A university has been criticised for spending more than £400,000 on extra security during student protests in support of striking outsourced workers.
Politicians, students and unions criticised the “astonishing” cost of security during protests at the University of London (UoL), which took place in support of striking outsourced workers and their calls for equal terms on conditions such as sick pay.
“It’s an absolute disgrace that the UoL would spend hundreds of thousands of pounds turning itself into a prison rather than agree to the reasonable demand of its outsourced workers to be treated fairly, equally and with respect,” said Jason Moyer-Lee, general secretary at the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain.
Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green party, said: “It is astonishing to see a university which failed to give workers the pay it promised spend nearly £415,134 on security for a peaceful protest.”
A freedom of information request revealed that the university spent £99,690 on extra security guards for a sit-in between 19 and 28 March. This security is believed to have been in place until 23 May.
The university said it could not confirm figures for May 2018 but that the total sum spent on additional security in March and April 2018 was £415,134.88.
“The university decided to increase security at Senate House in order to ensure the safety and security of staff, students and visitors after a series of protests and attempts to occupy the building,” a university spokesperson said.
The university has since decided to bring contracts of outsourced workers back in-house, although campaigners say that plans to do this over coming years are not good enough. They want a commitment for workers to be brought in-house in the next 12 months, with more protests set for June.
Bartley said: “In a huge victory for the campaigners, the University of London has since decided to bring contracts of outsourced workers back in house. But if UoL wants to see an end to protest on its campus it must clarify the vague nature of its promise by giving a timeline for when this will happen.”
Ada Wordsworth, 19, a first year student at University College London who was part of the occupation and involved in the campaign, described the security costs as ridiculous. She said: “They are spending money on more security to prevent democratic protests by students as opposed to recognising the demand to bring in workers in-house.”
She added that there was growing tension around Senate House, where protests have been centred. “Senate House has been covered in metal to prevent us going in and there are ID checks … it feels more like a prison than a university at the moment,” she said.
The strikes are part of the IWGB’s campaign, which is calling on the university to end outsourcing, to abolish zero-hours contracts and to implement pay rises.
In recent years universities have taken steps to bring staff in-house. Following a campaign by the United Voices of the World union, London School of Economics announced last year that it would bring its cleaners in-house within the year. This happened a few months ago.
In August 2017, after a campaign by Unison, the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) announced it would bring all its outsourced workers in-house within the year.
Moyer-Lee said that they did not accept the university’s pledge to bring workers in-house over several years and wanted a promise to have this done in a year.
The protests at UoL follow a series of lecturer strikes at universities across the UK earlier this year. Tens of thousands of lecturers and other staff staged a mass walkout in February in protest against changes to their pensions, the government intervened to try to bring the two sides back to the negotiating table.