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400 university cleaners and security officers walk out at UCL in strike for equal pay

PUBLISHED: 17:00 19 November 2019

Drumming up support for Independent Workers union strike outside UCL's headquarters. Picture: Pietro Sambuy

Drumming up support for Independent Workers union strike outside UCL's headquarters. Picture: Pietro Sambuy

Pietro Sambuy

Contract workers went on strike at University College London's Olympic Park campus today to join hundreds of others in a mass demo calling for equal pay and conditions with staff.

Picket by contract workers on strike for equivalent pay at UCL campuses. Picture: Pietro SambuyPicket by contract workers on strike for equivalent pay at UCL campuses. Picture: Pietro Sambuy

The 400 low-pay cleaners, catering workers and security officers employed by outside contractors at UCL campuses across London converged on the university's headquarters in Bloomsbury.

The Olympic Park campus is one of 20 where members of the Independent Workers of Great Britain trade union voted 98 per cent for industrial action to end "zero hour" contracts and get equal rights with staff.

"This is important to me because my mum's an outsourced worker," UCL student union's Sandy Ogundele told a protest rally. "I know the struggle of coming home when she's had to go into work sick, or having to picking up her shifts when she can't do them."

The university, which had to cancel or postpone events including the Orwell Memorial lecture, was accused by the union of imposing low wages and insecure contracts while paying "exorbitant salaries to those at the top".

Protest rally at UCL HQ for equal pay and benefits for 'outsourced' catering, security and cleaning workers. Picture: Pietro SambuyProtest rally at UCL HQ for equal pay and benefits for 'outsourced' catering, security and cleaning workers. Picture: Pietro Sambuy

The union's general secretary Jason Moyer-Lee told the rally: "Outsourced contractors hired a law firm threatening to sue if we go on strike. As if we are going to be intimidated! This means we're having an impact."

Striking security officer Oladitan Olasiende promised: "We have the right to go on strike and will continue to fight our battle until our voice is heard."

The university refused to say what effect today's strike had, nor how many lecturers and students had stayed away after it issued advice last week to "work from home".

But there was a glimmer of hope for 800 low-pay workers from UCL's Provost, Prof Michael Arthur, who said in a statement: "We are acting to ensure they receive the same or equivalent pay and benefits as our directly-employed staff."

The workers would be offered equivalent holiday pay "as a first step" from December 1, UCL promises. Cleaners and catering workers would then be offered equivalent wages with benefits in negotiations with the main Unison union, affecting 800 employees of Sodexo or Axis contractors.

There would also be overtime and sick pay "as soon as possible" by August 2021, as well as pension arrangements.

But the deal with Unison hasn't included the smaller IWGB union which represents the 300 workers who were balloted to strike.

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