UCU condemns ‘unsettling’ role-matching test

Union passes motion of no confidence in University of Northampton’s restructuring exercise

July 4, 2013

The University of Northampton’s branch of the University and College Union has passed a motion of no confidence in a restructuring exercise that it said has caused needless anxiety and could result in individuals being forced out.

In May, Northampton’s School of the Arts carried out a “role-matching” exercise that compared the roles its staff currently perform with those it believes it needs. According to a letter sent to the school’s staff, if an academic’s current role is less than a 60 per cent match with the envisaged new role, “a further exercise will be required to reaffirm that an employee has the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to carry out the [new] duties”.

The letter states that “no employees [are] being placed at risk of redundancy as a result of the role-matching exercise”. However, a flow chart prepared by the school lists “redundancy procedure” as the result of a failed appeal.

Ron Mendel, the UCU branch secretary, noted that the new staffing structure required fewer specialists in certain areas. He also claimed that at least three academics had been approached by their line managers before the role-matching exercise began and advised to seek voluntary severance. This heightened the union’s fear that the exercise could “open the door” to the targeting of particular individuals for redundancy, particularly among the school’s 32 senior lecturers, none of whom had met the threshold.

He said the figure was so high because the school had used outdated job descriptions for current roles that did not fully capture the levels of responsibility that many senior lecturers had already adopted.

The school agreed to invite those below the threshold to make their cases at a further “mapping exercise”. So far, 17 of the 20 senior lecturers who have taken this route have been successful. However, the no-confidence motion, passed unanimously by the school’s 40 UCU members on 19 June, objects that the exercise “implicitly expects academic staff to (re)apply for their positions”.

Dr Mendel said this had left staff feeling “anxious and insecure” even though most of them would probably retain their positions. He said the union accepted the principle of role matching, but the motion calls for it to be paused until the concerns about its implementation are met.

Northampton declined to comment.


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