Liverpool union members to strike during end-of-year exams

Industrial action continues despite university reducing number of planned redundancies and revising selection criteria

May 10, 2021
University of Liverpool
Source: iStock

Union members at the University of Liverpool have announced three weeks of strike action coinciding with end-of-year examinations.

University and College Union (UCU) members will walk out from 24 May to 11 June in a row over redundancies in the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences.

The union said that nearly 1,300 employees were expected to take part in the action and predicted that “disruption for the university will be especially severe” because it overlaps with end-of-year assessments.

Eighty-four per cent of members who voted in a ballot last month backed strike action, protesting at plans to axe 47 jobs – a total that has subsequently been revised down to 32, UCU said.

Members were due to start working to rule today, keeping to their contracted hours only and boycotting all voluntary activities.

The Liverpool row has attracted global attention because of the university’s plan to identify staff for redundancy based on research grant income and citation impact scores.

UCU said that managers had “revised” the original selection criteria, but claimed that the revised criteria “remain opaque, lack transparency and the university has refused to tell staff what data it is using to choose who to sack”.

“People threatened with redundancy have no idea what targets they have to meet to keep their jobs,” the union said.

Liverpool’s UCU branch said that the university had two weeks to cancel the planned cuts if it wanted to avert strike action.

“While we welcome the abandonment of the doomed journal citation metric, and the protection of 15 jobs as a result of the work of the branch, the situation remains equally dangerous for our members and for the sector more widely,” said branch president Anthony O’Hanlon.

“The criteria have been designed to place maximum discretion in the hands of managers to attack jobs and threaten livelihoods in the midst of a pandemic. There is no economic or moral justification for these redundancies. To prevent a campaign of sustained industrial action, all the university has to do is withdraw them.”

Liverpool has described the redundancies as being part of a wider “restructure to enable reinvestment in areas of specialism and increase academic quality and the societal impact of the faculty’s research and expertise”.

A university spokeswoman said that making redundancies was “a difficult decision for any organisation and we are working hard to limit the impact, including offering potentially affected colleagues a significant voluntary severance package”.

“We believe the amended process and criteria demonstrate a considered response to the representations made by UCU, which represents around 20 per cent of the university workforce, and it is regrettable that industrial action has been called before this consultation process has even concluded,” she said.

“We recognise that industrial action will be a cause of concern for staff and students alike, and we are particularly disappointed that it has been called during our students’ assessment period, after this already challenging academic year.

“The university has processes in place to help keep any disruption to a minimum and is prioritising this. Every effort is being made to resolve the dispute with UCU and we will continue to keep colleagues and students updated.”

chris.havergal@timeshighereducation.com

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