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ACAS talks begin

January 5, 2010
snow at Leeds

Today at the University. Is a thaw on the cards?

The University management and the UCU met separately today with ACAS at a snow-covered University of Leeds. Talks between the two parties led by the ACAS conciliator will open on 11 January. The details of these discussions will be confidential, of course. Today, though, we briefed the ACAS representative on the nature of our grievance, and we’d like to outline that for you here on our blog.

Firstly, what is at issue between us with regard to the reference to ACAS is the failure of the University to honour its obligations under the Procedure Agreement, which stipulates that the UCU undertakes not to take industrial action until all stages of the procedure agreement have been exhausted and that the quid pro quo from the university side is that it maintains the status quo ante until all stages of the procedure agreement have been exhausted. Instead, the University management have been pursuing all reviews and material preparations within the ‘economies exercise’ since the declaration of dispute on 9 November.

Secondly, there is a dispute over the University’s conduct of the restructuring of FBS: The University failed to adhere to its own statues and ordinances when redefining the job descriptions of professors, and the restructuring process itself went ahead without reference to Senate (which is supposed to have overall academic responsibility for the university, in its role as advisor to Council). When, after UCU pressure, a paper was presented at Senate it was no more than an executive summary.

The University announced in its section 188 letter to the unions (26 June 2009) that 60 job losses were predicted in the Faculty of Biological Sciences. After the announcement of the economies exercise, that number had increased to 70, in contradiction to the requirements of section 188 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (consolidation) Act.

The University rolled out phase 2 of the FBS restructuring within 90 minutes of agreeing with the UCU to jointly refer the dispute to ACAS. It then deliberately brought forward the job matching process in the faculty – which was set to begin on 4 January (email of 3 December from Steve Homans to his staff) – and initiated it instead on 17 December, days before Christmas, so that it might end at 9am on 11 January – the date of the first meeting between the UCU, the University and ACAS. We see this timing as a significant act of bad faith on the part of the University.

The Job Descriptions constructed for the professors in FBS to apply for  have been constructed specifically so that only certain professors currently employed might successfully apply for their own jobs. One job description is so specific we believe only one person in the world might apply for it. This suggests an unlawful prior selection for redundancy, executed after an agreement to meet with ACAS. Furthermore, these descriptions are so narrow in their description of research objectives that they represent a challenge to academic freedom, counter to the university’s own statues and ordinances and to its obligations under international law.

The UCU also notes that out of 48 professors in FBS  of whom 9 are women (19% female), 3 women and 1 man have no job descriptions (75% female). They must therefore be presumed to be earmarked for redundancy. Other professorial posts are going through retirements and so called ‘natural wastage’ (including one further female professor).

The concerns about issues of governance and procedure in the FBS review are of concern as these are likely to be replicated in all other reviews currently underway.

What does the UCU hope to achieve through the conciliation process?

  1. A sound basis upon which to work with the university in the future
  2. Restoration of the ‘status quo ante’, prior to reference to conciliation.
  3. No compulsory redundancies in the current reviews and the Economies Exercise
  4. Re-examination of the Resource Allocation Model, including space charges. The RAM is failing the sciences.
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