Lampeter redundancy plans draw union's ire

University blames higher wage bill as 'last resort' job cuts are mulled. Melanie Newman reports

July 24, 2008

The University of Wales, Lampeter, has blamed rising salary levels for putting academics at risk of compulsory redundancy.

The University and College Union has said it would ballot for industrial action after the university announced plans for compulsory redundancies this week.

The union wants any decision delayed until the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) has published its report on the university's future. Times Higher Education revealed last month that the council had commissioned a review of the university's strategic direction and business model. The review's findings are to be delivered in the autumn.

Lampeter said that it would be able to offer staff enhanced redundancy payments only if numbers were decided before 31 July, the end of the financial year, as next year's budget was "unlikely to leave scope for such enhanced payments". It set up a redundancy committee despite a UCU motion to the university's council contending that job cuts were "precipitate and will not advance the long-term interests of the university".

Earlier this year, the union agreed with managers that the £300,000 savings the university deems necessary would be met through up to six voluntary redundancies. Managers are now talking of saving £350,000.

A university spokeswoman said the volunteers for redundancy had been considered, but that the required savings could not be achieved.

"As a last resort, the compulsory redundancy of a small number of academic staff may have to be considered," she said. "The university is facing a significant increase in its pay costs in the next academic year - estimated to be between 13 per cent and 15 per cent - following recent pay increases awarded to staff and the introduction of a new pay framework.

"This increase in salary costs is not matched by an equivalent increase in grant levels, which, in Wales, are currently running about 20 per cent below those in England.

"Despite this, salary costs in Wales are the same as in England. As a result ... the University of Wales, Lampeter needs to make savings," the spokeswoman said.

A union source suggested the savings were not essential but rather were designed to "make the university look good to the HEFCW".

"We think it's too late for that," the union source said.

Departments being targeted for redundancy include voluntary sector studies, Welsh, and theology and religious studies. The last of those three departments is not in deficit but managers are predicting that the HEFCW review will recommend that several partnerships that bring income into the department should be scrapped or managed centrally.

"Redundancies would pre-empt the HEFCW review," the union source said. "Theology is unpopular with other departments and there is a sense that it is being punished."

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