Luton to ballot on action

January 30, 2004

Luton University staff were this week expected to reject management concessions on redundancy plans and go ahead with a ballot for a series of rolling strikesnext month, writes Chris Johnston.

Managers had offered to add a month's salary to the statutory terms of the compulsory redundancy package. Thirty-four staff - 22 academic and 12 support -face compulsory redundancy and more than 60 applications for voluntary redundancy are hoped for. The university said eight staff had been identified for redundancy.

Jenny Golden, regional official for lecturers' union Natfhe, said she doubted the sweetener would persuade members to abandon industrial action.

More than 100 academics voted for a ballot at a meeting last week. "People are extremely angry. Since 1997, not a year has gone by at Luton without job losses," she said.

Members were unhappy with management at Luton over the past few years, Ms Golden said. But they were reserving judgement on Les Ebdon, who became vice-chancellor last year, to see if he could turn the institution around.

Luton has about 4,500 student places funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, down from some 8,000 a few years ago.

Ms Golden said: "The only thing that seems to be sustaining the university is overseas students and students through contracts with National Health Service trusts. The situation is not rosy. If the number of Hefce-funded students falls below 4,000, there must be a question mark over Luton's future."

Professor Ebdon said that his impression of staff feeling at the university differed from Ms Golden's and that talks were ongoing.

He said that his door was always open but added: "If the union did move to strike action then that's a different matter. It destroys the mutual good will."

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