Open letter to the vice-chancellor of the University of London – stop exploiting outsourced workers

Dear Adrian Smith,

I am writing to express my support for the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain’s (IWGB) “Back in House” campaign. I urge you to agree to their demands that outsourced workers – including cleaners, post room workers, security officers, receptionists and porters – be made in-house, that the university implement pay rises which were promised six years ago and that it abolish zero-hours contracts at the university.

The crisis of capitalism has resulted in millions of people being forced to survive on piecemeal work, with terrible terms and conditions. This crisis of under-employment has leans on migrant and BAME workforce – to whom much public sector work is  outsourced –  and leaves them in an especially vulnerable position. The University of London is fully complicit in these exploitative and discriminatory employment practices, which aside from causing immense misery, drive a wedge between in-house, mostly-White British workers, and mostly-BAME outsourced staff.

These outsourced employees receive worse pension, holiday and sick pay entitlements than their colleagues that are employed directly by the university. But more importantly, by working through facilities management companies they are more likely to suffer from abuses such as illegal deduction of wages, bullying and discrimination. Similar practices have occurred at LSE, where outsourced cleaning staff were victimised by their management company to an appalling degree; and at King’s College London, where the parasitic Servest agency actively strives to prevent workers from organising to protect their interests, and recently sacked an entire swathe of the precarious workforce.

Furthermore, the university’s outsourced security officers, porters and post room staff have for months been demanding that you implement the pay rises the university promised six years ago when the London Living Wage was introduced for cleaning staff. While increasing the wage of the lowest-paid staff at the university was a welcome move, it has resulted in the stagnation of the wages of other sections of the workforce, whose wages now are either the same or nearly the same as that of cleaners. It might come as a surprise to you, but the London Living Wage is supposed to act as a floor, not a ceiling.

Despite workers’ repeated offers to sit down and negotiate, you and the rest of your management team have chosen to ignore them.

The excuse used by the university – that this is the purview of the contractor Cordant – is just further evidence of why all staff must be brought in-house, since for far too long the university has been hiding behind its contractors. Furthermore, it shows that you have more in common with the fat-cat exploiters at Cordat than with the staff who form the lifeblood of your institution. Excuses that “the money isn’t there” are equally laughable given that the number of staff earning over £100,000 tripled between 2012/2013 and 2015/2016. Your own salary increased from £153,000 to £173,400 in that period. I can tell you as a precariously employed teacher at King’s College London that the average pay for front-line teaching staff has fallen 15 per cent in the last seven years, while that of senior management has increased by the same measure – 15 per cent.

Who makes a greater contribution to the university? Us, or you? Perhaps you should ask our students.

If you are going to soak up exorbitant student fees to line your pockets, the least you can do is pay your workers’ decently.

I urge you to listen and agree to the demands of the people that keep your university running smoothly. By my lights, they contribute far more to the well-being  of teachers and students than your overpaid senior management teams. I urge you to bring all workers in-house, and ultimately hand over the reins of management to workers and students, who will doubtlessly run the University of London far more democratically, efficiently and in-keeping with their best interests.

I have no illusions that you will contemplate the latter, but I want it on record that – as a precarious employee myself – I fully support any action taken by comrades from the IWGB, and intend to join them on every demonstration or picket they call until their demands are met. There is a crisis in the HE and FE sector, and you are part of the problem: solidarity, and ultimately socialism, are the solution.

Kind regards,

Joseph Attard (Graduate Teaching Assistant Representative, UCU King’s College London branch, personal capacity)