The University and College Union (UCU) is balloting its almost 1,000 members at the University of Birmingham for strike action next month.
The branch committee is threatening industrial action in response to “the University management’s campaign of forced redundancies and aggressive management tactics that many of our members perceive to be of a bullying nature”.
UCU members in four departments are threatened with compulsory redundancies: the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity (IAA), Sociology, Education and Physiotherapy. Under the University’s proposals the only ethnic minority member of permanent academic staff in Sociology would be made redundant. Students are extremely concerned about the implications for teaching on courses concerned with Ethnicities and have engaged in their own protests.
The union also accuses senior management of “bullying tactics” and “wilfully misinterpreting agreed university rules” in order to set unachievable targets and force staff onto teaching-only contracts. BUCU is seeking a negotiated Redundancy Avoidance agreement and a Memorandum of Understanding about the University’s use of “performance management” procedures, which have yet to be agreed with the union.
Dr. Natasha MacNab, Secretary of BUCU and one of the members at risk in the School of Education, said: “After almost 12 years of loyal service from myself, and even longer from my colleague in the School who is also at risk, I feel disposable, to be cast out on their whim. Their solution to everything cannot just be redundancy”.
One of the members at risk in the IAA, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “For me, this is not a strike about a small number of jobs in a couple of departments. Nor is it a strike to prevent change. It is a strike about how change is managed. Changes which affect careers need to be managed in a fashion which is seen as transparent, fair and consistent. If job losses are unavoidable one should expect the management of any university to look to sensible and imaginative solutions that maintain as many jobs, as much subject strength and as much student choice as possible.”
The proposal is for strike action beginning Thursday 28 February, starting with half a day a week for three weeks and then two full days in the fourth week. The branch is holding members’ meetings in departments and schools throughout the 3-week ballot period.
Branch President Dr. David Bailey said:
“Our members feel that the proposed redundancies have been put together in a rushed way and with insufficient consultation with those directly affected, and that the University management have failed to give proper consideration to ways of avoiding redundancies. This University has consistently made a large surplus for many years and we do not believe that the proposed job cuts are necessary. Making redundancies in this way is bad for staff and also bad for the quality of education that our University can deliver.”
The University’s senior management has wasted no time in sending an e-mail to all affected staff urging them to vote “no”. “The Provost and Vice-Principal of the University, Michael Sheppard, wrote:
“Like many other universities, we face a difficult period ahead due to considerable uncertainty about student numbers and future funding. … In these circumstances, it cannot be in the interests of the University or its staff for BUCU to take strike action which will damage the experience of current students and adversely affect the choices of prospective students considering studying here in the future. At its worst, this strike action might put jobs at risk.”
A member of the BUCU committee responded: “It is a bit rich for the University management to be accusing UCU of putting jobs at risk when they are the ones who are threatening our members’ jobs. The loss of income was largely the result of very poor management decisions and is not the fault of our members. Unless we take a firm stand now, this will mean increased uncertainty and job insecurity for all of us over the next few years.”
The ballot ends on 14th February.
[ ends ]
Notes for Editors
President: Dr. David Bailey
Secretary: Dr. Natasha MacNab
BUCU Administrator: Russ Whitfield
0121 414 6895
2. The ballot, administered by the Electoral Reform Society, opened on Thursday 24th January and will close on Thursday 14th February. The results should be known by the following day.
3. The proposals currently being made by the University are to make 17 posts redundant in the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity and at least 7 in Physiotherapy (around one third of the department), plus two research posts in Education and the only permanent lecturer to specialise in teaching ethnicities in Sociology. Whilst some of the staff who filled these posts may have negotiated voluntary severance deals with the University, there are a number of staff who still face compulsory redundancy, and for those who remain at the University the reduction in posts will result in an increase in workload.
4. Links on the BUCU website giving further background information about the dispute:
5. Link on the Guild of Students site:
6. On Wednesday 23rd January, Student protesters occupied the Human Resources offices in protest at the redundancy proposed in Sociology. See:
7. Further quotation from the anonymous member of staff in the IAA whose post is at risk:
“Many of the concerns within a group such as the IAA have been generated by the suspicion, justified or not, that those managing the process viewed legitimate concerns and questions raised by affected staff as merely whingeing or attempts to hold back change, to be batted away rather than answered. This has, unfortunately, generated the feeling that the changes being made are not transparently fair and consistent in their treatment of different staff of equal achievement.
“Managers have a right to manage, but also have a responsibility to listen to their staff and make clear the rationale and consistency of their actions. We have, I think, a right to expect more openness. If the University believes that what has happened within the IAA represents an implementation of best practice policy of avoiding redundancies where possible, then its best practice needs to be seriously re-examined.
“IAA staff have been supplied with a ‘metric’ spreadsheet by which scores are allocated across a variety of activities and then totalled to compare staff under threat of redundancy. One wonders whether a form of this spreadsheet is intended for future use for other departments that have yet to be reviewed. It makes interesting reading, particularly if the University is indeed considering large scale redundancies across a wide variety of specialisms.
“It would be foolish to imagine that any strike will reverse all the threatened redundancies. Like almost all academics I hate action that disrupts the lives of my students. Like almost all academics I will inevitably make up lost work by working harder at a later date. I know that ultimately all I am doing is giving a day’s pay back to the University and doing the work for free. Nor do I expect senior managers to have a sudden moment of revelation if I don’t turn up for a lecture. Academic strikes don’t typically have those kinds of consequences. What the strike can achieve, however, is the sending of a clear and important message: senior managers at Birmingham need to evolve a better way of bringing their staff into partnership. Only that can secure the long term well-being of the institution, its staff, and its students.”