Security staff at University College London have begun strike action over better pay and union recognition as their representatives accuse bosses of trying to intimidate them by bringing in lower-paid agency workers.
The Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB) union said all overtime was cancelled at unusually short notice in the days leading up to the strike and given to agency workers, with UCL acknowledging on Monday that some shifts had been subcontracted out to help break the strike.
Henry Chango Lopez, the IWGB’s general secretary, accused UCL of “hypocrisy”, as his union said the agency workers were likely to have been paid less than the rate the institution usually ensures for its staff.
Such measures “often backfire for institutions like UCL, which claim publicly to respect workers’ rights”, he said. “If they continue, it will force workers to escalate their public campaign because they simply cannot afford to shoulder the cost of UCL’s hypocrisy.”
The striking staff are provided to the university by the firm Bidvest Noonan. The IWGB say they are seeking nominal pay increases from £13 and £14 an hour – depending on the worker – to £15.
The union said this would bring pay up to the level UCL’s in-house security staff were on before outsourcing started two decades ago – and would not come close to reversing the erosion caused by inflation in that time.
Their walkout started on Monday morning, with union officials claiming the workers had been the victims of management action designed to break the strike over the weekend. They said that, as workers checked their rotas last Friday, they found their expected overtime had been cancelled – including some shifts assigned for that very day.
The IWGB said its members were told the shifts had been given to agency workers provided by Systematic Security, who needed to be trained up. According to the union, these workers were employed for about £4 less per hour than the existing staff.
Systematic Security declined to comment, but publicly available job postings by the company show them advertising security roles outside London at rates between £9.75 and £11 an hour.
A UCL spokesperson said: “Our colleagues in security do vital jobs for UCL and are employed under the same terms and key conditions as in-house staff, including contributing the same percentage to their pensions.
“Our contracted staffing provider recently deployed some additional subcontracted staff, as a short-term measure to ensure continuity of operations and safety on campus during the period of industrial action.”