It’s been a challenge to keep members and our branch together since outsourcing began. The unity and solidarity we have built with the Organiser’s support really mattered when we were able to defend catering and cleaning workers before and during Covid.
Our Unite branch has members across the university, from administrators to technicians, IT staff, maintenance workers, caterers and cleaners. The acceleration of outsourcing since 2013 means those members now have different employers even though they’re all working on the same campus.
This really undermined collective bargaining at branch level, but with the support of Sharon Graham’s team of Organisers we’ve fought to overcome this and build the unity needed to face down attacks.
Catering is outsourced to Chartwells, who decided that because the canteens and cafes were closed during Covid they were going to make redundancies. Many of those workers were already on zero hour contracts and it’s clear the agenda there was to use agencies and make the work as precarious as the worst parts of the hospitality sector.
We worked closely with the Students’ Union, Unison and UCU to coordinate the campaign to defend these members.
The campaign moved Chartwells and now catering staff have been put on furlough. We also secured a top up payment using a crowd funding mechanism which many people generously contributed to. This made sure catering workers were paid 100% of their regular wages at Christmas time. These staff are now furloughed until April on 80% of their pay and have kept their jobs as we wait for the catering outlets reopen.
Cleaners have made an invaluable contribution to keeping the buildings and student halls of residences clean and safe. It wasn’t long after the cleaners - along with the rest of Estates and Facilities - were first outsourced in 2013 that they had their hours cut from 8 to 4 hours a day, which meant most of them had to find other jobs to survive
After years of struggling, Unite reps working with the Organisers were able to win formal recognition with the employer. This meant we could face down any attack and start to improve the cleaners’ terms and conditions in addition to those of other groups of staff.
Our focus is industrial and that’s why we like Sharon. A proper strategy for organising is what we need and I don’t just mean in our Education sector. Trade unions have suffered a lot over the years and now we need to see a strategy to rebuild from the grassroots up. With Sharon reps and members will know that there’s no divide between what they’re dealing with every day and the priorities at the top of their union.