The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

University staff vote ‘yes’ to strike action

Students have told The Mancunion that the university is “totally disregarding the livelihoods of their employees”

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Lecturers at the University of Manchester have voiced their outrage at 140 potential staff redundancies through a vote in favour industrial action later this month.

Members of University College and Union (UCU) held the vote on Wednesday the 4th of October. There was a turnout of 57.7 percent, and a total of 1049 votes were cast.

86.7 per cent of members who voted suggested they were “prepared to take industrial action consisting of a strike”, while 93.1 per cent were “prepared to take industrial action short of a strike.”

On the day of the vote, UCU members gathered in the Old Quadrangle off Oxford Road at 1.30pm to lobby the Board of Governors. Strike action has been planned for Monday the 23rd of October and Tuesday the 24th of October, and staff will then begin working to rule from Thursday the 25th of October.

UCU regional official, Martyn Moss, said: “Today’s decisive ballot result reflects the strength of feeling amongst our members who have been incensed at every aspect of these proposals to slash jobs.

“The University of Manchester has been plunged into crisis because of a management strategy that bypassed the professionals who work in the affected areas. These redundancy proposals lack a convincing rationale and staff are not confident that the process will be fairly and consistently implemented.

“Striking is always a last resort and there is still the opportunity to avoid it. The University of Manchester must take compulsory redundancies off the table.”

The proposed redundancies are in the University’s School of Arts, Languages and Cultures (35 posts), the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health (65 posts) and Alliance Manchester Business School (40 posts).

As previously reported in The Mancunion, an email was sent on Wednesday the 10th of October 2016 to thousands of University staff detailing a Board of Governors’ decision about job cuts.

In a statement given at the time, a University spokesman said: “We have detailed plans for significant growth in funds from a range of activities, but we will also need to make cost savings. On the 3rd of May the Board of Governors approved proposals from the senior staff of the University to commence consultation with the Trade Unions in relation to reductions of up to 171 posts.

“The University proposes to open a voluntary severance scheme for staff at risk, to avoid the need for compulsory redundancy if at all possible.”

However, in a recent survey of staff conducted by union members, 88 per cent of respondents suggested they did not believe they have been provided with a convincing rationale for the job losses.

The union also claim staff were not given any opportunity to have any say on the proposals which were drawn up by senior managers, and suggest that 87 per cent of staff surveyed reported that management had not adequately responded to concerns raised through internal university structures.

The union has also rejected the university’s claim that it needs to create “financial headroom”, instead arguing that the University “is in a strong financial position having recorded a £36m surplus last year (2015/16) and its financial statement for the same year revealed it is sitting on £1.5bn of reserves. The 140 redundancies would be followed by the creation of 100 plus new early career academic appointments so the money saved would be comparatively small in relation to the university’s total budget.”

Emma Atkins, Students’ Union Education Officer, echoed these thoughts and added: “UCU delivered an incredibly successful ballot ….It sends a powerful message to the University’s leadership that staff are extremely angry with the job cuts and the way it has been handled. Additionally, the SU Senate passed a motion to support staff that are at risk of redundancy and UCU, demonstrating students also feel very strongly about job cuts.”

Save Our Staff MCR, the University-based campaign to stop the job cuts, told The Mancunion: “With this call for strike action, the University Hierarchy will need to think again before totally disregarding the livelihoods of their employees. As the student wing of this strike, we will stand in solidarity with our staff in protest until they are assured that no job cuts will take place in the name of blind greed and profit.”

In response to the vote, a University of Manchester spokesperson said: “The University is naturally disappointed that members of the UCU have voted that they are prepared to take industrial action consisting of a strike and/or industrial action short of a strike, particularly because these staffing changes have been considered carefully through an extensive consultation process with all three of our recognised Trade Unions, including the UCU. This includes 16 collective consultation meetings that have taken place since May, plus two meetings facilitated by ACAS, which have resulted in a number of amendments to the proposals as a consequence of consultation.

“The University is committed to mitigating the need for redundancy, and in line with the Security of Employment Policy has taken a number of steps including sourcing redeployment opportunities for ‘at risk’ staff, tight vacancy management control and offering a generous Voluntary Severance Scheme.

“Whilst we hope that staff will decide to continue to work normally, every effort will be made to ensure that there will be no significant disruption to operations at the University and particularly to our students should there be any industrial action. We also remain committed to continue our dialogue with the Trade Unions and staff on these plans as they are implemented.”