeks.

“The vast majority of affected staff stand to gain an allowance that will entitle them to full pay for half a year and half-pay for any subsequent half a year, which would be payable from the first day of illness,” the spokesperson said.

Crucially, Unison has promised it will continue to negotiate with UCL, with a view to speeding up the process so outsourced workers can receive equal terms sooner — ending years of unfair treatment.

Asked how UCL could justify paying outsourced workers less, Unison’s spokesperson replied: “Unison UCL Branch does not accept any argument justifying the provision of inferior terms to outsourced workers.

“Universities generally honour pay agreements when staff are outsourced to private companies, such as Sodexo. However, when Sodexo hires new staff to work at the university, it doesn’t have to pay them at the same rate, or match their terms and conditions. This practice reduces the cost to the university.”

UCL will then join other London universities – including King’s College London, the London School of Economics, and Goldsmiths, University of London – in employing outsourced and directly employed staff on the same rates, the union said.

Dave Prentis, general secretary at Unison, said: “This is a sensible and humane decision. UCL’s rethink shows the determination of workers to fight for what any fair-minded person can see is natural justice.”

However, Derek Richardson – UCL Security Officer and rep for the IWGB union – said the deal was not good enough: 

“We are happy to see that UCL is reacting to the pressure of our campaign, but sadly the university has fallen short of offering any concrete commitments on ending outsourcing or on parity of conditions such as sick pay. The campaign and strikes will go ahead until we are treated like equal members of staff.”

Boyana Petrovich, London regional organiser at Unison, said the union wants to see all outsourced workers brought in-house.

“This is a fantastic first step that will make a massive difference to staff and their families, just in time for Christmas,” Petrovich said.

Unison, the UK’s largest union, has around 1.3 million members working in the public and private sectors across education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. It launched its #BringThemIn campaign to bring outsourced workers in-house in January.

Fleur Doidge is a freelance journalist at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter.

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