Joint employers? – Outsourced workers attempt to change the status quo
Many employers in the UK outsource certain tasks such as facilities management, cleaning or security. Employers engage another company to provide the service, and it is that company which employs the individuals (either as workers or employees) to deliver the service. This often means that the individual engaged by the company has no direct employment relationship with the end user client, even though they sometimes work side-by-side with directly employed employees.
A group of workers who work at the University of London are trying to challenge this. The workers are mainly porters, security guards and receptionists. They work for a company called Cordant which is contracted to supply services to the University of London. The workers say that they do not receive the same rights and benefits as those directly employed by the University of London.
The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) has lodged a case with the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) on behalf of the workers. The CAC is a public body that seeks to resolve disputes involving trade union recognition and collective bargaining.
The IWGB are seeking a ruling that the workers have a right to collectively bargain with the University of London in regard to their pay and working conditions. This would essentially mean that the University of London is recognised as a joint employer along with Cordant. The concept of ‘joint employers’ is a US concept that has existed there for some time, but is not recognised in the UK.
Whilst this is an interesting case, if it is successful, it seems difficult to see how such a concept would really work in the UK where outsourcing is the norm for many large employers. If the notion of joint employers was to go any further than collective bargaining rights, it could create more complexities for employers in terms of applying the employment rights that we do have in the UK. For example, if an individual is unfairly dismissed by one of the joint employers, would both employers still be liable for any Employment Tribunal claim arising from that dismissal? Creating such complexity is not likely to be popular with employers and we feel it is unlikely that the CAC would have the appetite to introduce such a significant change.
Do keep an eye on our ebulletins as we will report on any developments in this case if they happen.
If you would like to talk through a situation you are dealing with, or if you need advice on any aspect of employment law, please contact any member of the Pure Employment Law team (01243 836840 or firstname.lastname@example.org).