Union members strike over redundancies at UEL


University and College Union members are due to strike over planned redundancies at the University of East London. - Credit: Google Maps

Union members are on strike over staff redundancies at the University of East London.

Members of the University and College Union (UCU) were due to stop work today (February 22) in solidarity with five UEL academics.

UCU rep Aura Lounasmaa said: "We were willing to pause strike action if we had seen UEL move to discuss the issue with us sooner and make a credible offer to maintain the jobs, but they've left it too late.

"We do not want to go on strike, especially in the time of a pandemic when students need our support, but that is also why we need to defend colleagues."

Ms Lounasmaa added that staff workloads exceed 100 per cent of allocated working time.

"To be cutting staff at a time when students need more support seems like it's going to harm students even further," she said.

A UEL spokesperson said the UCU has about 300 members among its 1,500 staff and had called two days of strike action about five redundancies and perceived increases in workload.  

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He said: "The redundancies were made in areas of falling student numbers and to ensure the future sustainability of the university. We are consulting on a workload model with staff and trade unions that will ensure fair, consistent and transparent allocation of academic activity.  

"The university is committed to protect, prioritise and enrich the experience for current and future students and will continue to do so regardless of the strikes." 

Of those made redundant, three are in UEL's social sciences department. The British Sociological Association has warned the cuts would be harmful.

It urged its members to avoid collaborating with UEL until the dispute is resolved, describing a reduction in capacity at UEL as "deeply damaging".

Strike action had been averted when 10 posts were threatened in November. The UCU and mayor of Newham Rokhsana Fiaz had expressed alarm at the proposed cuts.

After negotiations, the number was reduced to five. These include the UCU branch chair and vice chair whose work focuses on race inequality, raising questions about trade union victimisation and the university's commitment to diversity.

Ms Lounasmaa said the UCU remains open to talks with UEL, which is acting partly in response to the financial impact of the pandemic. The strike is set to last two days.