'High-handed' approach to dispute under fire

March 6, 2008

An academic expert in industrial relations at Keele University's School of Economic and Management Studies has criticised the way the university's managers are handling the dispute over job losses at the school.

Staff have already held a one-day strike in protest at restructuring that the University and College Union said could result in 38 of 67 academics at the school losing their jobs. Union members across the university are taking part in ongoing action short of a strike in protest at the cuts.

Mike Ironside, a senior lecturer in industrial relations at the school, accused the university of adopting an "unprecedented" and "high-handed" approach to human resources.

A letter to staff from vice-chancellor Janet Finch shortly before the one-day strike last month instructed them to sign a form indicating whether they planned to take part, and warned that they could be disciplined if they did not sign.

Mr Ironside said: "They can't isolate individuals and discipline them for taking industrial action, so they're proposing to isolate individuals and discipline them for not filling in a form that says they are taking industrial action.

"The consequence is that people become very confused, disoriented and angry."

Sue Davis, the UCU's regional officer, said that the union would consider disciplinary action against anyone as a "serious escalation of the dispute".

Mr Ironside also questioned the management structures put in place to oversee the changes. "The buck stops with the vice-chancellor, but she appears to have effectively hired external consultants to handle this for her. As I understand it ... once the conflict is over they won't be here."

He added that such a move was unheard of in higher education.

The university declined to comment on claims that the restructuring is being overseen by managers in temporary posts.

A Keele spokesman said: "The university has a responsibility to establish which of its employees are participating in industrial action as a basis for making the necessary salary adjustments and for ensuring proper and appropriate arrangements for the conduct of its business, not least ensuring full information and appropriate support for students."

john.gill@tsleducation.com.

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