A push for worker’s rights has been a trend in the UK recently and this is evident from the multitude of tribunal cases challenging employment status in the gig economy. Following this trend, cleaners at the London School of Economics (‘LSE’) have been successful in their own fight for a change to contract terms.
Cleaners working at LSE have been in dispute for the last 10 months over unequal contractual terms. Cleaning services at LSE are outsourced to a company called Noonan Services Group (“Noonan”), who offer facility and cleaning services to companies and organisations. Therefore, due to this outsourcing, the staff who provide cleaning services at LSE are employed by Noonan and are engaged under a different contract of employment than in-house LSE employees.
The outsourced cleaners currently receive statutory minimum rights whereas in-house LSE employees receive an enhanced benefits package. An in-house LSE worker receives 41 days’ annual leave (compared to 28 days statutory), 6 months fully paid sick pay (as opposed to statutory sick pay) and more generous maternity and pension rights.
In response to this apparent unfairness, the cleaners of LSE (backed by their union, United Voices of the World (“UVW”)) went on strike indefinitely over their contractual terms and conditions. This saw the largest strike in UK history by number of cleaners from a single workplace and involved 7 days of strike action in total. Initially Noonan and LSE weren’t willing to negotiate on the basis that UVW are not a recognised trade union. The recognition of a trade union is important for the purposes of collective bargaining. Collective bargaining can take place in relation to terms and conditions of employment, termination of employment, allocation of work, discipline and physical conditions at work. Although Noonan and LSE had a legal argument for not dealing with this issue face on, it did not offer a practical solution to the actions taken by the cleaners.
On 8th June 2017, UVW announced on their social media page that LSE cleaners will be brought in-house with all cleaners becoming employees of LSE from Spring 2018. This provides welcome news for the cleaners after a difficult campaign for equality and provides a practical solution for LSE. Although government statistics show that trade union membership has been on the decline in recent years, the LSE case shows that union action can still have an impact in the modern workplace.
This situation at LSE also serves as an example of what can happen if employers provide differing terms and conditions of employment to those working in the same business. Although LSE and Noonan were acting within the parameters of the law, the difference in treatment between the in-house employees and subcontracted workers caused a great sense of injustice and inequality among the workforce which lead to the workers taking matters into their own hands.