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University bosses bow to pressure of workers’ 11-year battle against privatisation

Tireless campaign has led to 120 staff being brought back "in-house" at Soas

10 August, 2017 — By Tom Foot

Workers celebrate their victory after more than a decade’s protest

CAMPAIGNERS who fought an 11-year battle against privatisation at a major university claimed a sensational victory this week after bosses “cracked” under relentless pressure of strikes, demonstrations and occupations.

The Justice for Workers campaign, previously Justice for Cleaners, is celebrating after the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) announced it would be bringing around 120 staff back “in-house”.

Its director, Labour peer Baroness Amos, said in a statement “all outsourced staff employed on full-time, part-time and casual contracts” will be directly employed by the Bloomsbury university from September 2018.

Hamish Anderson, from the Justice for Workers SOAS campaign group, said: “We had just come out the back of a two-week occupation of SOAS offices, which management had found hugely disruptive. I think they just reached breaking point. It was too big for them to ignore. The cost, both in terms of their time and the financial implications, was too great.

“We are still pinching ourselves. With this and LSE [which has also agreed to bring cleaning staff back in-house], you feel like dominoes are starting to fall.

“You feel it has to start to spread throughout all sectors. But we have to keep up the pressure that SOAS stick to their word.”

Mr Anderson said the campaign had succeeded because it had always been “worker-led” and had maintained weekly meetings for several years. Some of the workers have been at SOAS for 17 years.

One worker, Lenin Escudero, a Unison rep, said: “I would like to share with you my joy that overwhelms me right now, that we have won the battle against outsourcing at SOAS University, which for many years destroyed the life of many outsourced workers.”

The decision affects around 120 staff including cleaning, catering, hospitality, portering, security, mechanical, post room, help-desk and reception teams who will be brought back in-house. Current contractors Elior and Bouygues have been informed that their contracts will not be renewed.

The campaign began in 2006 with cleaners fighting for the “living wage”, which was introduced in 2008.

It was intensified by widespread outrage after several cleaners were deported following a raid.

Mr Anderson said he would “never forgive” the university for that time.

In June this year, staff and students occupied the university’s main buildings.

n a statement, Baroness Amos said: “Our staff and students have campaigned passionately for this. We look forward to a strong partnership with trade unions over the coming 12 months as this is vital to a smooth transition and ensuring we make this change a success.”

She added: “Putting our whole workforce on the same terms and conditions reflects our values of social justice and equality.”

All staff working at SOAS, outsourced or directly employed, are already paid the London Living Wage or above (currently set at £9.75 an hour).

SOAS is also looking at bringing lift maintenance, waste management and fire safety back in house.

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