UNISON recently balloted members employed by ISS at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), who have now returned a 100% yes vote in favour of taking strike action. These members work for the giant multinational ISS on its SOAS cleaning and maintenance contract. The upcoming action is the culmination of a long-running dispute over terms and condition of work.
The first strike will take place on Tuesday 4 and Wednesday 5 March 2014.
ISS employees at SOAS receive only statutory sick pay and the statutory minimum annual leave, while colleagues employed directly by SOAS receive contractual sick pay, 30 days annual leave and a defined benefits pension scheme. Though they have previously forced the college and its contractors to concede the London Living Wage as a basic minimum the cleaners and maintenance workers have been campaigning for many years to gain parity with in-house workers for sick pay, annual leave and pensions. ISS has stated that they will not improve terms and conditions.
“We have been fighting to obtain our well deserved right to be treated equally with those working directly for the university. We are going to strike because it is the only way that ISS and SOAS will listen to our demands to be treated equally,” said one of the cleaners who is a union representative. “After many years working at this university, I am still not receiving the same benefits as those working directly for the institution. Why are we being treated differently? If we are sick we do not get contractual sick pay, and as we are getting older, we are concerned that we will not receive a decent pension. If we do not fight now for a decent pension scheme, we and our families will live below the poverty line when we retire.”
“ We knew that members were committed to taking action even though the employer had intervened to try and persuade our members not to support this campaign.” said Ruth Levin, UNISON Regional Organiser. “The outcome of this ballot should be a wake-up call to ISS and SOAS. They need to listen to their staff and improve terms and conditions. Our members shouldn’t be unable to pay their rent if they happen to be ill.”
The ISS workers have received strong support from their colleagues employed by SOAS and from the students, who understand how important the cleaners’ work is and believe that they should be treated equally.
UNISON is calling on ISS to get back around the table to resolve this dispute and is calling on the SOAS administration to use their influence to intervene to improve terms and conditions for all on campus.