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President’s blog: Where next for Leeds UCU?

November 16, 2009
Malcolm Povey

Malcolm Povey, President UoL UCU

Hot on the heels of a widespread restructuring of the university in which 54 jobs were lost this summer, the university announced an unprecedented “Economies Exercise” in which ‘savings’ of 10% of the ‘unrestricted’ budget were to be made, this is a total of £35million. Around 7000 staff are paid out of the unrestricted budget so if the cuts fall proportionately on staffing, this would amount to 700 jobs. Of course, the cuts need not be applied this way. However, when asked, Senior University Officers agree that job losses of ‘up to’ 700 are likely. For example, if cuts were confined to Grade 8 posts, this would amount to 450 jobs lost. A point of contention for the union is the anticipation by the Vice Chancellor of 10% cuts following the next general election, as a result of recession generated by the banking crisis. Apart from anything else, such anticipatory cuts can only be an invitation to further cuts once a new government is in place and are a gamble with staff jobs and student education. Another disturbing reason for cutting given by the Vice Chancellor was ‘to gain a competitive advantage’.

Last week was eventful at Leeds, beginning with a very well attended general meeting of over 200 where we voted overwhelmingly to ballot for strike action. We also voted nem con for a national UCU campaign to Defend Jobs in Higher Education. In the Faculty of Biological Sciences (FBS), all of our academic members (and some academic related) face being interviewed for their jobs and management are currently writing job descriptions. Our bottom line is ‘no compulsory redundancies’ but being interviewed for your own job is also unacceptable. In FBS, LIGHT (Leeds Institute for Genetic Health and Therapeutics), LIHS (Leeds Institute for Health Sciences) and LIMM (Leeds Institute for Molecular Medicine), management pushed through the research institute model in which teaching and research was separated. They are now blaming their own staff for a mess they created, whilst protecting their own positions. For this and other reasons we cannot accept the FBS Phase 2 academic plan; we were told this week that that plan would go to Senate on November 25th. The news from the joint meeting between the University and the Trade Unions (November 5th 2009) was bad – a hardening of the university position; they told us that whilst there would be “no pan university compulsory redundancies”, “Compulsory redundancies would be focussed on current university reviews”. The following day management threw two new university reviews into the pot – English and Computing. In addition to those previously mentioned, we currently face university reviews in Mathematics, Institute of Transport Studies (ITS) and Colour Sciences.

What is at Stake?

Our Vice Chancellor is Head of the Russell Group of Universities. He has met Lord Mandelson at least three times. Leeds is the third biggest UCU Local Association in the Country (After the OU and Manchester) and is probably the best organised. It is no exaggeration in this case to say that “Leeds leads”: a great deal is at stake here, for our members’ jobs, for the union, for the university and for the future of Higher Education in Britain.

Our dispute with the University

Our dispute with the university centres around three issues: the serial unlawfulness of the university consultation over job losses, both in earlier reviews and in the current ‘Economies Exercise – communiqué ’; their failure to follow the local organisational change procedure, particularly but not exclusively where FBS is concerned; and the failure of the university to follow its own statutes regarding the involvement of senate, particularly regarding the implications of compulsory redundancy for Academic Freedom and Collegiality.  Underpinning this is our total opposition to compulsory redundancies and to the damage inflicted on the university, its students and its staff.

What does ‘being in dispute’ mean?

Many members are asking what it means to be in dispute. As a result of Tory employment law, we cannot lawfully take industrial action until we have balloted. Assuming a ballot result in favour of strike action, we then have a four week ‘cooling off period’ before we can begin to take action in breach of our contracts. Until then, breach of contract is unlawful. Once industrial action begins, partial breach of contract can be punished by docking of an entire day’s wage, for each day of partial action. My conclusion is that the most effective threat the unions can present, is all-out, indefinite strike action, as demonstrated by the UCU victory at Tower Hamlets College. However, even with a ballot result in favour of industrial action, it is likely to be the New Year before we can contemplate such action. A number of members have raised the question of ‘grey listing’ the university; under UCU rules, this cannot take place until we have undertaken strike action.

In the meantime we are faced with a management going ‘hell for leather’, with ‘activities analyses’ to be completed by the end of November. A number of members involved in these have asked what they can do to stop this process, currently we are asking our members to conduct the analyses in a way which does not identify individuals or badly performing areas. I know this is difficult where colleagues are contractually required to enter the data. A key pressure point will be when the VCEG (Vice Chancellor’s Executive Group) passes back to Faculties their deliberations on the activities analyses. Until this happens, there will be a great deal of uncertainty and many Heads of Schools have expressed concern about the ambiguity and lack of clarity in the process. Once VCEG hands down its plan, UCU members need to have a ready response. We might guess that this will happen early January, just as we are planning to take industrial action. The university has organised a miserable Christmas for us.

Faculty of Biological Sciences

A very serious situation is developing in FBS, where all academic staff (apart from the management group?) and some academic related staff will be asked to apply for their own (or where their job has been abolished, someone else’s) job. The management group have used the restructuring exercise to protect their own interests, blithely ignoring both their own incompetence in bringing FBS to its current state and feedback from the UCU and staff. Consequently, the UCU cannot support the FBS phase 2 plans in their current state and in any case, as a result of our dispute, all matters concerning staff must now be brought to the Joint Committee of the University and the UCU (JCUU). We will continue in dispute with the university until these questions regarding FBS are resolved. All negotiations over FBS will be pulled back to JCUU, now that we are in dispute. We are also concerned about the impact of the job losses on equalities issues and have insisted on an Equalities Impact Assessment (EIA) which is a requirement on the university under Section 188 of the Employment Act. Unfortunately, the impact assessment is not broken down by grades, thus the university has once again ducked the issue of institutional discrimination and the ‘glass ceiling’ in promotion.

Our Campaign

I have pasted at the end of this blog, the national campaign team’s plan to defend jobs at Leeds. I urge you to keep an eye on our web pages (www.leeds.ac.uk/ucu) and the links from there to our blog (leedsucu.wordpress.com). This is your union, your officers act according to policy laid down by members and are here to support members as far as we can. Ideas for action should go to the action committee (c/o s.e.lax@leeds.ac.uk) or if you prefer can be sent to me (m.j.w.povey@leeds.ac.uk). We are not a ‘top down’ organisation like the one into which our management appear to want to transform the University of Leeds.

Our effectiveness depends on YOUR willingness to take action …

LOBBY COUNCIL – 445pm Thursday 19th November, Assemble Parkinson Steps for Council start at 515pm.

Malcolm Povey

President, Leeds UCU

16th November 2009

Leeds UCU Campaign plan – November 2009:

The current situation:

  • VC has announced cuts of up to £35million
  • Up to 700 jobs could be at risk in light of this proposal
  • The University has failed in its legal obligations regarding consultation with the recognised trade unions
  • The proposals would have a devastating effect on the local economy
  • The quality of education is under direct threat as SSRs will invariable rise – in some cases to over 20.
  • The proposals are a direct attack on academic freedom – in particular in relation to research
  • The proposals threaten to and damage collegiality, the academic team and AR staff with a drive toward centralized control.
  • The institution has failed in its obligations to Senate and Council under its own statutes

Agreed campaign strategy:

a. Win the support of the governing bodies to stop the mass redundancies by: challenging the university’s strategic direction; insisting on the union(s) being properly consulted via the establishment of a redundancy avoidance committee; promoting an alternative vision to redundancy and centralized control

b. Stopping compulsory redundancies and related unfair treatment of staff by: negotiating to protect staff from redundancy; with any agreed redeployment to suitable alternative employment to be the result of a proper process of consultation; agreement on a fair workload policy for all remaining staff post any voluntary redundancy.

c. Develop our national campaign for prioritization of funding for education in general and for Higher Education in particular. This needs to be joined up and more sophisticated. We should approach UUK for a joint campaign between vice chancellors and UCU to demonstrate the importance of Higher Education to the UK national and local economy, its contribution to global culture and the political necessity for prioritization of funding. UCU should maintain its independence in such a campaign and in particular should be launching a campaign aimed at students and parents pointing out the misuse of fees, the discriminatory nature of fees, the hidden subsidy to those benefitting from private schooling and the post code lottery which is the outcome.

Immediate campaign priorities:

  • To seek agreement for the establishment of a redundancy avoidance committee
  • To ensure that the University meet its legal obligations with regard to equality impact assessments on each and every review and restructure resulting from these proposals.
  • To prevent any compulsory redundancy.
  • To re-establish Senate as the supreme academic decision making body in the university
  • Petition the Visitor

Campaign objectives:

  • To oppose all compulsory redundancies
  • To propose an alternative strategy which promotes job security,  the defence of provision for students and the responsibility of Leeds University  to the wider local community including its potential to contribute to future recovery from recession. This involves the defence and restoration of the democratic, collegial and liberal educational values which underpinned the expansion of the UK university system in the late 60s and early 70s, which established UK universities as institutions with a global reach and impact. This underpins the fact that UK universities punch far above their weight, dollar for dollar, on a world scale.
  • To defend our academic freedom in taught and researched based activities and to oppose the centralisation and control of School activities
  • To seek an immediate freeze on external recruitment
  • To seek the termination of external consultancy agreements
  • To resist all forms of outsourcing
  • To insist on a pay freeze of non-clinical posts earning over £100k
  • To seek an immediate pause on the building programme
  • To be prepared to take industrial action up to and including strike action
  • To engage positively with sister unions and the wider HE sector to join together to defend jobs and defend education. To jointly campaign where possible, recognising that joint local action including joint strike action is possible, even where national agreement does not exist

Agreed Actions:

These will be circulated to members early next week.

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