Birkbeck cleaners unanimously accept UNISON proposal, becoming direct employees of the college in a huge victory for the Justice for Cleaners campaign

with additional reporting by David Dahlborn

Birkbeck Unison branch declared last week (10th July) that it has won a campaign to make cleaners direct employees at the college after months of campaigning. 

In a statement on their campaign website, the Birkbeck Unison Justice for Workers said: “We are happy to announce that cleaning staff have accepted a proposal that means they will be directly employed by Birkbeck by the beginning of next year”. 

Five days later, Birkbeck released a statement saying that its Finance and Resources Committee had approved a plan to make 78 workers currently employed by outsourcing firm Noonan college staff.

Edwin Clifford-Coupe, the Campaigns Officer at Birkbeck UNISON said to London Student: This is a great victory for the Justice for Workers campaign, and I hope the first of many successes. With agreement reached to insource the cleaning contract, I hope we can make progress with Birkbeck management about insourcing the night security and catering contracts in the very near future.”

Clifford-Coupe commended the workers and representatives involved in the campaign, adding that the “tide is turning against outsourcing in Higher Education, an invidious practice characterised by discrimination, bullying and union busting, which puts private profit over public good.” He said that he “look[ed] forward to similar successes at UCL and the University of London.”

Keith Harrison, Birkbeck College Secretary also responded to the news: “I am really pleased that the Finance and Resource Committee have approved the recommendations we developed with union representatives about the cleaning service, even at a time when the College has a deficit.” 

He added that he “look[ed] forward to the plan being implemented and to welcoming the new staff on board.”

As direct employees, cleaners will be able to use the Superannuation Agreements of the University of London pension scheme (SAUL). This will allow the workers to qualify for tax relief at their highest marginal rate along with an inflation-proofed pension scheme and long-term illness cover. 

Additionally, the changes mean cleaners will receive improved workplace protections through Birkbeck’s grievance and disciplinary procedures. They will also have access to Birkbeck’s study assistance scheme for courses and facilities.

The new contract will come into force early next year. 

The terms of this contract means that the workers would be paid annual London Living Wage but not be attached to the Birkbeck pay scale. This comes as a compromise from the campaign’s initial demands.

Cleaners’ unions, however, have in the past taken moves to in-house contracted staff in preparation for equalising pay and terms and conditions for direct employees.

The union and management agreed that the next step should be how night security and catering workers could follow. Of this, Birkbeck Unison said last week it would “campaign for night security and catering staff to be brought back in house”.

Wider ramifications

This victory for a grassroots union branch follows successes by several other similar London campaigns. In September 2018, SOAS brought outsourced workers in house. There have been similar campaigns conducted both in the LSE and Senate House.

The SOAS Justice for Workers campaign declared its support for Birkbeck cleaners. In a public statement on Facebook, they posted ”congratulations” and “la lucha continua!” (“the struggle carries on”).

Attention is now likely to turn to UCL, the largest major institution in Bloomsbury to still outsource cleaning, security, catering and portering. Cleaners and security guards in Unison and Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) have campaigned there recently.

Image credits to to the Birkbeck UNISON Justice for Workers Campaign


International Relations student at KCL

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