University of Birmingham strike ballot called

Academics at the University of Birmingham will be balloted over strike action in protest at what a union has described as the institution’s “campaign of forced redundancies and aggressive management tactics”.

January 29, 2013

The Birmingham branch of the University and College Union said 17 academics in the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity were threatened with redundancy, as well as at least seven from its department of nursing and physiotherapy and two in its School of Education.

“Whilst some of the staff who filled these posts may have negotiated voluntary severance deals with the university, there are a number of staff who still face compulsory redundancy, and for those who remain at the university the reduction in posts will result in an increase in workload,” it says, in a statement.

The UCU, which has nearly 1,000 members at Birmingham, also objects to the threatened redundancy of José Lingna Nafafé, the university’s only full-time sociologist who is a member of an ethnic minority. It says students are “extremely concerned” about the implications of Dr Nafafé’s loss for the teaching of ethnicities.

The union accuses Birmingham’s management of “wilfully misinterpreting agreed university rules” to set unachievable performance-management targets and force staff onto teaching-only contracts.

Birmingham’s UCU branch president, David Bailey, said academics felt the redundancy programme had been rushed, involved insufficient consultation with those affected and had failed to give proper consideration to ways of avoiding redundancies.

“This university has consistently made a large surplus for many years and we do not believe that the proposed job cuts are necessary,” he added.

One of the academics at risk in the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity, who wanted to remain anonymous, told the union: “Many of the concerns…have been generated by the suspicion, justified or not, that those managing the process viewed legitimate concerns and questions raised by affected staff as merely whingeing or attempts to hold back change, to be batted away rather than answered.

“This has, unfortunately, generated the feeling that the changes being made are not transparently fair and consistent in their treatment of different staff of equal achievement.”
In a statement, Birmingham says it has been “working hard” with the UCU to “clarify the approach to managing performance and the steps which are taken in seeking to avoid redundancies”.

“Birmingham UCU acknowledges that some progress is being made in these discussions…It is therefore very disappointing that they are balloting for industrial action targeting teaching,” the statement says.

“The small number of proposed redundancies in sociology and in the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity follow discipline-led reviews of the academic performance and long-term sustainability of these programmes, including extensive consultation with staff, students and other stakeholders.

“Further consultations are taking place in relation to the physiotherapy programme and research staff in education with a view to avoiding or mitigating redundancies whilst ensuring that the area is on a sound and sustainable footing. The university will continue to seek to avoid redundancies through alternative routes, including voluntary severance.”

The union is proposing to stage a series of strikes beginning on 28 February. The ballot closes on 14 February.

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