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Dispute Q&A

March 14, 2010

The University from its privileged position of emailing all staff and all students has made a number of comments  regarding the UCU and its Officers. Here we address some questions raised by you, our members arising from the university wide communications.

Who actually pulled out of negotiations and why?

University management pulled out of negotiations for a second time. As you will know, their reasons have been given many times in their communications with all staff. Essentially, they have accused us of acting in bad faith.

When, in spite of our significant ballot mandate,   UCU members called the three day strikes off, we all expected a serious response from the side of university management. However, no progress whatsoever  was being made on any of the 13 university reviews, in particular the FBS review, which most immediately affects our members’ jobs and conditions of service.

It was therefore the view of your negotiators, and subsequently the UCU committee and EGM that management were dragging out the negotiations in order that our legal mandate for industrial action would run out. Not enough progress had been made in order for any of us to allow this to happen. UCU remains committed to a negotiated settlement and we hope that the management return with speed and sincerity into talks.

Why have we not responded to the management documents?

We have we not put our documents in the public domain because we remain committed to the Acas conciliated negotiations – believing that they offer the best avenue for a negotiated settlement for all of our members. If documents are to be part of Acas conciliation, then they must remain confidential until agreement is reached.

We believe that the current proposed document can form the basis of a substantive and very good agreement for our members but at this stage it remains a proposal. Although the university has breached the confidentiality of the Acas talks, (The Vice Chancellor insisted on “Confidentiality in perpetuity” at the beginning of the talks), we hope that by maintaining the confidentiality of our documents the Acas conciliation may continue.

A number of elements of the agreement as it currently stands are missing from the management documents (http://www.leeds.ac.uk/comms/financial/proposals/). However, we do not believe that negotiating on the web is the way to resolve this dispute.

Why was an ‘agreed’ statement issued on Tuesday lunchtime and then the UCU voted for strike?

The UCU notified Acas that a recap of the negotiations was necessary because the legal mandate for industrial action was running out and that as such a recommendation from the UCU committee needed to be made to the EGM on the Wednesday. We proposed that the document that led to the suspension of our strike action on the 24th February should be compared against  progress made since. No more and no less.

UCU informed Acas on Tuesday that the negotiators would not make any direct recommendation to the EGM because we needed first to discuss the joint statement and give an account of progress to a branch committee meeting. The UCU committee meeting then having taken a view on the agreed document, made its recommendation to the EGM for strike action on the basis that not enough progress was being made and that the management side were filibustering.

Regarding that document, it is as significant for what it does NOT say as for what it does. For example, it is clear that no progress had been made on any of the 13 university reviews, including Biological Sciences. These reviews affect hundreds of our members, including many who have taken or are considering taking voluntary severance and some who face compulsory redundancy. The very obvious need for urgency which was apparent on the 24th February when you called off our strikes has not been evident in management’s approach to the subsequent negotiations. Our ‘timeline’ (https://leedsucu.wordpress.com/2010/03/10/troubles-at-acas-and-todays-events/) indicates how the real threat of strike action concentrated management’s minds.

Why is the university carrying on with its reviews?

We believe that the Petition to the Visitor means that the University cannot carry on with these reviews at present. However, two more reviews were placed on the table (taking the total to 13) whilst we were negotiating and a ‘briefing document’ was issued in the School of English, together with a series of proposals and changes collectively called ‘planning’ by the University which affect pretty well every member of staff. (https://leedsucu.wordpress.com/2010/03/11/ucu-response-to-the-vcs-10-march-letter-to-all-staff/)

Where does the voluntary leavers scheme come in all this?

The UCU would hope that people would not take up the offer. However, we understand why people feel that they might. Jobs are lost in this way but the work remains, to be shared amongst those who remain. The chaos left behind by the VLS could readily be used by management as another excuse to restructure the university.

What does the university mean by ‘openness, transparency and a collegial’ approach to decision making?

We are not sure, which is why we are keen to see a definition of academic freedom and collegiality which goes beyond paying lip service. In particular we would like to see the deliberations of the Faculty Management Group which initiates university reviews to be placed on the web alongside those papers from the other university committees, in a timely manner, in accordance with the university’s own Code of Practice on Corporate Governance. For example, the way in which the School of English review was released during the Acas negotiations in the form of a ‘Briefing Document’ suggests a different view of collegiality to that of the UCU’s.

Thank you for taking the time to read our assessment of events. Let me reassure you that we remain committed to a negotiated settlement but must also do everything reasonable within our power, and with your agreement, to defend the jobs of our members and the quality of education at Leeds.

A word from the twittersphere

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Vanessa Bridge permalink
    March 15, 2010 5:29 PM

    To the president of Leeds UCU
    March 10

    Having not received a reply or acknowlegment of the below email, I thought I would share it with colleagues.

    Dear Malcolm,

    I appreciate you are tired, and industrial action must seem a welcome break from level 13, but that is not sufficient excuse or reason. Forgive me for being old fashioned, but I thought a strike was a last resort weapon, when all else has failed (as opposed to a response to a backsliding http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=20556 I don’t think you have demonstrated that progress is impossible. I also think that your members would be better served by an agreement which protected their jobs than the opportunity to lose a day’s pay, and my understanding is that this is on offer, for negotiation. I can’t see from your communications this afternoon that you are leaving the union any way back, which I think is a critical failure.

    Your mail last week – claiming the union has been ‘de facto’ derecognised since last March, was the last-but-one straw. My fulltime union official was CARRIED from my workplace by security when he tried to represent a member with a grievance at Johnston Press. Your concept of derecognition is a million miles from the reality of ordinary workers’ lives. I also thought the last union meeting I attended was deeply unpleasant, macho, crowing and uncollegial (‘these people are thick’ sticks in my memory), and I don’t want to attend another.

    I fully support and am committed to strong trade unions and I have no illusions about management and their best interests. Fortunately I have a choice; already being a member of the NUJ, I intend to take my local subs to UNITE. My high regard for academic and professional colleagues is undimmed, and I am real sorry to do this. It’s not an easy decision for me, but I’ve had enough.

    Vanessa Bridge

  2. March 15, 2010 8:08 PM

    The above comment is from the head of the University communications team. As the University does not provide a public forum for discussion on matters relating to the economies exercise, we welcome her here to voice her concerns.

    We have made minor adjustments to some blog postings as a result of requests from Vanessa. When we have politely asked her to adjust factually incorrect statements on the University’s pages, she has not responded. We can only presume maintaining public-facing factually incorrect information about the UCU was a choice.

    UCU members are aware that the University’s published proposals last week offer less than the agreements of 24 February that caused strikes to be suspended. It is therefore reasonable for industrial action to be resumed.

    We should emphasise that Thursday’s potential strike is a last resort, and this week the UCU remains open to a negotiated settlement. We have respected the confidentiality of ACAS talks, as requested by the VC, and though he himself has broken that confidentiality, we hold onto it in the hope of negotiations re-opening this week. We’ll know within the next 24 hours if that is likely.

  3. March 16, 2010 10:33 AM

    We should correct the mistake in our post of yesterday. Vanessa is Director of Media Relations and no longer Head of Communications. It is true that it was she who was asked to remove information we presumed she knew to be untrue about the UCU on the University’s news pages.

  4. An academic permalink
    March 16, 2010 3:03 PM

    Erm. I’m confused. Vanessa’s comment was posted on 15 March. Now, it definitely wasn’t there that afternoon, so it must have gone up late afternoon or in the evening. Given what we’ve just learnt at the EGM (and well done UCU) was Vanessa trying to rock the boat on negotiations by her timing? Or did she not know about negotiations having started again? Those are the only two reasons I can imagine for her putting this post up that day? I mean: either a.) She knew perfectly well that Malcolm had done his level best to get negotiations back on track, and sought to publicly attack him as pursuing the opposite track whilst they were ongoing or b.) Nobody had told her, the Head of Media Relations, that the negotiations were still ongoing. Which was it? What other explanation is possible?

  5. Another academic permalink
    March 16, 2010 8:37 PM

    Vanessa must be a little confused by today’s result. It must have been her who told local press ‘strikes won’t make the problem go away’. Well, it looks as though they did make the problem go away. Or does she still genuinely think, despite the very clear communications to University, members and public, that we were taking action against the governments cuts? She must do, because that was the information she put up on the university’s news pages. So she must have thought – as a fervent supporter of trade unionism – that the best way to support unionism was by such blatant misinformation about the union to the public.

  6. An academic permalink
    March 17, 2010 8:27 AM

    So, just so I understand… The University’s chief propagandist, who deliberately misled the public about the reasons for our strikes on the University’s news pages, telling the world that we were striking against the cuts to HE, and refusing to change that misinformation when she knew it to be such, comes on the UCU blog the eve of victory, knowing (we presume) that negotiations are ongoing in earnest, to insult the professor leading those negotiations for the UCU by stating that he’d rather strike than negotiate. It beggars belief, it really does. Was it a deliberate, desperate, last minute attempt to undermine the negotiations so that her version of history (strikes) would happen? She should consider her well-renumerated position.

  7. March 17, 2010 8:38 AM

    Can we appeal for moderation here now please. The UCU held true to their commitment to negotiations and we have a very positive result. There will understandably still be anger around the edges, but let’s now consider what unionism has achieved for the University, and move on. The threat of strike achieved this. If anyone reads those documents and believes the University isn’t better off as a result, we’ll answer for our methods. Those who sought to undermine those methods tried to stop this set of protocols and agreements being established for the University, but they didn’t win. Let’s now all collect our thoughts and move on.

  8. Another academic permalink
    March 17, 2010 8:50 AM

    Sorry, I’ve come to this late.

    It would seem to me that the Head of Communications or Director of Media Relations should serve all of us, and should not exhibit any form of partisanship or emotive position in relation to the university, any professor within it, or indeed any recognized labour organization.

    I’ll say no more than that . . .

  9. A local reporter permalink
    March 18, 2010 2:07 PM

    I think it’s obvious what went on here. Vanessa did not know, had not been told, that negotiations were still ongoing on Monday. Her own words on Friday had been “We will return to the negotiating table once the UCU has completed its industrial action.” (http://www.leeds.ac.uk/news/article/743/industrial_action_by_ucu)

    But it must have been that same Friday that the VC agreed to return to the negotiating table. You don’t get this detail of agreement in an afternoon. And he must have wanted it to be kept quiet, to save face. Perhaps only a few knew.

    So Vanessa decided to show her partisanship by entering enemy territory here on the UCU blog to plant her little bomb which presented the narrative of dispute that she either believed, or wanted others to believe, or both – that the UCU president, who was in fact quite probably at that time at the negotiating table, wanted to avoid negotiations in order to strike. It is to the great credit of the UCU that they permitted the comment to be put up. Nothing on this blog goes up immediately, so someone, somewhere approves all comments. But the comment comes from a member of University management and attacks an individual professor. I would guess the University has policies about such personal attacks. I would also guess that management have long since thought themselves immune to the codes of practice and behaviour embedded in such policies.

    As for Vanessa’s stubborn insistence on previously deliberately misrepresenting the UCU’s reasons for strikes, when they bent over backwards to explain, in a blog entitled unambiguously ‘why we are striking’ why they were actually striking, well I think we can see her intervention here in the same light – an attempt to portray a false narrative to the public. I know people who remember Vanessa as a journalist of integrity. We can judge her here by her actions.

    Let’s be clear – ‘head of communications’ just transmuted into ‘director of media relations’, but the difference is distinct: once you stop heading communications and instead start directing media relations you are placing communications, mediating communications, targeting communications. It is dictionary definition propaganda.

    I’d like to consider a couple of events. A telephone call from the University media team to the BBC asking, nay instructing them not to show footage of the student and staff protest of the week before. Any director of media relations must know that this is a sure fire way to guarantee media coverage. And the VC’s letter to all staff (and I believe students) on the afternoon of Wednesday 10 March, before the national union had sanctioned the local strike. If the national union had any wavering, it certainly could not have done after the VC’s letter. ‘These people are thick’ seems apposite, in these circumstances.

    And to finish? How might the University management have avoided all this? How might they have avoided increasing union membership, increasing member awareness of union activism, increasing member participation in union activism? By stating, back in October 2009, that they would face the cuts to HE with a commitment to no compulsory redundancies. Just a few easy words, and a commitment that would not have been too challenging to hold to with a good voluntary package, and the wind would have been taken from the union’s sails before they’d even set sail on the dispute.

    Look after my old Alma Mater. I remember talking about the importance of unions in the workplace with a then lecturer. She was very pro-AUT, as the UCU then was. Now she is a professor and higher in management, and acting openly in an anti-UCU way. How money changes people.

  10. That third academic permalink
    March 20, 2010 4:23 PM

    The local reporter is right, there is such a policy, and it’s called Dignity and Mutual respect (http://www.equality.leeds.ac.uk/DMR/Dignity-and-respect.pdf)

    In this policy, the responsibility of management is described as to “lead by example in promoting the development of a culture where everyone is treated with courtesy and respect”. If you think Vanessa has not treated Malcolm with courtesy and respect, you’d expect an apology here, or that she’d be reprimanded. Neither – management can behave as they wish.

    An example of bullying in the code of practice is “Unwarranted disparaging, ridiculing or mocking comments and remarks. Such remarks might be made in front of others and/or designed to undermine an individual”. If you think that the above comment from Vanessa was designed to disparage or mock Malcolm, to undermine his position, and that she attempted deliberately to do so in public, then you might think Vanessa is demonstrably guilty of bullying, as defined by University policy. But management can behave as they wish. We’ve all seen it before.

  11. March 20, 2010 4:30 PM

    We are going to call an end to comments on this thread, and will publish no more responses to this issue. If you are unhappy with this decision, please contact Leeds UCU. Comments on the original blog posting will be permitted.

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