Migrant and precarious workers are winning Britain a pay rise

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United Voices of the World (UVW) demonstration. A group of people, mostly women, march behind a UVW banner and hold placards, one of which reads "Reinstate Alba".
Migrant and precarious workers are leading the fights to get organised. They are tackling precarious work, outsourcing and privatisation, the real drivers of low pay and insecurity at work.

Despite facing stigmatisation by a media that too often blames them for low pay and insecurity at work, they are standing up for themselves and winning. Their struggles tell an important story about how Britain can win a pay rise: by standing with migrant workers and ending precarious contracts. Together we can win rights at work for every worker. 

Here are their stories.

Sports Direct Shame

Unite the Union’s award winning 'Sports Direct Shame' campaign brought the appalling conditions at Sports Direct’s Shirebrook warehouse to national attention. Undercover reports highlighted the appalling conditions at the warehouse, where overwhelmingly Eastern European agency workers make up over 90% of all staff. The campaign highlighted Sports Direct’s business model that depends on precarious contracts across the business. 

War on Want supporters took action across the country in support of the campaign. And War on Want attended Sports’ Direct’s 2016 AGM to offer our support to workers fighting for their rights. They also used 'Sales tags' to bring workers’ conditions to the attention of shoppers. 

Sports Direct’ promised review of activities has so far failed to deliver the end to zero hour contracts promised to its shop workers. 

LSE cleaners

Following seven days of strike action earlier this year, cleaners at the London School of Economics (LSE) have achieved a historic victory by attaining the commitment from LSE to being brought in-house by “Spring 2018” as well as parity of working conditions with other staff at LSE. 

The cleaners’ 10 month battle for dignity and equality was waged with the support of the United Voices of the World Union. At the time this was the largest number of cleaners ever to go out on strike from a single workplace in the UK. All of the cleaners were migrant and BAME workers and most of them had never been unionised before. 

Barts Hospital cleaners

St Barts NHS Hospital Trust cleaners and porters went on strike to demand a 3% pay rise. The largely black and migrant cleaners, porters and security staff are employed by Serco. Serco is a multimillion pound company that has profited from outsourcing and privatisation in the NHS.

The low paid workers took 24 days of strike action, which resulted in increased pay and protection from shift changes. This campaign built upon previous campaigns where the workers had already won the London living wage and an end to zero hour contracts.

SOAS cleaners

Cleaners at University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) are organised in a Unison branch. This year they won their campaign to be brought back in-house. This followed 11 years of campaigning. In 2008, the cleaners won sick pay, more holidays, and a London living wage. In June 2009, after their union was recognised by outsourcing company ISS, cleaners were invited into a meeting only to be surprised by immigration officials who arrested workers based on their immigration status. Nine members of staff were arrested and deported.

SOAS protesters with their faces covered hang a banner out of a window, reading "Job security for all, not the few. Justice for workers."
SOAS students occupy a university building in solidarity with the workers.

This year, after a SOAS internal report stated that bringing the cleaners in-house would be cost neutral, the cleaners won their fight to be on the same terms and conditions as other staff. 


On 4 September 2017, workers at two McDonald’s stores made history by going out on strike for the first ever time in the UK. They were supported by the Bakers' Union (BFAWU). They took to the airwaves to explain why they were striking for £10 an hour, an end to zero hour contracts and for their right to join a union to be respected.

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Shen explains why she was going on strike.

The 'McStrikers' joined US and fastfood workers across the globe in fighting to make the world’s 2nd largest employer respect fast food workers' rights. 

Read more at mcstrike.uk.

University of London

The University of London currently has around 250 outsourced workers including cleaners, security officers, receptionists, porters and post room workers, employed through several companies. They have launched a “Back In House” campaign to address the fact that outsourced workers receive worse pensions, holiday pay, sick pay and parental leave pay entitlements than their in-house colleagues. Outsourced workers are also more vulnerable to bullying, harassment and discrimination. They took their first day’s strike action in support of the campaign on 27 September 2017. This campaign builds on demands that the university implement pay increases promised in 2011.

Find out more at iwgb-universityoflondon.org.

London Underground cleaners

Cleaners on the London underground have also been demanding that they be brought back in-house. On 12 October 2017, cleaners, who are members of the RMT union, went to City Hall to demand: cleaning services be brought back in house; £10/hour minimum wage; Travel passes; sick pay, and holiday pay for Tube cleaners.

Three people protesting, two wear hi-vis and other other has a yellow T-shirt and placard that both read "RMT Justice for Cleaners".

They called on the London Mayor Sadiq Khan to keep promises made during his election campaign to address the cleaner’s poor working conditions 

We know there are many more workers across the country who are organising and taking action to improve their conditions. Please do let us know about any migrant and precarious worker campaigns in your area: support@waronwant.org

Despite decades of privatisation, deregulation, austerity and outsourcing, it is still possible to tackle low pay and the precarious contracts that disproportionately affect black, women and migrant workers. Migrant, black and women workers are at the front and centre of the struggles against low pay and precarious work. They deserve our solidarity.