Socialist Worker

A picture of resistance as University of the Arts London cleaners draw the line over outsourcing

by Sophie Squire
Issue No. 2774

GMB union members on the picket lines demand better conditions

GMB union members on the picket lines demand better conditions (Pic: Socialist Worker)


Outsourced cleaners at the University of the Arts London (UAL) rounded off a week-long strike with lively picket lines on Friday.

The GMB union members began their walkout on Monday to demand the same terms and conditions as workers directly employed by the university.

The workers, who are mostly migrants, are outsourced to different contractors.

They staged lively pickets outside UAL campuses in Camberwell, Chelsea and Elephant and Castle in London.

On Friday pickets held signs reading, “Cleaners are essential workers,” and, “Pay us fairly” and chanted slogans in English and Spanish. 

Luzmila Ramirez, who has been a cleaner at UAL for 19 years, is currently employed by outsourcer Bouygues UK. “We are striking because we want better,” she told Socialist Worker. “I’ve worked here for a long time and I want better benefits for myself.

“I want to have a better retirement” she said. 

“When we go into work, we face many issues. We have problems with our wages—sometimes we aren’t paid on time, sometimes we aren’t paid the right amount.”

Luzmila added that “cleaning staff are sometimes discriminated against because of their backgrounds”. “Often bosses can take advantage of migrant workers who might not know all of their rights,” she explained.

Benefits 

Awa, who has worked at UAL for eight years, says cleaners aren’t even granted the most basic in-work benefits. “A lot of us need more contracted hours than we’re getting” she told Socialist Worker.

“We also aren’t getting sick pay which, of course, has been very dangerous during a pandemic.”

Cleaners at UAL were not always outsourced. “In 2005 UAL decided to bring in subcontractors,” Luzmila explained. “Unfortunately, I experienced the cut to our benefits and pay due to being outsourced. 

“That’s why I’m fighting so hard now, because I know it’s possible for the university to employ us directly and for us to have those benefits.”  

With university teaching workers about to ballot for strikes, uniting the fights could ramp up pressure on bosses.


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