Staff and students joined together at Birmingham University today, to stage a protest against moves by the University to increase workload by two extra months.
Holding mock calendars featuring the two new months – which they labelled “Drainuary” and “Stresstember” – the protestors highlighted the far-fetched nature of the University’s new workload model in their demonstration.
The protest comes after the University management moved to introduce a new workload model which increases the existing workload by up to two months’ additional work. This, the lecturers’ union UCU claimed, represented an entirely unrealistic attempt to squeeze yet more work out of academic and academic-related staff.
University of Birmingham UCU branch president, Dr Roland Brandstaetter, said, “It appears that the University of Birmingham is reluctant to appoint a sufficient number of staff, despite multi-million surpluses every year, and intends to make up for a shortfall in staff by increasing the workload of the existing staff. Those who work at the University of Birmingham already frequently work above the 48 hour European recommended limit and suffer from the symptoms of stress. The already excessive workloads provide insufficient time to conduct proper teaching and research and this impacts on the wellbeing and work-life balance of staff in an unacceptable way. The quality of the education provided to students is suffering too when lecturers are overworked and stressed. Our student-staff ratios, i.e. the number of students per member of staff, are already among the worst in the Russell Group Universities.”
The University of Birmingham has recently been in the crossfire for being one of the Universities with the most “zero hour”-type contracts in the country and also one of the highest numbers of settlement payments. This suggests endeavours to reduce permanent staff numbers, and at the same time to increase the workload of remaining staff and staff on casualised and zero-hour contracts, all of which will negatively impact on the delivery of education to students who still pay £9000 per year and contribute to more than 50% of the overall income of the University.
University of Birmingham UCU branch secretary, Dr David Bailey, said, “If the University of Birmingham wishes to be a world-leading university, then it needs to improve its employment practices, recruit sufficient staff and allow them the proper amount of time to do their work. We are already one of the universities with the most “zero hour”-type contracts in the country, and now the University wants to conjure up two new months to create a fictional 14 month calendar.”
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This branch rejects any claim that we must, even ‘for the timebeing’, accept the new Workload Allocation Model (WAM) that has been imposed upon us without negotiation or agreement with staff or their representatives at the University of Birmingham. This relates particularly to recent changes to the WAM in the Birmingham Business School.
The University of Birmingham imposing significant changes to staff workloads without the agreement of the recognised trade union are sufficient grounds for rejecting the new WAM, and to do otherwise risks accepting these new conditions as established working practice. We therefore reject the imposition of 1760 working hours annually and a 40 hour working week and any WAM based on these figures and affirm the sector standard of 1650 hours as set by HEFCE/Research Councils UK (37.5 hours).
This branch insists that the University of Birmingham must reverse all measures associated with the newly imposed WAM, with immediate effect, on the grounds that failure to do so would amount to a unilateral change to the terms and conditions of employment for all academic and academic-related staff at the University of Birmingham.
We note that despite the explicit and written objections of the recognised trade union, UCU, rejecting the proposed changes, the University of Birmingham management have refused to revert to the prior terms and conditions. This branch therefore resolves to move towards a formal dispute unless the University of Birmingham confirm that they are taking steps to fully revert to previous terms and conditions, and that they are prepared to negotiate openly and transparently on any future substantive changes to workloads or contracts.
Furthermore, we note that the move to annual calculations based on 1760 hours also affects the hourly rate of casualised staff, including for example those delivering classes and marking assignments. We therefore insist that any changes to the WAM for permanent staff leads to a recalculation of the hourly rate based on 1650 hours and a corresponding pay increase for those staff.
As a branch, we therefore resolve to do the following:
- To initiate a public information campaign setting out the terms of the dispute, to staff, students and the wider public;
- To declare an official dispute with the University of Birmingham, as soon as possible, and as set out in the procedure agreement;
- To keep BUCU members regularly updated, in writing, on the progress of the dispute;
- To stage a series of public demonstrations, timed to maximise impact upon the University, most obviously through the targeting of open days, applicant visitor days, graduation ceremonies, and the exam period.
- If necessary, to proceed towards industrial action through an indicative ballot, a formal ballot, and strike days timed to maximise impact upon the University, most obviously through the targeting of open days, applicant visitor days, graduation ceremonies, and the exam period.
Adopted 11 January 2017
Resolution adopted by the University of Birmingham branch of UCU, 2 November 2011:
This branch rejects the imposition of 1760 working hours annually and a 40 hour working week and any WAM based on these figures and affirms the sector standard of 1650 hours as set by HEFCE/Research Councils UK (37.5 hours).
This branch reaffirms its commitment to the principle that all new Workload Allocation Models (WAMs), and changes to existing WAMs, must be agreed to beforehand by University of Birmingham UCU (BUCU).
The branch notes with concern that new WAMs appear to be being introduced across the University, in many instances without any prior consultation, negotiation or agreement with BUCU whatsoever, and in many cases creating a substantial change to existing terms and conditions of employment.
In the case of the Birmingham Business School (BBS), this has resulted in an increase in working hours of up to 280 extra hours work per year – without any consultation, negotiation or agreement whatsoever.
The branch instructs the branch officers to object in writing with immediate effect upon discovering any new or changed WAM that has been introduced without union agreement.
The branch calls for the branch officers to provide regular updates on current negotiations with the University on the WAM and especially its recent communications with BBS on this issue.
The branch also instructs the branch officers to ensure that any WAM that is agreed – either at University, College, School or Departmental level – be done in a way that is transparent to the degree that the principles and calculations of the WAM are available to all affected staff.
The branch further insists on the need for transparency and consistency in the calculation of any workload allocation that may occur outside of the WAM, and for prior consultation and agreement with the affected staff before any changes are introduced.