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Archive for March, 2010

Easter thoughts

This blog would like to wish all its readers a happy Easter!  As the year slowly unwinds from the coils of its winter hibernation, and the long-promised and long-delayed ascent into Spring from the freezing cold looks like it might just happen, the calendar of one particular world religion arrives at a date of immense significance.  Easter is about willing and unselfish sacrifice and the consequent rebirth and renewal of hope, and whether or not you follow Christianity, this ideal of sacrifice and renewal is one that has a power all its own.

Under the current circumstances, the VC and his senior management team might be hoping to give the impression that the job cuts among frontline academic and support staff are just that kind of sacrifice, leading to the renewal of the university’s fortunes.  If so, they would be wrong.  These cuts will be a disaster for the university.  They will lead to its decline, as the student experience is degraded, with larger class sizes, larger tutorials, less academic and technical support, and a more demoralized and harassed staff.  Moreover, these cuts only presage future cuts, since we are paying now for the inability of senior management to sustainably control the university’s finances.  Government funding cuts are yet to bite, so perhaps the VC’s eyes will wander elsewhere across the university, searching for yet more ‘sacrifices’!

Sadly, what’s become clearer and clearer as the consultation period draws to its unsatisfactory and inconclusive end (in which senior management only allow themselves to discuss when people will be made redundant, rather than how to avoid it), is that the VC really has NO strategy for the university beyond cutting frontline jobs.  In fact, one might sum up the 2015 vision in these few words

  • cut jobs of those that deal directly with students and their education
  • increase the number of well-paid senior management and HR personnel
  • errr… that’s it

And on that note, there’s really nothing left to say except “Happy Easter, everyone! And don’t forget to vote in the ballot for industrial action!”

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Uni Westminster academics might be forgiven a little deja vu on reading this letter, recently sent to the UCL Provost.  The letter, from the heads of the research divisions in Biosciences, asks why academics in Life Sciences are being made redundant when, as the letter makes clear, the real financial problems stem from the costs of an increasingly large and increasingly expensive central management structure.

The response from the Provost is also remarkable – if only for its inability to address the key points in the letter, particularly regarding transparency, as well as for demonstrating the Provost’s willingness to play the numbers game rather than really address staff concerns.  Another heady dose of deja vu!

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In a truely startling and disturbing development, support staff working for Corporate Services found out by email last night (in some cases, this morning and in some cases, not at all!) that HR intended to phone people today to tell them that they were at risk of redundancy and would be required to attend a meeting.

The heading of the email, from one of our joint HR directors  (yes – our cash-strapped university can afford TWO directors of HR) was “PLEASE CIRCULATE TO ALL STAFF IN ACADEMIC SERVICES”.

The email told support staff that they might expect a phone call today from HR to tell them they had been identified as being in a pool of workers whose jobs were “at risk”.  The meeting they would be required to attend would not be part of the formal redundancy consultation process, so no union representative or work colleague would be necessary (i.e, “come alone!”) – but there was no mention of what it would be about and who would be in the meeting with them.   And, according to the email, details of the voluntary severance package would be available!  Support staff who had to attend these meetings would be given a letter with individual details of the package at the end of the meeting.

We leave you to imagine for yourselves how support staff have been feeling today – just waiting for the phone to ring… It is symptomatic of the way senior management are now running wild and roughshod over the staff beneath them that people would be left to hear by email, some as late as today; that some line managers were left completely in the dark about their staff being called; and that not one senior manager thought about the anxiety and stress they were causing to large numbers of people.

Consultations?  Senior management?  These words just don’t fit into the same sentence!  Support staff deserve better than this – we all do!

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In recent days, staff from different parts of the university have been asked to attend individual redundancy consultation meetings because their jobs have been identified as “at-risk”.

These meetings are always trailed by management and HR as part of a helpful consultation process, but we want everyone to know what really goes on.

Members of staff are invited to a room where they are met by their head of department and someone from HR.  They are told only that the university proposes to close their area and that all their contracts will therefore be terminated.  They are therefore ‘at risk of redundancy’. They are told that the meeting gives them an opportunity to ask questions about the process. Members of staff have discovered over the least two weeks that they can, indeed, ask anything they like, but that no answers will be given during the meetings. One member of staff was told that ‘you can ask anything you like, but we can’t answer’.

No help or advice is given or promised on redeployment.  No information is given about whether there will be a voluntary or compulsory redundancy, let alone what the package will be.  No information is given on alternative proposal to save jobs.  Members of staff are asked what their skills are by their Head of Department, without any promise of a follow-up or information about how that can be used.  And that’s it!

In CELT, for example, the university proposes to close down the entire centre.  Contracts will be terminated.  Members are told that the business will be “remodelled”, but are not told how, nor on what contracts people will be taken on in the “remodelled business”.  No redeployment on existing contracts to the “remodelled business” is apparently possible.

Good people, who have given years of good service, doing work that is vital to the university and its mission to educate, are being treated to a embarrassing sham of a consultation!

It’s time we said NO to being treated in such a disgraceful way.  If we let any one member of staff is treated badly, then ALL of us are affected.  We are all in this together.

It’s time to vote YES to industrial action!  YES to saving jobs, YES to saving education, and YES to respect!

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The UCU ballot for industrial action is now OPEN!  It closes on Wednesday 21st April 2010 at 12pm (noon).  Your UCU Co-Ordinating Committee (CoCom) at University of Westminster are recommending that all members vote YES to both questions, i.e,

  • Vote YEs to agree to strike action
  • Vote YES to agree to action short of a strike

FOUR REASONS TO VOTE YES!

  1. Vote YES to defend your colleagues – long-serving academics, technicians, admin and support staff are at risk.
  2. Vote YES to enable a serious debate about the future of Westminster, not central management dictats. Vote YES for thorough, open and meaningful consultations with the trade unions.
  3. Vote YES if you, like us, believe that the VC and his senior management team are blindly rushing into cutting jobs that unnecessarily put our livelihoods and our students’ education at risk.
  4. Vote YES to defend our students – today and in the future, at Westminster or any UK university. We are all the custodians of education.  Vote YES for a university that has a mission to explain, rather than a mission to make profit!

Vote YES!

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It was a great demonstration on a damp and blustery Saturday afternoon in central London.  Several hundred protesters from HE and FE all over the London region marched on Downing Street from outside Kings College in the Strand to hear speeches in a rally in Whitehall and present a petition to the Prime Minister against cuts in education.

A good contingent of staff and students from Westminster joined the march, which also included Kings, UCL, Goldsmiths, Tower Hamlets etc.  You can find photos of the demo below.

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Thursday 18th March saw the first day of strikes at University of Sussex.  On Wednesday, at our Marylebone rally, a student from Sussex told us of the hardcore tactics Sussex management have used against the student campaigners there.

More details of the Sussex day of action can be found here on the “Defend Sussex” blog.  What’s notable is that the picket line is being manned by staff and students together!  Check out the links to BBC news on the strike, with interviews with students supporting the action.

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