We are back! The UCU Westminster blog took a well-earned break over Easter, but is now back online – and the first thing we want to do is remind all UCU members at University of Westminster to complete and return your ballot papers! The ballot closes next week, Wednesday 21st April. So please SEND OFF your ballot papers by Monday at the latest!
Just a reminder why this is probably the most important ballot for industrial action EVER held at our university:
Department by department, colleagues are confronted with the prospect of losing their jobs. Management continues to press on with their programme of cuts, despite the fact, as acknowledged by the university’s own Director of Finance to the unions, that if no severances/redundancies were to take place there would be no deficit for the current financial year! In particular, as per the January University accounts, provided to the recognized trades unions and presented in the last Court of Governors meeting: the annual staff costs for 2010 are stated as £105,661,000, but include a projected spend of £4,6-£5,4M on severances!
In fact the January accounts make interesting reading: the January monthly pay costs were £8,405,000 – multiply this by 12 months, and you get £100,860,000. A similar exercise for the previous year shows that the result was very close to the actual outcome for annual pay costs. So management’s prediction of £105m for pay costs for this year is out by – surprise, surprise – £5m!
We keep being told that these cuts are part of a strategy to reduce the university’s staff costs ‘below 60% of income’ – and expect this delusional mantra to be repeated again and again at the VC’s briefing next Monday. But the University’s finances do not justify this, since, excluding redundancy payments, staff costs are already below 60%! There is no crisis – so why are these cuts being made? Is there another agenda being followed?
Central to any understanding of this job cuts programme are the academic job cuts in the School of Electronic and Computer Science (ECS). In ECS, management are seeking to remove 32+5 academic posts and 6 technicians’ posts in the school by ‘voluntary’ or compulsory means, to make cuts of £2.8M. However, £1.1M of this deficit was actually ‘created’ because of management’s decision to reduce ECS’s HEFCE income through the reduction of 140 FTE home student places from 2010-11.
All ECS academic members of staff have received a very confusing long letter dated April 1st, which reached the majority of staff on Easter Saturday (an Easter present from the management?), putting all ECS staff ‘at risk of redundancy’ and inviting them to ‘volunteer’ for redundancy (or unpaid career break) by 26 April. ECS staff who wish to continue being employed by the University will have to reapply for a job in the new school structure and go through an interview process.
But the new ECS school structure still remains unclear two weeks after the letter to staff has been posted, and we have heard that details of the posts and how many posts there will be in the new structure will not be available until AFTER the deadline for applying for voluntary severance! Moreover, anyone refused for voluntary severance is not actually guaranteed a job – they can apply but still be refused, thus being forced into compulsory redundancy and being paid the legal minimum payment (£380 per week under the statuatory redundancy calculator)! And anyone lucky enough to get a job for next year has no guarantee it will be at the same grade, the same salary scale, or even the same contract… If we here at the UCU Westminster blog were a tiny bit more cyncical, we could almost believe the whole palaver was designed to push people into applying for voluntary severance!
The situation at ECS should not be seen as an isolated problem for ECS staff only; it creates a very dangerous precedent for all Westminster staff. It seems there is a plan to change everyone’s contracts and salaries to their disadvantage, and if management get away with it in ECS, they won’t stop there! If there is no deficit, except for that created by severance payments, and if management can push a school into further deficit by cutting its students numbers, and use these spurious numbers to push everyone into reapplying for their jobs on worse pay and conditions, why would they stop at ECS?
Another school which is seriously hit by job cuts plans is SSHL, affecting PG Greek and UG Russian provisions in the Dept. of Modern Languages, both proposed to close despite alternative business proposals made by staff, as well as the Centre for English Learning and Teaching (Department of English, Linguistics and Cultural Studies) and the Languages evening programme in the Dept. of Modern and Applied Languages. In neither case has there been any real evidence that management have seriously considered staff’s alternative proposals – all we hear is “sorry, there’s no alternative”. In the case of the last two units, a new ’business plan’ is being proposed, further details of which will only become available next week (so we’ll have more to say on this subject then!)
These cuts are an issue for everyone at Westminster. If they are unopposed, there will be heavier workloads, larger class sizes, reduced contact time for students, increased pressures on academic freedom, and a further erosion of collegiality. This process poses an additional serious threat to Westminster’s reputation.
That’s why UCU’s ballot for industrial action at Westminster is probably our most important ever – and why we need YOU to return your ballot paper and why we are recommending that all members vote for industrial action and action short of a strike. This isn’t about university finances, this is about changing academic contracts so that we lose our livelihoods, our salary scales, our hard-earned promotions. And ultimately, it comes back to what education we offer to our students, who will find themselves in larger classes with less contact time with staff and fewer options to take in a university that has, under our current management, come to value money over real education.
Vote for industrial action! Vote to protect yourselves, your jobs and your students’ education!
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