Resolution on Performance Management at the University of Birmingham

March 1, 2017 § Leave a comment

This branch remains highly concerned about the performance management practices at the University of Birmingham and the number of staff who report being treated unfairly, bullied, and harassed. This branch notices with great concern an atmosphere of fear and low morale amongst staff, created by the heavy handed approach of the senior leadership of the University. This branch regards performance management at the University of Birmingham as unprofessional and unacceptable. This branch calls on the University of Birmingham to acknowledge the BUCU position statement on performance management as a policy/code of practice document setting out practice of how to carry out performance management at the University, distribute the document to all performance managing line managers, and instruct all performance managing line managers to adhere to this document. Should this matter not be agreed between BUCU and the University by 1stMarch 2017, either through direct agreement by the University or agreement found in further negotiations between the elected BUCU negotiators and University appointed decision makers (Provost and/or Vice Chancellor), the branch instructs the BUCU committee to run an indicative ballot for industrial action during the first two weeks of March.

Adopted 15 February 2017

Statement of Solidarity to Teaching Staff

March 1, 2017 § Leave a comment

The following statement of solidarity was recently adopted by the University of Birmingham Disability & Mental Health Student Association (DAMSA), in support of teaching staff at the University of Birmingham:

We, the committee of DAMSA, as representatives of all disabled undergraduate, postgraduate and graduate teaching assistants at this university, would like to extend our full solidarity and support to all teaching staff at the university and UCU (University College Union) members currently being victimised under the university’s draconian disciplinary measures which, to our understanding, fly in the face of their right to feel safe, supported and not to be bullied and targeted in their workplace.

We have had reports from the UCU of staff being harassed, bullied and threatened with redundancy for the most minor of transgressions in their workplace. Situations which would, ordinarily, have been resolved by their line managers or colleagues are being taken up to the highest level and disciplinary procedures meant only for the most serious misconduct (stealing, cheating, harassment etc.) are being enacted for much lesser charges. This behaviour is not acceptable from any employer, not least a university – a place in which, one would hope, an environment of constructive critique and learning would be in place.

More worrying, however, is the way in which feedback from students is being dealt with by the university management. It is, of course, important that students and teaching staff are able to take part in a constructive dialogue around the course, marks and the methods of teaching. However, feedback is not being taken in good faith and there have been instances where student feedback is being used against staff at disciplinary hearings and used to justify redundancies and cuts to the department. Students are not aware that their feedback is being used in this way and DAMSA are appalled to hear that feedback that is meant to be used constructively is instead being used as a way to victimise their lecturers. We will not stand for it. No worker deserves to be victimised in their workplace; an injury to one worker is an injury to us all!

We urge students, then, not to participate in any of the university’s formal feedback processes as we know that this is being used in totally inappropriate ways for which it was not designed. If you must feedback to lecturers we urge you to do so directly and informally in order to subvert the system and to ensure job security for all staff. We must humanise our lecturers and understand that this is their livelihood and they are not merely here to facilitate our careers or advancement but to educate and challenge us whilst earning their own living as we are wont to do, too.

We urge all students and Guild officers to speak out against this injustice and to stand in solidarity with the very people who hold our institution together.

DAMSA Committee

Birmingham UCU calls off strike as University takes redundancies off the table

June 24, 2016 § Leave a comment

Birmingham UCU calls off strike as University takes redundancies off the table

University of Birmingham academic and related staff called off their threatened strike today as the University management eventually withdrew its proposal to make staff in Modern Languages redundant.

This brings to an end a round of compulsory redundancies that were threatened in Modern Languages, Neuroscience and Pharmacology, Engineering, and Hydrogeology – all now concluded without any compulsory redundancies. It also marks what the union hopes will be a new approach to any future restructuring at the University.

Roland Brandstaetter, UCU Birmingham branch president, said, “This represents a huge victory for our branch. The University of Birmingham has pursued a series of reorganisations, all coming with proposed compulsory redundancies, over the past 12 months, which exposed over 100 members of staff to the health risks associated with the biggest work-related stress factor that there is – that of losing their jobs. We are glad that the University has now taken these proposals off the table and we hope that we can prevent any such job and health-threatening proposals in the future.”

For more details contact Roland Brandstaetter, University of Birmingham UCU Branch President: rolandbrandstaetterrb[@]gmail.com

BUCU statement on University of Birmingham governance

April 13, 2016 § Leave a comment

It is now over a week since we called for a full investigation into the financial affairs of the Chancellor of the University of Birmingham, Lord Bilimoria. We remain very concerned about the reputation of the University of Birmingham. Despite several messages from the University management about the apparently “challenging environment for the sector” – no mention whatsoever has been made of the fact that Lord Bilimoria has been the subject of considerable discussion in the international media, as a result of his connections with offshore tax havens.

It is starting to look as if this so-called “challenging environment” is simply something that is conveniently referred to whenever staff seek to maintain their existing pay rates in the face of ongoing inflation – regardless of the University’s earnings or ability to pay – or whenever the University feels a justification for proposed redundancies is needed. In his most recent e-mail our Vice-Principal refers to “increased costs from this year due to pensions (£3.5m a year), National Insurance (£4.4m a year), the apprenticeship levy (£1.5m a year) and for work permits for overseas staff (£182k a year)”, all of which sum up to about £10M, i.e. only about 20% of last year’s surplus, and allowing for a £15-20M investment in a new hotel and conference centre.

A quick google search for Lord Bilimoria reveals that his offshore company – Mulberry Holdings – is a company related to the fallout of his bankrupted earlier company, Cobra Beer. It appears that Lord Bilimoria himself earned £3.2 million in dividends from that company, at the same time as it was about to go bankrupt!

The University’s recent actions, and silences, raise a number of questions that need to be answered:

  • Why has the University of Birmingham issued no statement on the financial affairs of its own Chancellor, despite being the only university chancellor in the country to be exposed by the Panama Papers leak?
  • Why was Lord Bilimoria considered to be a suitable leader of this University in the first place? Who made this decision, and according to what criteria?
  • If we face such a “challenging environment”, then why do we have a Vice Chancellor earning £416,000 per year, one of the highest in the country? Why was our most recent operating surplus £45 million? Why is the average salary of UEB members £145,000?

We would like to encourage you to vote in both of the current UCU ballots ongoing at present – on local industrial action on redundancies, and on national industrial action on pay.

 

BUCU statement on Lord Bilimoria, University of Birmingham Chancellor

April 6, 2016 § Leave a comment

It has become apparent that Lord Bilimoria, the University of Birmingham’s Chancellor, has recently been exposed for having connections with one of the offshore tax havens detailed in the recent “Panama Papers” leaks.

This has resulted in national and international press coverage and raises extremely serious questions about the Chancellor’s financial operations.

Guardian coverage here

Coverage in student paper, The Tab, here

BUCU are absolutely opposed to the use of offshore tax havens, or the support of their use, as a means of undermining the tax revenues of the national government. Indeed, in a time when we are constantly reminded of the need for austerity, it absolutely beggars belief that a leading member of this university appears to have actively contributed to the dwindling of government resources.

That such a development should occur at the University of Birmingham also raises serious questions that go the heart of the operation of this university. We have one of the highest paid vice-chancellors in the country; and now it seems we have the only university chancellor in the country that is exposed by the Panama Papers leak. It is absolutely unacceptable to run a university in a way that shows concern only for private individual gain, profit, and status, without concern for scientific progress or the contribution that higher education can make to wider society.

BUCU notes that the Prime Minister of Iceland, Singmundur Gunnlaugsson, has been forced to resign as a result of the same leaks, despite his claims that he was not personally implicated. Indeed, the very business of tax havens is such that arms-length associations are a means by which direct personal involvement is concealed.

BUCU calls for a full investigation into Lord Bilimoria’s financial affairs, and for an end to any association between this University and the shadowy world of tax havens and offshore finance which threatens to damage the reputation of all who work here.

BUCU committee

 

Birmingham University faces ongoing term-time strikes

March 17, 2016 § Leave a comment

Angered by unnecessary redundancies and management’s unwillingness to engage in meaningful negotiations, academic staff at the University of Birmingham recently voted overwhelmingly to hold a ballot for strike action that would seriously disrupt teaching for all students from September 2016 onwards.

protestpic1

The vote follows an ongoing series of job losses that have been proposed by the University, with job cuts in the areas of Engineering, Neuroscience/Pharmacology, Hydrogeology, and Modern Languages.

Over the last 12 months, more than 100 members of staff have been put at risk of redundancy. More than 100 members of staff have been exposed to the threat of losing their jobs.

This is despite the University paying over £400K in salary to its VC, and reporting a £45m surplus in its most recent annual accounts.

The academic staff union, UCU, has repeatedly encouraged the University to find alternatives to what are widely believed to be unnecessary job losses. However, the intransigence of the University management position is such that academic staff members have been forced to consider the option of ongoing strike action.

If the ballot produces a yes vote, which all indicative polling suggests is very likely, then this could lead to significant disruption to the teaching and learning of students at the University of Birmingham.

A UCU spokesperson said, “These job losses are entirely unnecessary and threaten the quality of teaching at the University of Birmingham. The strike action that has been suggested could be entirely avoided if only the University management would enter into reasonable discussions with its own staff. However, sadly this has not been the case so far and we have therefore been left with the proposal for strike action as our only option”.

More details can be found here:

Can you feel the love?

February 11, 2016 § Leave a comment

MORE REDUNDANCIES – MORE PROTEST
UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM 10TH FEBRUARY 2016

A few days after the announcement of the next 32 members of staff at risk of redundancy, now in the department of Modern Languages, members of BUCU, the recognised trade union for academic and academic-related staff at the University of Birmingham, organised another protest action.

This time, in honour of the forthcoming Valentine ’s Day, the theme was “Can you feel the love?” The protestors met at the stairs of the main library to split into groups which were walking towards the affected departments of Engineering, Neuroscience and Pharmacology in the Medical School, Hydrogeology in Geography and Earth Sciences, and Modern Languages, while distributing leaflets and flyers.

protestpic1

 

At present, about 90 staff members from 4 different units are at risk of redundancy at the University of Birmingham. At least 26 of them will lose their jobs.

“We cannot see any economic or acceptable academic reasons for these redundancies” said a BUCU spokesperson. “The University made a surplus of £ 45M last year and pays the Vice-Chancellor an annual salary of £410,000. This would pay the salaries of the English and the French prime ministers.”

protestpic2

A BUCU official said: “We surely cannot feel the love of our employer who claims to care about us and to make important things happen at our University. It seems the only important thing the Vice-Chancellor wants to make happen is the dismissal of staff who worked very hard for our University for many years. Some of the individuals at risk of redundancy have worked at the University for more than 30 years and some are world-renowned high achievers in their fields.”

BUCU members will decide in their next members meeting whether to ballot for industrial action. The branch has already decided to ballot for continuous industrial action as a last resort if the University does not change direction. The branch president, Dr Roland Brandstaetter, said: “We cannot see an end of this avalanche of proposed redundancies. Every few months, the University adds another unit. While we are negotiating on the avoidance of redundancies more and more individuals are added to the list of proposed dismissals. We are exhausting all negotiation options and soon we will have no other choice left than to ballot for industrial action. The stress levels staff members are exposed to are not acceptable any longer. I am seriously worried about the wellbeing of staff at the University of Birmingham.”

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