Unitemps – catering to your every strike-breaking requirement
Hiring agency workers during strike action to replace striking staff is illegal – and for good reason. It undermines the legally enshrined rights of a recognised trade union to withdraw its labour force during a dispute to fend off unilaterally imposed decisions by employers. This is clearly regulated in the Conduct of Employment Agencies regulation. Unitemps LTD is such an employment agency, yet it seems to have been unaware of both the moral and the legal case against providing employers with agency workers when they are involved in an industrial dispute. The following excerpt is from a leaked email from Unitemps Salford sent on February 20th:
“Here at Unitemps, we have been made aware of the upcoming strike action and wanted to make sure that all of our key stakeholders within the University are aware that we are able to support with any extra staffing requirements during this time.
We have a large pool of reliable students/graduates who have experience working within various different parts of the University who would be happy to cover any work necessary.”
Let us be clear: this constitutes a criminal offence. According to Regulation 7 of the 2003 Conduct of Employment Agencies regulation it is a criminal offence for an employment agency to supply workers to an employer to perform duties normally performed by workers on strike. Unitemps is encouraging the commission of an offence under Section 44 of the 2007 Serious Crime Act by offering Universities their services to replace striking workers at their institutions.
As the word has begun to spread about Unitemps’ disreputable behaviour, they have decided to release a statement, on Friday 23rd, which claims that this email was a ‘human error’ on the part of just one Unitemps franchise. This is too little too late.
We are calling upon Unitemps:
- To immediately provide full transparency regarding whether other branches have undertaken similar strike-breaking measures.
- To clarify publicly what measures it is taking to make sure that staff already hired through Unitemps at HE institutions participating in the strike are not used to substitute striking workers;
- To recognise unions in all institutions where it operates and grant equal collective bargaining and strike participation rights to all workers engaged through Unitemps.
However, Unitemps’ questionable behaviour does not end with this one incident. Instead, this active undermining of the strike is just one aspect of this agency’s deeply political character. Rather than simply constituting an efficient solution to flexible staffing needs, Unitemps’ very business model is predicated upon eroding workers’ rights – even where the agency remains within its legal boundaries. Despite the fact that Unitemps is fully owned by Universities, it is not formally a legal party to the USS dispute, and therefore workers engaged through Unitemps are unable to take strike action. Unitemps franchises in the Universities of Leicester, Nottingham, and countless others hire hourly paid tutors and lecturers to provide a vital part of Universities’ teaching activities, yet these workers find themselves unable to join in the strike in solidarity with staff in more permanent positions.
This legal engineering allows Universities to undercut their own commitments to the workforce, as well as excluding agency workers from union recognition agreements, union support during disputes and grievances, and the many other benefits and entitlements that come with regular employment. By exploiting vulnerable workers, Universities drive a wedge between an extremely precarised workforce engaged through subsidiaries, on the one hand, and staff on more secure contracts, on the other – with the effect of reducing the collective power of higher education workers as a whole.
Employment agencies such as Unitemps often present themselves as providing win-win solutions to the flexibility needs of both employers and employees. In reality, it is only the Universities as employers that supposedly ‘benefits’ from creating a flexible and cheap workforce, stripped of many of its labour rights, and from utilising legal engineering to undermine the effectiveness of strike action; while casualised agency workers, the unionised core workforce of Universities and the quality of education as a whole lose out through these practices.
Even before the strike, workers’ rights have been eaten away, bite by bite, in a long process of casualisation that increasingly undermines the mobilising and leverage capabilities of the old unions. However, as appalling as these attacks on casualised and permanent workers are, they have one benefit. By galvanising all University workers to come join arms, organise, and defend our hard-won rights, we can mount a stronger attack on the marketisation of higher education.
As casualised staff at Warwick and beyond, we will continue to organise against casualisation in Higher Education in whatever form it manifests itself: whether through outsourcing and hiring through subsidiaries, zero-hours or hourly paid worker contracts, or through fractional fixed-term posts that force staff to juggle three jobs at once without proper holiday pay, maternity pay or sick pay. We will not stop our campaigning and organising activities until we win proper employment contracts and job security for all that work in our universities, in whatever role, and until we achieve an end to all outsourcing and insourcing practices – in higher education and beyond.
Please join us in our fight!