Universities across the UK have been accused of ‘tearing away’ wages, pensions and rights from low-paid staff whilst outsourcing a number of cleaning, security and maintenance staff from external companies.
Data released by 42 universities in England, Scotland and Wales under the freedom of information laws show that the spending on outsourced workers has more than doubled by almost 70% from 2010 to 2017.
Staff employed by third-party companies, who are often employed on zero-hour contracts, are often not entitled to the same rights as people hired directly by universities, often resulting in inferior pension schemes, poorer hourly, sick, maternity and holiday pay.
Further incomplete data from 17 more universities also shows the consistent rise in outsourced migrant workers from low-income backgrounds.
At Surrey, spending on outsourced cleaners, security and maintenance grew 960% from £14,000 to £150,000, Brunel’s increased from £777,000 to £3.65m and St George’, part of the University of London, tripled from £1.5m to £4m. Meanwhile, spending at Oxford Brookes grew from £4m in 2010 to over £9m in 2017.
Representative organisations for British universities began to encourage the practice in 2011 as a means to ‘drive efficiencies’ and ensure ‘value for money’, amid grant reductions from the government.
Unions criticised the practice as ‘exploitative’, calling for workers to be brought in-house, making them direct university employees.
‘The growth of outsourcing is of huge concern,’ said Unison national education officer Ruth Levin.
‘While some universities are under great financial pressures, tearing away the pay, pensions and conditions for thousands of often low-paid staff isn’t the way to solve these problems.’
United Voices of the World said that universities that ‘market themselves to students as ethical and critical of exploitation’ are guilty of themselves using an exploitative practice’, hiring workers on ‘poverty wages’.
Angry at the apparent injustices, cleaners at the London School of Economics are believed to have been the first outsourced workers to force a university to hire them directly in 2017.
The victory sparked other successful workers’ campaigns at other universities last years, including at Goldsmiths and King’s College London, whilst hundreds of outsourced workers at UCL will vote this month on whether to strike.
MPs have written to the University of Birmingham asking that staff receive the real living wage and the gender pay gap be addressed. The university said its workers are not outsourced.