Security staff at one of the UK’s most prestigious universities are to walk out over pay and union recognition, their representatives have said, as the cost of living crisis continues to bite.
Workers at University College London (UCL), employed via the contractor Bidvest Noonan, are demanding an increase in their hourly rate that their union says would see them paid the same nominal amount UCL guards got more than 20 years ago – before the jobs were outsourced.
But the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) said even this higher rate would not come close to reversing the erosion caused by two decades of inflation.
“I am not able to pay my bills … The cost of living crisis has left me with my back against the wall and with no option but to demand a pay rise,” said Farhana Uddin, a member of security staff at UCL and an IWGB member.
She accused the institution of using “exploitative outsourcing to cut costs”, leaving workers such as her “paying the price”. She said: “With the rising cost of living, many of us are struggling to make ends meet. We know staff in the past were paid much more than us [in real terms].”
The union said it represents about three-quarters of the approximately 200 security staff at UCL – and it expects all of its members will join in the strike action when it starts on 14 November.
Those employed via Bidvest Noonan have demanded their hourly pay be increased from £13 or £14 – depending on the worker – to £15. At that rate, the IWGB said, they would be earning the same nominal amount that in-house security staff earned in 2000.
But, in order for the pay to be worth the same now, it would need to increase by at least another £10 an hour, painting a grim picture of the challenges facing many working people struggling with years of inflation outstripping any increases in pay.
The union has been campaigning against outsourcing in recent years. In 2020, outsourced cleaners at the University of London, of which UCL is a member, celebrated victory in a 10-year battle to be recognised as staff.
Henry Chango Lopez, the IWGB’s general secretary, said: “Amid a cost of living crisis, security staff face another year of real-terms cuts to their incomes and many are struggling to make ends meet. UCL must pay its staff a dignified salary [and] recognise the IWGB.”
A UCL spokesperson said: “Our colleagues in security do vital jobs for UCL and we are committed to ensuring that our outsourced colleagues are rewarded fairly in line with our staff.
“Following positive and productive negotiations with our recognised trade union, Unison, we recently invested over £10m per year to harmonise pay and benefits for our outsourced colleagues and we now pay some of the best rates for these roles in the sector.”
UCL said the staff in question were employed under the same terms and key conditions as in-house staff.
“In 2021, we were officially recognised as a London living wage employer and have incorporated a minimum London living wage requirement into standard terms and conditions for our external suppliers.”
Bidvest Noonan did not respond to a request for comment.