On Tuesday 21st of November, hundreds of students joined the striking workers at a protest at the University of London (UoL) during Chancellor Princess Anne’s visit to Senate House.
The outsourced workers are demanding to be brought in house and end zero hours contracts so that they receive the same working conditions as other staff employed directly by the University. Students and workers filled the streets of Bloomsbury around Senate House and Russell Square with music, chanting and banners, showing the UoL management that they cannot get away with their mistreatment of staff. The protest was vibrant and colourful, drawing lots of attention from passers-by and attendees of the ‘Being Human’ festival hosted at Senate House.
The UoL’s values of equality and social inclusion seem empty in the face of the discrimination experienced by their staff. The predominantly BAME and migrant outsourced workers at UoL are more likely to face institutional harassment and bullying than their colleagues employed in-house. They are forced to work unsociable hours for insufficient pay, whilst the management of the institution take home six-figure salaries and insist that they don’t have the money to improve the wages of their lowest paid staff. The number of staff earning over £100,000/year has trebled, with Adrian Smith, the vice-chancellor, earning up to £173,000/year.
The outsourced staff are represented by the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB), who launched the “Back in House” campaign in September. Since then, they have organised a series of strikes and protests against precarious labour and outsourcing implemented by exploitative bosses. Following the action of IWGB, the UoL agreed to pay all outsourced workers the new London Living Wage this November, showing that direct action and pressure from the protests can result in victory. However, this doesn’t mean an end to their struggle, as the workers are still fighting to be brought in-house in order to receive the same pension benefits, sick pay and employment rights as other staff.
Our universities could not function without these staff. The cleaners, reception workers, porters and security are just as vital in the running of a university as the academic staff. It is crucial for students to stand in solidarity with the outsourced UoL workers. We must add our support for their demands and to amplify their voices. As students, we should organise on our campuses to find out more about the grievances of staff and to show up to their picket lines and protests so that workers know they have the backing of the student population. Following a series of IWGB strikes and action, the UOL has announced that it will be reviewing all of its outsourced contracts. But, this cannot be seen as a victory yet. We must keep up the pressure on UoL to treat their workers fairly and provide them with the working conditions that they deserve.
Featured image: James Smith
Video: Ruby Dark