Outsourced cleaners at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in central London struck on 4 and 5 March to win the same holiday entitlement, contractual sick pay, and pension scheme as directly-employed staff.
The cleaners, who work for the outsourced company ISS, have been involved in the long-running Justice 4 Cleaners campaign at SOAS. The strong ballot of 100% in favour of strike action on a 62% turnout is a testament to the strength of the campaign and the local SOAS Unison branch.
The union was approached by ISS and the company said it wished to meet the union on 3 March if the strike was called off beforehand. A well-attended meeting of UNISON ISS members unanimously agreed to reject these conditions and to continue with the strike action because no details had been provided of the proposed “offer.” The union says that it is happy to meet ISS to resolve the dispute but without preconditions.
Branch chair Sandy Nichol said: “The position of the SOAS Unison branch is clear. Our outsourced members have the full and unconditional support of all our members. We reject the two-tier workforce and will continue to support our members working for ISS until they win the same sick, pay, holiday and pension entitlement as those of our members working directly for SOAS.”
The fact of the strike ballot is also related to the enduring influence of the 3 Cosas Campaign, around the corner from SOAS at the University of London. Regional organiser Ruth Levin, who played a shameful role in undermining the struggle of outsourced workers at the University of London, has changed her tune on cleaners’ struggles. In the SOAS dispute, which is for very similar demands to 3 Cosas, she is on record saying that: “The outcome of this ballot should be a wake-up call to ISS and SOAS. They need to listen to their staff and improve terms and conditions. Our members shouldn’t be unable to pay their rent if they happen to be ill.”
Clearly the region does not want a repeat of 3 Cosas, where its bureaucratic interference cost the union over a hundred members. Don’t mistake this for an overall change of heart in the regional headquarters, however. At the last Unison National Executive Committee meeting it was reported that Unison had sanctioned 32 industrial action ballots recently. However, the Greater London Region has only sanctioned one — the ballot at SOAS.
It is a testament to rank-and-file organisation and the strength of the SOAS branch that they were able to wring a ballot out of Greater London Region.
It shows what is still possible in Unison, even in a region as woeful as Greater London.
3 Cosas Aramak win
The Independent Workers’ of Great Britain (IWGB) union University of London branch’s “3 Cosas” campaign has scored another win.
Aramark, the company which runs catering work at the university’s central facilities, has announced it will offer improved holidays and sick pay to its staff, bringing them in line with the terms recently won by cleaners, security staff, and porters after the IWGB’s strikes in November and January. A 3 Cosas campaign statement said: “This means that within the next couple months, there will no longer be any outsourced workers at the University of London on statutory sick pay or holidays.”