28 January 2013

University of Birmingham UCU Threaten strike action

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, Dr José Lingna Nafafé, 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 in support of Dr. Nafafé.

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.

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