Outsourced support staff are filing a legal challenge against University College London after it refused to give them the same employment rights as it does its own staff.
Experts are saying the outcome of the “landmark” case could affect millions of outsourced worked across the country.
Brought by the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain, around 75 porters, receptionists, and security workers will go to a tribunal to seek the same rights, such as holiday and sick pay, despite being supplied by external agency Cordant.
The university said it did not accept it should be a “joint employer” with the agency.
“The university does not employ any of these workers and does not accept that the relevant legislation recognises the concept of joint employment,” a spokesperson said.
“We have therefore not agreed to the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain's request for recognition.”
Taking on outsourced staff is a common way of reducing costs, as employers do not need to take on the responsibility of providing holiday pay, paying into a pension, or training new staff.
The union argues that denying the workers the right to collectively bargain with their “de facto employer” is a breach of article 11 of the European convention on human rights.
Under current rules, workers can only collectively bargain with their direct employer.
Experts say the university would be unable to justify inferior terms of employment if the tribunal should rule in the workers’ favour.
The IWGB general secretary, Dr Jason Moyer Lee, said: “When it comes to the most important elements of pay and terms and conditions for the outsourced workers, it is the University of London and not Cordant which calls the shots.
“In order for these workers’ collective bargaining and human rights to mean anything, we need to be able to negotiate directly with the university, not the glorified middleman.”