Disputed territory

July 18, 2013

Sir Howard Newby says that the University and College Union has “misrepresented” the current dispute at the University of Liverpool (“Standard terms, equal conditions”, Letters, 11 July). Regrettably, we must insist that it is Newby’s letter that is misleading.

Liverpool is imposing a new contractual requirement for bank holiday working for the majority of professional, managerial, specialist and senior administrative (PMSA) staff, with only single-time time off in lieu (Toil) when support staff will be compensated at triple time. It has also refused a contractual right to hour-for-hour Toil for staff working outside their contracted hours. A further matter of concern emerged only after the section 188 consultations had begun, when it became clear that the university intended to allow local managers to vary normal working hours from the 9am-5pm set out in the new contract of employment without staff consent.

Newby says that Liverpool is negotiating with the trade unions. Under the local recognition agreement between it and the UCU, Unite and Unison, all changes to terms and conditions must be negotiated rather than merely consulted upon. The matter of hours clearly comes under the category of “terms and conditions”, and formal negotiations were indeed under way. However, on 7 June university negotiators announced that they would invoke the section 188 procedures from the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act (1992), which are expressly designed for redundancy or dismissal situations. This means that Liverpool is proposing to issue dismissal notices to 2,803 staff (54 per cent of its workforce) to achieve its ends. Negotiations do not involve the threat to dismiss staff who do not sign a new contract put in front of them. Moreover, far from being “positive and constructive”, this approach has led to the first formal dispute between Liverpool and an academic union or association in the university’s long and distinguished history.

Newby also says that Liverpool will not be making any staff redundant as a result of the new contracts. So why has the university opened a voluntary disengagement scheme, normally designed for redundancy situations? It excludes PMSA staff, so the university may believe this means that ending their contracts is somehow different. However, even if there are no redundancies, this does not mean there will be no dismissals. In response to a question at an all-staff meeting on the day his letter was published, Newby confirmed that any member of staff who rejects the new contract will be dismissed.

We urge the vice-chancellor to apply the standards of excellence he champions for research and teaching to the approaches the university takes to its human resources management and industrial relations.

Roger Brooks
President, University of Liverpool branch
University and College Union

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