Email to UCU members at University of Birmingham (10.02.2017)
Further to the breakdown of the negotiations on performance management we have to report that the University has implemented an extremely heavy handed approach to disciplinary proceedings recently.
More than half of our case work is now concerned with members of staff who feel bullied and harassed. This suggests that now that the University has not achieved ‘the desired effects’ with their reorganisational approach of suggesting compulsory redundancies our VC has returned to using performance management and disciplinary proceedings and it is now that we start to understand the real purpose of his new HR department “Performance transformation and Change”.
The University has shown no intention to change their performance management system nor have they taken any of our serious concerns about the way disciplinary proceedings are carried out into account. What these practices have in common is that they are accompanied by threats of dismissal, one of the biggest stress factors that anyone can experience in their work environment.
We are reviewing the recent disciplinary proceedings against staff at present and, so far, regard all of them as unjustified and flawed.
Informal resolution of issues is simply not happening at our University anymore. Line managers who would be willing to resolve matters informally are circumvented and line managers who have signed up for the heavy handed approach inform staff straight away, and concomitantly to raising issues for the first time, that informal resolutions are impossible and disciplinary procedures will be instigated even in cases where informal resolutions would be easy and the obvious choice.
Minor concerns about any aspect of our work, be it teaching, research, or conduct, raised by students, colleagues, or even unidentified and obscure sources from outside the University can lead to disciplinary action against you straight away.
We have also noted that the University has decided in several cases to activate part V of the disciplinary procedure straight away – a procedure that should be a last resort and should be reserved for very serious cases, including theft, fraud, physical violence, serious negligence, serious breach of trust and confidence, or serious bullying or harassment. This can lead straight to dismissal of the member of staff.
Concerns raised by students, even if just a small proportion of the whole class size, that a module is not well organised, something many of us have seen at some point in module evaluation questionnaires (hardly any module pleases 100% of the students), can now lead to becoming subject to disciplinary proceedings against you with the threat of immediate dismissal. This also raises the issue that we do not believe that the students are actually aware how their feedback can be detrimental to staff and we have contacted the guild to discuss the possible impact of the University’s actions.
We have collected evidence for the far reaching health implications for staff and have made the University aware repeatedly that the way they pursue disciplinary proceedings and the way they treat staff causes ill-health. It has become clear over the last few months that it can hit every member of staff at any time. Some of our colleagues are going through the most difficult time of their whole careers and some are already breaking down under the pressure the University puts on them.
Last year, when we were fighting against compulsory redundancies the branch stood firm and united. With this e-mail we are calling on each and every BUCU member to demonstrate collegial loyalty and stand in solidarity with our colleagues who are exposed to unfair managerial practices and stand against health and job threatening actions by the University.
We will discuss these issues in our next members meeting on Wednesday 15th February and we will have to decide whether to hold an indicative ballot for industrial action during this meeting. Please make every effort to attend. This will be a branch meeting of highest importance.
President, Birmingham UCU