Message from Malcolm Povey
Following the collapse of Acas talks yesterday (4/2/2010) the Vice Chancellor has written to all staff. The University has also placed a statement on CampusWeb explaining that the talks have collapsed because of the following:
“There does not appear to be any prospect of further talks while the UCU insists that the University give a guarantee that there will never be any compulsory redundancies in the Faculty of Biological Sciences.”
UCU wants to make it absolutely clear that we have made no such demand, and that the University has walked out of the Acas talks, unilaterally declaring an impasse.
Although members have voted overwhelmingly for industrial action, we have made clear to the Employer that there remain three weeks for further discussions under Acas before the law dictates that we take action on the ballot result. We believe that the Vice-Chancellor owes it to his staff, and especially to his students, to engage responsibly with the Acas process. UCU for its part, remains willing to attempt to find a negotiated settlement.
UCU is making here a public offer to the Vice-Chancellor to re-open talks in Acas with immediate effect.
So that members can be in no doubt of the facts, here is a brief summary of how the Acas talks proceeded.
The University side asked UCU to make clear what would be required to settle the dispute. The issues had previously been distilled down to 4 headings
- The establishment of an ‘Employment Security Review Group’ (ESRG) aimed at avoiding compulsory redundancies.
- A review of the current restructuring process. How it might better apply to Faculty or University level reorganization, as opposed to smaller School and Unit level organizational change.
- Faculty of Biological Sciences (FBS). UCU declared a formal dispute on 9th November and since then the University has pressed ahead with restructuring, regardless of concerns raised by UCU on behalf of our members.
- An affirmation, through agreed communications, that the published Code of Practice on Corporate Governance will be followed in future. This protects academic freedom and expects collegial processes to be followed. It also requires personal interest to be separated from formal decision making.
On points 1,2 and 4, we believe there to be common ground.
UCU was asked to put its concerns into writing. Briefly, we put a list of 14 points together for discussion some for immediate resolution, others for longer term working.
Just a few minutes later, the University side declared an impasse without any substantive discussion of any of the points, and without even establishing the areas of common ground. These points as far as UCU is concerned remain on the table.
Nowhere in our 14-point statement does UCU demand, as stated by the Vice-Chancellor in his letter to all staff ‘a guarantee that there would be no compulsory redundancies, ever, in the faculty of biological sciences.’ The UCU simply does not recognize this form of words.
We can only draw the conclusion that this fundamental misrepresentation is to justify the Vice-Chancellor’s decision to opt for conflict rather than dialogue at this point in time.
The University still has legal obligations to consult UCU in a meaningful way regarding the proposed redundancies in FBS, yet it is difficult to see how it proposes now to carry out this consultation. It also has a duty under its own Statutes to set up fair and just processes when reorganizing staff and their academic activities.
The Vice-Chancellor has a very long way to go to re-establish any kind of support within the academic community. UCU does not accept the Vice-Chancellor’s statement that there is sometimes tension between employment law and the good governance of a collegial institution. He is implying that UCU is an obstacle. Employment law lays down minimum standards for the country as a whole, academic freedom requires universities to operate to higher standards.
Very sadly, if things are left the way they are UCU will have no choice but to trigger concerted industrial action. Our aim is to resolve not escalate the dispute, but it takes two to tango.
Friday, 05 February 2010
Update: Times Higher Education story