Background to the breakdown
As readers of this blog will be aware, there have been concerted efforts by both UCU and the university management to arrive at a negotiated settlement of our dispute in ACAS talks. On 24 February, considerable progress appeared to have been achieved and a joint statement was released. In particular, the two sides were close to agreement on a new process of organizational change, one feature of which was ‘a disciplined framework for meaningful consultation with the trades unions throughout the review and restructuring process.’
On 3 March 2010, a very curious incident occurred in the School of English, which is one of a number of Schools currently under review. Academic and support staff were sent a ‘School of English Review 2009-2010 Briefing Note’ outlining ‘Options’ for staff to consider and discuss (with less than 2 hours’ notice). Some of these options included proposals for restructuring, staff redeployment and ‘disinvestment’ in certain academic areas of the School. Paragraph 1 of the document states ‘In noting the School of English’s positive embrace of the need to reconfigure its research structures, progress on the formation of three or four themed research groups (and two larger, period-based groups, as well as engagement with cross-school/cross-Faculty initiatives) should now be accelerated’, this is in contradiction to the statement from the Head of School accompanying the statement ‘note that this document is only a briefing note: it contains neither plans nor preferred options’. The document furthermore proposes changes in the Staff Review and Development Scheme, which, contrary to management agreement with the UCU, ties SRDS outputs into the University Review. The document also includes comments about individual’s research performance, proposals for performance management of research proposals and tears up the School’s constitution. Given such content on organisational change, the document should first have been sent to the unions in the spirit of ‘a disciplined framework for meaningful consultation with the trades unions throughout the review and restructuring process’ and in line with University policy. This decision not to do so is exactly the sort of behaviour that started the dispute last year. There was not even a courtesy notification to any union that this document was about to be released.
The UCU rep in English, when made aware alongside his colleagues that the document was about to be released, urged the Head is School to take advice, but his email received no acknowledgement. Given the context of a dispute which was primarily over failures to consult during organisational change, and ACAS talks that were underway to resolve this dispute, the timing and content of the School of English document could not simply be an error if judgement, and the advice to the Head of School to release it might only be considered an act of either contempt for the union, or deliberate provocation. Did the University intend to test the mettle of the union by releasing such an appalling document in the midst of ACAS talks?