Since OCS took over the cleaning contract at University of the Arts London (UAL), staff have reported missing and inconsistent pay, poor working conditions, and most of all, extreme and unsafe levels of workload.

The issue of workload has been particularly felt at the High Holborn site, where cleaners report that, due to staff vacancies not being filled, their workload has doubled and even tripled from what it was under previous employers.

The situation has become so desperate and detrimental to the health and wellbeing of workers, that staff report stress, physical complications, and in one extreme instance, being taken from work by an ambulance due to exhaustion.

These stories are not unfamiliar to cleaners working at other UAL sites. Cleaners, whose poor working conditions, low pay, and little to no protections due to outsourcing already shame the institution. Such issues have been further exacerbated by a new and unscrupulous employer that sees its staff as expendable.

Since September 2022, High Holborn cleaners have been on strike to demand additional staff at the site. A ballot for an all-out strike of UAL cleaners is currently underway, not only demanding an end to unsafe workloads but for equal treatment with directly employed staff.

On November 30, High Holborn cleaners will go on strike again with their academic colleagues in the University and College Union (UCU). The cleaners, represented by GMB Union, may work under different contracts to UCU, but they share similar issues - job insecurity, overwork, and a decades-long decline in working conditions.

For the first time, cleaners at UAL will join academics on the picket line. We will fight together, and together, we will win.


Alex Brent

Alex Brent is the GMB South London Universities Branch Secretary.