Six hundred professors have signed a letter condemning “disreputable” plans by the University of Liverpool to force its non-academic staff to accept new terms and conditions.
In the letter published in this week’s Times Higher Education, the professors, from universities across the UK and further afield, call on Liverpool to return to negotiations with trade unions over its plans to change the contracts of about 2,800 non-academic staff.
It follows Liverpool’s decision last month to start a 45-day consultation over plans to dismiss non-academic staff – about half its workforce – and re-employ them on revised contracts.
Unions claim the contracts are inferior and would require staff to work additional hours on evenings, weekends and bank holidays without appropriate compensation.
The letter brands the scale of Liverpool’s action as “unprecedented” in the UK academy.
“We are shocked that Liverpool, with its proud reputation for international excellence in a range of disciplines as well as its tradition of civic and regional service, is resorting to such disreputable industrial relations practices,” it reads.
“The fair treatment of all staff is vital to any university,” it says, adding that “clerical, technical, manual, administrative, library, computing and other specialist staff…make scholarly work possible. Academics could not do their jobs without them.”
The letter, which was organised by the University and College Union, follows a vote in favour of a strike ballot at Liverpool by the UCU, Unite and Unison. In addition, nearly 3,000 people have signed an online petition against the plans.
However, Sir Howard Newby, Liverpool’s vice-chancellor, said that negotiations with the unions over the plans to “standardise terms and conditions for staff” were still in motion.
“Far from breaking off negotiations…as the UCU claims, we are holding positive and constructive weekly discussions, and will continue to do so in the hope of reaching an agreement,” Sir Howard said.
The UCU said that it had held meetings with the university regarding the consultation, as required by employment law, but Liverpool had refused to negotiate over the content of the new contracts.
Sir Howard said that workers would receive “excellent but modernised terms and conditions”, while the move would ensure “fairness and equality…across the institution” for different types of support staff.
“We will not be making any of our staff redundant, as they will remain in the same jobs but on revised terms,” he added.