workers rights

The University of London Is Leaving Its Outsourced Workers in Limbo

They issued a statement about improving workers' rights, but it has already been slammed as vague by a trade union.
Simon Childs
London, GB
Photo: IWGB workers protesting outside Senate House in April, 2018. Photo: Peter Marshall / Alamy Stock Photo

The University of London will take some of its contracted workers in-house, in their own time, if they feel like it's really a good idea, it has been announced.

University workers employed by external contractors, organised by the IWGB trade union – including cleaners, receptionists, porters, gardeners, post-room workers, audio-visual workers and security guards – have been striking to be brought in-house and afforded the rights that workers directly employed by the university are entitled to.


The union says outsourced workers are more likely to get crap pay and benefits, be treated worse their in-house colleagues, and are more likely to experience bullying and wage deductions.

After a campaign by the union, the university started a review in November of 2017, and its Board of Trustees met on Wednesday to discuss the results.

A less-than-clear statement from the university notes the recommendation of its internal review group: "The University will develop an efficient provision model in which in house services are supported by contracts designed to provide both the specialist expertise and the flexibility to respond to the varying needs of the University."

If that wasn’t vague enough, the university responded in even vaguer terms. It raised concerns about the costs of bringing workers in-house and said it would consider the recommendations "contingent on seeing more detailed plans and costs".

The statement continues that this – they’re calling it a "decision" – will mean "significant financial investment which will be linked to key strategic initiatives".

These are "ensuring security and compliance at Senate House and across our estate following heightened security risks", which sounds like a continuation of the costly "theatre of security" which has clamped down on student support for the strikes and led to a paranoid and intimidating atmosphere on campus.

The uni also commits to "ensuring Senate House offers a high quality experience for staff, academic activity and events" and "the development of an effective Residential Student Life programme, recognising that we need to enhance and broaden our pastoral care for residents in halls". I'm sure migrant workers concerned about bullying, and students who were escorted out of the library for their political activity, will be chuffed.


More concretely, the university does say that some services will be brought in-house in 2018/19, "where there is an opportunity and clear rationale for doing this, although the process will be phased in over subsequent years". This has annoyed the IWGB, who point out that the issue has been carrying on, one way or another, for seven years.

The university also says it will "work closely with the recognised Trade Unions, (UNISON and UCU) and current contractors to transition staff into the University as well as work urgently to address issues that have been highlighted during the review e.g. the elimination of zero hours contracts". This doesn’t mention what services could be brought in-house, or that the striking outsourced workers are in fact organised by the IWGB, who the university seems to wish it could ignore. But it does seem dangerously close to a tangible commitment.

"The Board would like the University Management to expedite the process to reduce the risk of further industrial actions," adds the university, perhaps a little optimistically.

The IWGB are taking the hint of a commitment as a small victory for collective action, while reaffirming their commitment to strike on the 6th of June unless they get something a bit more juicy.