BUCU Strike Ballot – A response to Professors Edward Peck and Michael Whitby

As you may have seen, both the Head of College of Social Sciences, Professor Edward Peck, and the Head of College of Arts and Law, Professor Michael Whitby, recently took the time to make the case for a no-vote in our ballot for industrial action or to circulate a briefing document on our ballot.

BUCU committee believe that most BUCU members will have already made up their minds on how to vote, and we note that virtually all of the members we have spoken to have already decided to vote yes.

Despite this, we take this opportunity to respond very briefly to some of the points raised in these circulars.

In response to Professor Peck:

1. It is surprising that Professor Peck now displays concern for the recruitment or education of students. Indeed, BUCU’s dispute is in part seeking to avoid policies that damage the quality of education that this University provides. This is recognised by student representatives in the Guild of Students, who have agreed unanimously to support any strike that might go ahead, and who have also actively campaigned against the redundancies that we oppose. See also here. Staff at the University of Birmingham have real concerns about the management of this institution. These concerns must be addressed and cannot simply be dismissed as getting in the way of student recruitment.

2. Regarding the Research Fellows mentioned in Education, BUCU has submitted an extremely reasonable response to this ongoing consultation (attached), setting out why compulsory redundancies can and should be avoided. If the College’s senior management had agreed to the points set out in this response there would have been no need to include this issue as part of the strike ballot.

3. On Ordinance 3.21.5 (attached), the basis for our dispute on this issue is that the University senior management have consistently and willfully misinterpreted this paragraph. This therefore clearly negates the fact that the paragraph was originally negotiated with BUCU in good faith to apply in those [rare] cases where performance is, possibly willfully, extremely poor – not just ‘below average’ or even in, say, the lowest 10%. Indeed, University senior management have sought to use this paragraph to justify schemes such as “Advice and Guidance” and “Personal Best”, with no regard for the paragraph’s intended purpose of dealing with instances where staff performance has the potential to fall below “minimum satisfactory standards of performance”, nor with regard for the “support, coaching, mentoring and training” that the Ordinance mentions.

On many of these issues we have been seeking to negotiate with University management for a number of months and in some cases years. Yet it is only now that we have a threat of strike action that we have seen any willingness on the side of the management to take our concerns seriously.

It therefore remains essential that we have a strong yes vote, in order that any potential resolution to this dispute results in as favourable an outcome as possible for our members.

We urge you to vote, and to vote yes – oppose unreasonable performance management – oppose unnecessary redundancies.

Do not give the University’s senior management the Green Light to undermine the working conditions, job security, reputation, or quality of higher education at this institution.

In response to Professor Whitby

On the IAA

1. The briefing document claims that “the University was very careful in listening to the views of staff during the consultation”. Yet, the outcome of ongoing discussions in 2012 (reviews, consultation, follow-up negotiations) have resulted in a proposal for the IAA that is substantively identical to a confidential report drawn up by the (then) Head of School, without any consultation with the then senior management group of the IAA, in December 2011. This report was only obtained by the staff affected following a freedom of information request. This does not suggest that staff have been meaningfully engaged with as part of the consultation process. Indeed, BUCU believe that meaningful consultation, and a willingness to consider alternatives to reduced posts, could have avoided a number of compulsory redundancies.

2. It is the case that discussions around voluntary severance are progressing in some cases; but of course this will not prevent the loss of posts and specialisms, and therefore the reduced quality of higher education and increased workload for remaining staff that will result from the proposals.

3. There is confused logic underpinning the proposed redundancies in the IAA. The case for redundancies is apparently in order “to match likely levels of recruitment in the current and anticipated environment”. Yet at the same time the University is proposing fixed-term mitigating posts, in order to cover teaching requirements. If teaching staff are required they should remain on permanent posts, not be forced onto fixed-term contracts.

4. The position paper claims that “there may be no need to convene the Redundancy Panels at all”. Yet there remain a number of employees for whom compulsory redundancy is a distinct possibility.

5. Serious issues of conflict of interest, age and sex discrimination and of lack of objectivity/expertise in the judgement of research have been raised consistently by IAA staff and remain unanswered by the University. Specific concerns are:

·         The Review panel, consisting entirely of professors and including three professors from the threatened group, excluded those professors from the threat of redundancy.

·         The briefing paper claims that “the business of Project Archaeology was not viable and could not be made viable” – yet one of the major problems facing Project Archaeology was poor management – and indeed for much of the period of its existence there was no management whatsoever as the University failed to replace the outgoing project manager. Without these obstacles it may well have been entirely possible to make Project Archaeology viable.

·         The Review process effectively protected all staff over 60 so that cuts must fall on young and mid career staff. 8 teaching/research posts are being made redundant within the IAA; yet there are at least 7 staff in the Institute over the age of 60 – why was early retirement not explored as a means of avoiding compulsory redundancies?

·         CBOMGS (the the Centre of Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies) has been saved the need for compulsory redundancies by adopting a number of measures to increase revenue for the Centre. Why were similar measures not considered for the rest of the IAA?


On Education

The briefing paper notes that “discussions about voluntary severance” are underway. These discussions are highly confidential and for the University senior management to openly declare that they are occurring is a serious breach of confidence and in extremely bad faith.


On Physiotherapy

BUCU have submitted a highly reasonable proposal that would avoid the need for compulsory redundancies in Physiotherapy (attached). The University senior management have, however, refused to agree to any part of these proposals.


On the Redundancy avoidance agreement

There are a number of remaining points that need negotiating in order for the draft redundancy avoidance agreement to be substantive. These include an extended consultation period, increased facilities time, the creation of a redundancy avoidance committee, an agreement that consultation over proposed redundancies will consist of fortnightly meetings between union and management and be tantamount to negotiation and with a view to reaching an agreement, and a commitment to continue to conduct equality impact assessments as part of proposals for redundancies. None of these items have yet been agreed to by the University senior management.


On the Performance management agreement

BUCU seeks to reach an agreement with the University that will ensure that any perceived problems with performance are (a) considered as a problem with the functioning of the University as much as that of the individual, (b) responded to primarily through supportive mechanisms, (c) dealt with in a reasonable way that allows individuals to improve performance before any moves are made towards disciplinary actions (which themselves should be used only as a very last resort, if at all). BUCU have so far been unable to reach such an agreement.
We urge you to vote, and to vote yes – oppose unreasonable performance management – oppose unnecessary redundancies.

Do not give the University’s senior management the Green Light to undermine the working conditions, job security, reputation, or quality of higher education at this institution.

BUCU committee


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