There is an invisible workforce that ensures that our offices, schools and universities run smoothly day after day. They work in cleaning, security, receptions, catering and maintenance, but because they are “outsourced” they are systematically and legally discriminated against.
The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) has launched a legal challenge that could help end this discrimination.
Outsourced workers, the majority of whom are migrants and BAME, tend to suffer from far worse terms and conditions because they are not employed directly by the place where they work, but by third party facilities management companies.
In the words of Guardian columnist Aditya Chakrabortty:
Outsourcing breeds economic apartheid, in which workers who are nearly all from ethnic minorities, including cleaners who are almost without exception women, are exploited in a way that would never happen to the mostly white academics and managers whose employment contracts are with the university.
Last year the IWGB started a legal challenge over the rights of 75 outsourced workers at the University of London, but employed through facilities management company Cordant.
The IWGB says that the workers should be able to collectively bargain directly with the university, as it is the institution that has the ultimate decision making power over the their terms and conditions. Denying the workers the right to collectively bargain with the de-facto employer – the university – is a breach of article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees trade union rights.
If successful, the case would not only change the lives of the 75 workers at the University of London, but as employment lawyer Daphne Romney QC told the BBC:
"There would be about 3.3 million outsourced employees whose terms and conditions would improve, because they would be on the same terms and conditions as the people they work alongside everyday but who are directly employed.”
The case has now been given permission to be heard at the High Court, but as the union proceeds with its challenge, the establishment is closing ranks to try and stop it. Joining the university in resisting our challenge is no less than the Tory government, which will be arguing that the European Convention of Human Rights cannot be interpreted in a way that extends these workers' rights.
Facing them will be our fantastic legal team made up of solicitors from Harrison Grant, and renowned barristers John Hendy QC and Sarah Fraser Butlin.
How much are we raising and why?
The court has denied the IWGB cost protection, which means that if the union loses it could be forced to pay the legal costs of the university, the contract company Cordant and the government. The final bill could be in the hundreds of thousands of pounds, but we are setting up an initial target for the crowdfund of £10,000.
Despite the establishment's attempt to stop us from taking on the anachronistic and exploitative practice of outsourcing we are determined to fight until the end.
And we are not alone. Aware of the importance of this case, the Good Law Project has decided to back it with an initial donation of £5,000. Join them and help us #CleanUpOutsourcing.
Any money that isn’t spent will go into the IWGB’s fighting fund, to take on other exploitative companies and practices.
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