Union threatens strike action over job cuts threat at UEL
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A union has threatened strike action over a university’s plan to sack staff.
The University and College Union (UCU) is balloting members at the University of East London (UEL) over possible industrial action in January.
The UCU fears UEL will make 10 job cuts – including seven to academic posts.
It says UEL’s move would take the total number of jobs lost to 92 after 82 workers already agreed to take voluntary redundancy earlier in the year.
The union has said the losses send “a worrying message” to students that the university is cutting almost 100 jobs despite forecasting an increase in enrolments.
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UCU called on UEL to work with them to reverse the redundancies and find an alternative.
A UEL spokesperson said: “The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the university’s finances made it essential to make difficult decisions to guarantee the long-term sustainability of the university to the communities it serves.
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“To manage the risk in a period of such unprecedented turbulence, a restructure within some areas of the university focused on securing a sustainable and more secure future.”
The union described strike action as a last resort but stated UEL left it with no option after refusing to engage in talks supported by the conciliation service ACAS.
The union alleged UEL may be acting unlawfully and the UCU is considering a legal challenge on the grounds of a lack of meaningful consultation, unfair selection, unfair dismissal, victimisation and discrimination.
A UEL spokesperson said: “Following an extensive consultation, that commenced at the beginning of July, at the end of both the legal process and then a further nine weeks of consultation with at-risk individuals – demonstrating the university’s commitment to seek all reasonable alternatives to compulsory redundancy – eight roles remain at risk and efforts are continuing to identify suitable redeployment opportunities for those people.
“We continue to explore ways in which these redundancies can be avoided but recognise that a fair, consistent and transparent process must be applied to all staff equally.”
Six of the seven academics facing the sack are more than 50 years old, according to the UCU.
Five are of black and minority ethnic heritage and five are female, prompting the UCU to question UEL’s commitment to equality and diversity.
Four of the seven academics are also UCU activists. These include the branch chair and vice-chair.
UCU regional support official, Amanda Sackur, said: “Most of the academic staff the university is trying to sack have protected characteristics, and we believe UEL has deliberately tried to get rid of UCU activists.
“It is outrageous that the university trumpets its commitment to diversity and equality and then attacks staff in this way.
“UEL now needs to step back from the brink, limit any further damage to its reputation, drop these disastrous cuts and engage meaningfully with us in finding alternate solutions.”
The Mayor of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz, has expressed alarm at the proposed cuts in a letter to Anulika Ajufo, who chairs UEL’s board of governors.
The November 18 letter co-signed by education chief, Cllr Sarah Ruiz, and equalities commissioner, Cllr Dr Rohit Dasgupta, includes the line: “We have serious concerns about the equality implications of the university’s redundancy process”.
The UEL spokesperson said the university has carried out three equality impact analyses at each stage of the process.
He added: “This has been undertaken by our Office for Institutional Equity who have concluded that there has been no disproportionate impact on any protected characteristic grouping at any stage.
“There has also been no change in the distribution of ethnicity or gender of our staff overall.
“The university is proud of its evidence-based reputation and progress in equality, diversity and inclusion.
“It is a beacon of the highest standards of employment practice, continues to play a leading role in the fight against the pandemic and generates one of the largest economic and social contributions in our borough.”