New deal enrages Natfhe

January 29, 1999

Lecturers at the University of North London are threatening legal action over contracts for new academic staff that scrap existing agreements and ban strikes.

Lecturers' union Natfhe said it was not consulted over the contracts, introduced on January 1, although they remove the university from nationally agreed pay and conditions. Tom Wilson, Natfhe head of universities, called the terms "stone age management" and the worst he has seen.

Under the contracts, staff may be required to work anywhere in the world without extra pay and "such hours as are reasonably necessary (including evenings or weekends)". They will be expected to work a minimum 35-hour week, although the national agreement states a maximum working week of 35 hours.

They will need the approval of their line manager if they want to do work anywhere other than at the university. They will be expected to be at the university 52 weeks a year, except during leave or when the university is closed, rather than simply during term-time, and to be contactable at all times except holidays.

Paid holiday has been cut from 35 days plus the Christmas-New Year break to 30. Sick leave and sick pay have been reduced and the present four weeks or so allowed for "self-managed research and scholarly activity" has disappeared. Lecturers are also annoyed by clauses that refer to performance-related pay.

Finally, clause 21 of the contract states: "In accepting this contract of employment you specifically agree not to take any action that will disrupt the student teaching, learning and assessment programmes, recruitment, enrolment, validation, approval of programmes, quality assurance and graduation processes."

Natfhe has declared an academic boycott of the university, asking academics at other institutions to refuse to act as external examiners, attend conferences at the university or apply for jobs.

It is also planning to ballot for industrial action and is organising a vote of no confidence in senior management.

Richard Kirkwood, Natfhe negotiating secretary, said: "Members are angry. We feel this is yet another deterioration in the climate of industrial relations at North London."

A university spokeswoman said: "To reward excellence, increase motivation and offer a more modern approach to employment, we have begun to introduce progressive contracts to members of staff joining the university.

"Productivity in higher education institutions has increased dramatically over the past ten years; unfortunately, increases in academics' salaries do not reflect this. The changes we are proposing will allow us to remedy this."

She said other universities had taken a similar approach, which mirrored government plans to reward excellence in schools.

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