Outsourced workers at the University of Greenwich, including café workers, cleaners and security guards, celebrated today an announcement of a pay rise to the London Living Wage of £10.75 per hour, scheduled to take effect by May 2020.
This marks a 23% increase for cleaners and a 16% increase for café workers. The outsourced workers will also receive the same occupational sick pay and holiday entitlement as directly employed university staff. This announcement signals what could be the end of a long running dispute at the university.
This victory was brought about by the cafe workers represented by the trade union United Voices of the World (UVW) who took 4 days of strike action in October 2019. The dispute was supported by academic staff at the university and saw workers protest the 2019 student graduation. The campaign also included an occupation of the university’s board meeting and the cafe itself, and a boycott of the cafe owned by catering giant BaxterStorey. The Boycott was supported by Greenwich market traders who offered discounts to any Greenwich staff or students.
The cleaners and security guards are represented by the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) who also supported UVW’s campaign. The UVW and the IWGB unions are known for their direct action orientated trade unionism which achieves quick results.
Bel Howard, a caterer who has worked at the café for over 20 years said:
“I can’t tell you how happy I am. It is only £1 more per hour what for some people is nothing but it will change my life completely. It takes a huge worry off my mind of how to pay for my bills. Also, I don’t have to work ill anymore! It’s winter now, flu time and we all come to work when we are ill as we simply cannot afford to be sick, it’s not just us in the café but also the cleaners and security guards. This is what makes this victory so great, we can all rest and recover now when ill!”
Petros Elia, UVW trade union rep and organiser of the strikes said the following:
“Today’s victory was the result of the courageous cafe workers and shows the continued power and importance of strike action and direct action. Now the fight continues to force the university to in-house all employees and end the discriminatory practice of outsourcing once and for all.”
Dr Vera Weghmann, Chair of the IWGB University of Greenwich branch and research fellow at the University of Greenwich who coordinated both campaigns, said the following:
“This is a victory for the entire University of Greenwich. We said NO to poverty wages, we said NO to working sick and we said NO to inequality between directly employed and outsourced workers. This victory shows we can and will win if we fight together. It was great to see that the academic staff stood behind the cafe workers, security guards and cleaners. Also, for the students in Greenwich – many of whom work themselves in low paid, precarious jobs and without sick pay or holiday pay – this campaign was education in action. We are one university, one community and we support each other. This is a big victory for the outsourced workers but the campaign will not stop there. It is outsourcing itself, the inequality between directly and indirectly employed staff, that has to go!”
Orlena Poda, one of the café workers says:
“First of all, I want to thank UVW, which gave me the opportunity to believe in my strength. At the same time, I am proud of myself that I made this step to fight for my rights, because most of my life I was intimidated by management and did not dare to speak up. But through my union UVW I realised that if I don’t talk about the injustices many migrant and precarious workers face, no one will do it for me. First, it was very difficult for me to find my voice, I had to convince myself that I am also a human being who has not only duties, but also rights! It is very nice that now with this victory we see that we have been heard, that we are valued and respected. Together we are stronger. I very much appreciate and express my sincere gratitude to all those who supported us and gave us the strength and confidence to fight for our rights.”
Notes for editors:
For interviews, more quotes and photos please contact:
Kane Shaw, Editorial Lead, firstname.lastname@example.org, 07950 927798
Petros Elia, co-founder of UVW, Lead Organiser and Caseworker, email@example.com, 07884 553443
Gabrielle Jeliazkov, Editorial Lead, firstname.lastname@example.org, 07761 542653
Vera Weghmann co-founder of UVW, Chair of the IWGB University of Greenwich branch and research fellow at the University of Greenwich, email@example.com 077121 63524
University of Greenwich statement
The wage increase
The cafe workers are currently paid £9.20 the increase to the London Living Wage of £10.75 represents a 16% increase.
United Voices of the World (UVW) is a London-based trade union with 3000 members with approximately 200 joining every month. The majority of its members work in low-paid jobs and are migrants predominantly from Latin America and the Caribbean — with a growing number from Asia and Africa. In 2016, the union organised the largest cleaners strike in UK history and became the first trade union to force a UK university (the LSE) to bring the entirety of its outsourced cleaners in-house. It also organised one of the longest strikes in the history of the City of London, lasting 61 consecutive days. UVW also represents workers in the legal sector, charity sector, cultural sector, architectural sector, and sex work sector— all of whom are fighting against low pay, unpaid work and overwork.