Industrial dispute over compulsory redundancies
The strike days are 2nd, 7th, 10th, 15th & 16th December.
In addition, we have called ASOS in the form of a work-to-contract starting on 3rd December and continuing indefinitely.
Where are we with the dispute?
Of the 49 staff originally declared at risk of redundancy, five are UCU members. Of those five, two were in a job category for which there was a near-equivalent in the new structure, so they were slotted into these posts, and the threat of redundancy removed. Another one of the five decided to take the payout on offer and leave voluntarily.
That leaves two UCU members who are due to receive official redundancy letters putting them out of a job in a few weeks. So far there has been little sign of the University honouring its promise to mitigate redundancies as far as possible. On the contrary, the fact that one of those UCU members was refused redeployment into one of the newly created IT support jobs suggests that the University deliberately wants to make UCU members redundant even if it means leaving posts vacant to be advertised externally in the new year.
What about Unison?
Like us, Brighton Unison responded robustly to the threat of redundancies, running a consultative ballot in parallel to ours and achieving a result demonstrating a strong willingness to fight by Unison members. We hoped we could maintain a united front with them to oppose these redundancies. Unfortunately the local Unison branch have been blocked from moving to an official ballot so we have been obliged to call our action without them.
A mandate for industrial action
As a result of the excellent ballot result, achieved despite lockdown conditions, Brighton UCU has a mandate for industrial action over these redundancies. In light of time constraints, CoCom met last Thursday and took some decisions. The law requires employers to be notified 14 days in advance of any action and we are running out of term time to be able to take action before our colleagues find themselves no longer employed. The law also requires employers to be notified before the information about industrial action reaches the public domain. They were notified of our decisions on Tuesday.
What action have we notified?
We have called a combination of strike action and action short of strike (ASOS). CoCom does not believe that because we are working partly or entirely from home, strike action is any less effective. The University is as dependent as ever on our labour, and when working online we have the ability to withdraw our labour with a flick of a switch or a pull of a plug.
CoCom has chosen a pattern of escalating strikes in the final three weeks of term. The strike days are 2nd, 7th, 10th, 15th & 16th December. In addition, we have called ASOS in the form of a work-to-contract starting on 3rd December and continuing indefinitely.
The first strike day will be the centrepiece of a National Day of Action for education that day (see below). It will feature a national online solidarity rally addressed by UCU General Secretary, members of other branches involved in disputes, students, MPs and other high profile speakers (details to follow).
The work-to-contract (W2C) will involve sticking to our contracted 37 hours a week, and withdrawing goodwill by declining to perform tasks for which we have no hours allocated in our workload. The W2C also provides the legal protection to refuse to reschedule classes and activities lost on strike days.
Explaining our action to students – #ChooseHuman
It will be crucial to explain to our students why we find it necessary to engage in industrial action again. It should not be difficult to convince them that the University’s plan to reduce IT support is senseless in current circumstances. Students will suffer from these cuts and are already increasingly wondering where their £9k fees are being spent.
Students will also be receptive to our argument that it is indefensible for a University to be forcing its staff onto the dole queues during a pandemic and a recession. These staff are not redundant by any meaningful definition – in fact, there is already more work than existing numbers can cope with. Our slogan #ChooseHuman should resonate with students who increasingly find themselves dealing with automated, impersonal systems.
We have produced a set of resources for members to use with students which can be found here. They include a video guideto posting information to every MS Teams group of students you teach.
Please notify your students about this NOW. The sooner that students complain to the University management, post on social media and tell their friends and families that Brighton is sacking IT staff, the sooner the pressure will build on management to call off these redundancies. Management are particularly vulnerable to students publicly shaming the University.
Fighting against future redundancies
We hope that we will be able to resolve this dispute before it becomes necessary to take this action. It would be very easy for the University to settle it. But we call on all UCU members, whichever way you voted, to respect the result of the ballot and to participate in the industrial action.
We feel sure that every member of the union would want and expect the whole membership to act in their defence if and when they ever find themselves in the position of our IT colleagues. We need to show the University that we will fight against every threatened redundancy, including those they are undoubtedly contemplating for academic staff next year.
UCU Solidarity Activists Conference and Student/Staff Assembly
Yesterday’s members meeting voted to support this event on Saturday 28th November and to encourage members to attend. Heriot-Watt UCU have recently won a redundancy dispute and a number of other branches are currently balloting over the same issue or over unsafe workplaces. Meanwhile, students at a number of institutions are preparing to follow Manchester students’ lead and go into rent strike against the way they have been treated in their halls of residence during the pandemic.
The conference aims to bring all these voices together and will call a national Day of Action in support of our strike on Wednesday 2nd. Our dispute at Brighton is part of a wider picture of resistance building right across Higher Education.
I am beyond surprised to read that, in this climate, IT staff are at risk of redundancy. Despite considering myself technology confident, I cannot overstate the need for IT support across all departments. If this year has taught us anything it is that staff and students need upskilling and guidance with the new systems. I genuinely cannot think of a more necessary group of staff than IT at the moment.