On Tuesday 5 February, a group of over 60 of my co-workers, campaign supporters, and trade unionists gathered for a peaceful demonstration in the car park of Senate House. We demanded that the outsourced workers at the University of London be entitled to the same sick pay, holidays, and pensions policies as our colleagues who work directly for the University.
We were not there merely for the sake of protesting, but rather because these three things, or “3 Cosas,” as our campaign is called, have a real impact on the lives of hundreds of workers at the University of London.
I myself am a cleaner at Hughes Parry Hall. I clean floors 10 and 11, but over the holiday period, I came down with a virus that had been going around. I had a high fever, upset stomach, vomiting, aching bones and muscles, and fatigue.
The virus lasted for about two weeks and the only thing the GP could advise was to take it easy and wait it out, as the virus needed to run its course. The problem was that I could not take it easy because I had to work.
When we cleaners, security and catering staff get sick and miss work, we are not entitled to our salaries as our colleagues who work directly for the University of London are. In fact, the first three days that we are absent, even with a doctor’s note, we don’t get paid at all.
After that we get a measly £85.85 per week (paid by the government). Considering that none of us can pay our rent and buy groceries with this amount, we are constrained to come into work sick.
We were beating on the drums at the protest because we don’t think that this is right and there have been too many instances of injustice. For example, a colleague had her appendix removed and had to come back to work before she had properly recovered, while another colleague fractured her pelvis and had to use her holidays in order to take time off to get well.
We were beating on the drums for the security guard who comes into work with the flu since he can’t afford to sacrifice 12 hours of pay, and for the cleaner who couldn’t make it through the bus ride from one cleaning job to another without having to get off to vomit yet, nonetheless, showed up for work.
And lastly, for the porter who was out of work with an injury for five months and had to support his family without a salary.
We were banging on the drums because every human being reaches retirement age and many of us, outsourced workers, do not have a decent pension. While many of our colleagues who work directly for the University of London are entitled to a 13% contribution to their pension from the University, we are offered a humiliating 1% contribution, which hardly makes the scheme worthwhile.
I have been working for a year and four months as a cleaner at the University and feel I have wasted 16 pay checks which could have gone towards pension contributions. Some of my older colleagues are nearly ready to retire, yet have no plan for what will happen when they do. Some of them have worked at the University of London for years.
This notion that the outsourced workers should be treated as separate from and unequal to the rest of university staff is so ingrained in us that it even permeates the culture of our trade union, UNISON.
The main motivating factor that is driving my participation in the 3 Cosas Campaign is also driving my candidacy for Vice-Chair of the University of London UNISON branch: a strong desire for equality and fairness.
We bang on the drums not because we want pity, but because we want justice. I am running for Vice-Chair not to make UNISON a cleaners’ union but to make it a union for everyone. I appeal to your support in these endeavours on the premise that we all can and should play our part in making the University of London a better place to live, work, and study.
To learn more about our campaign:
Watch our campaign videos on YouTube: Search “3 Cosas Campaign”, Like us on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/#!/3coca?fref=ts, Check out our website: https://sites.google.com/site/3cosascampaign, Follow us on Twitter: @3CosasCampaign, Email for more info: firstname.lastname@example.org, Call 07771783094
*Sonia Chura is a University of London cleaner, 3 Cosas Campaign activist, and candidate for Vice-Chair of UNISON Senate House Branch.