Strike set to counter redundancy plans

March 18, 2010

The first strike over higher education job cuts is scheduled at the University of Sussex - but a stoppage planned at the University of Leeds was called off at the last minute.

The University and College Union was set to hold a one-day strike at Sussex on 18 March, with members halting their teaching, research and administrative work.

Sussex's restructuring proposals include 115 redundancies and the end of research and research-led teaching in English social history before 1700 and European history before 1900.

As universities across the country set out redundancy plans in response to funding cuts, ballots for industrial action are planned or under way at King's College London, University College London and the universities of Kent and Westminster.

At Leeds, the UCU announced on 16 March that a planned strike was off and its "long-running dispute with the university is now over", after members accepted a deal.

A Leeds spokesman said: "The main features of the agreement include a new sector-leading process for managing organisational change; this reinforces collegiality and the engagement of staff and represents a ground-breaking package enshrining the principles of openness, fairness, transparency and good governance in detailed new policies and procedures to promote job security, avoid redundancy and manage change."

The spokesman said the agreement would see steps to avoid compulsory redundancies in the Faculty of Biological Sciences, where a controversial review is under way, until January 2011. He added: "Measures to facilitate redeployment and retraining and where appropriate the reinvigoration of research work are to be piloted in the faculty."

The "estimate" of senior management at Leeds was that 400 jobs will be cut as part of plans to save £35 million a year, but the UCU feared that 650-700 jobs will go.

Prior to the deal, Michael Arthur, the vice-chancellor, had attacked the union in an email to staff, claiming that "relations are now damaged, future collaboration made harder and ... the UCU's confrontational attitude is endangering, rather than protecting, our university in these challenging times".

The university had "offered the most comprehensive and detailed package to protect jobs and promote job security in UK higher education", Professor Arthur said.

At Sussex, UCU members said that the university has refused to enter into talks via the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. It obtained a High Court injunction banning protests after students occupied the vice-chancellor's office last week.

Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, said: "We have made it quite clear from the start of the current crisis that any institution that fears that job losses are a possibility needs to sit down with the unions to explore all possibilities."

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