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OUTSOURCED workers are being denied their human right to collective bargaining with their employer, the High Court heard today as hundreds went on strike over pay and conditions.
The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) is bringing a landmark case in a bid to represent outsourced security guards, post-room workers, audio-visual staff, porters and receptionists at the University of London (UoL).
The university has refused to recognise the IWGB for the purposes of collective bargaining, arguing that the workers are employed by facilities management company Cordant Security. But the union claims the university “is, in reality, also their employer.”
The IWGB’s barrister, John Hendy QC, said Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights “requires that workers, via their trade union, have a practical and effective right to collective bargaining.”
In written submissions, the UoL argued that IWGB members’ Article 11 rights were not engaged as the article “does not confer a right to bargain collectively with any third party who is not the workers’ employer.”
The university’s barrister, Christopher Jeans QC, submitted that allowing “parallel collective bargaining with both the employer … and a third party” could lead to “conflicting and inconsistent negotiations” and would be “a recipe for industrial chaos.”
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), which has also intervened in the case, argued that it is “plainly justifiable” for collective bargaining to only take place between a worker and their employer, and not a third party.
The IWGB says victory in the case could “dramatically extend the rights of the Britain's 3.3 million outsourced workers” by introducing the concept of a joint employer to English law.
Around 200 outsourced workers and their supporters gathered outside the Royal Courts of Justice ahead of the hearing yesterday.
Abdul Bakhsh, a security officer at University of London and IWGB member, said: “Solidarity is something very important. We can change how the world is going.”
Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long Bailey told the crowd: “Change often does not happen because politicians decide that it should happen.
“It happens because workers and communities come together in solidarity and demand change.
“The greatest rights and improvements that we have seen in Britain have often come as a result of workers and communities demanding that change, so you are part of history today — solidarity.”
Mr Justice Supperstone is expected to reserve his judgment in the case.
The hearing coincides with strikes at the UoL and two government departments organised by the IWGB and unions the United Voices of the World and the PCS.
The day of action saw migrant workers stage a noisy demonstration outside Parliament in protest at pay and conditions at the university, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and BEIS.
Hundreds of security staff, cleaners, receptionists and caterers demanded an end to the outsourcing of services.
They marched through central London to the offices of the MoJ, BEIS and UoL claiming they suffer from low pay and insecurity.
IWGB general secretary Jason Moyer-Lee said: “For decades employers have used outsourcing as a way of evading their responsibilities towards the people who provide labour for their businesses.
“This is true in terms of pay, terms and conditions, as well as collective bargaining.”
A number of Labour MPs, including Ms Long Bailey, Laura Pidcock and Justin Madders, turned out to support them.
UoL cleaner Margarita Cunalata said outside Parliament: “We need to end this discrimination between those who count and those who don’t count at all.”
The MoJ said it was “committed” to lifting the salaries of the lowest-paid staff.
The BEIS said it has made an agreement with its contractors to align the pay of outsourced workers with those in comparable roles from March 1.
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