We are living in a period where democracy is being undermined by the widespread use of lies and distortion in public debate. The controversies surrounding the EU referendum in Britain and the presidential election in America are the most obvious cases, though not the only ones. The right to freedom of speech brings with it the responsibility to state what you believe to be true and to refrain from cheap propaganda. One would hope that institutions which have free speech written into their very being, such as our universities, would refrain from “poisoning the well” of public discourse.
It is regrettable, then, that an anonymous spokesman from London Metropolitan University has attempted to smear the University and College Union (UCU) in the pages of the Islington Gazette. UCU are in dispute with the management over mass compulsory redundancies and associated issues, including the victimisation – we believe – of our former branch chair and secretary, Mark Campbell and David Hardman, who were made compulsorily redundant in July, following a flawed selection process arising out of the previous round of redundancies in November 2015, and where Mark and David were ultimately the only two compulsory redundancies in their faculty. The university’s anonymous spokesman is quoted as saying:
“While we understand why UCU may prefer other members of staff to be made redundant instead of their members, we are committed to making such difficult but necessary decisions fairly and through correct and legal processes,”
We want to put on public record, something that the university management know perfectly well, UCU is in dispute over ALL and any compulsory redundancies at London Met and we have no interest whatsoever in substituting one targeted redundancy for another.
The allegation that UCU is attempting to only secure the jobs of its members is simply untrue. What makes this such a vile suggestion is that the management know that it is not true. In reality, and as recognised in law, in a redundancy situation, UCU, as the recognised trade union, represents and advocates for ALL academic staff at London Met whether Union member or not.
Further, we draw readers’ attention to the following points:
- London Met management and their PR office have, in recent times, actively prevented UCU from trying to assist non-members, by stopping us from using the university’s online notice board to invite them to take part in our 2015 Bullying Survey of all staff – we believe in breach of their legal duty to provide reasonable assistance on matters of health and safety;
- Last week, the PR office turned down a request to advertise a workload survey that we wished to invite all staff to complete (we have appealed this decision);
- Our campaign against compulsory redundancies does not distinguish between UCU members and non-members, we fight all such redundancies;
- During redundancy consultations, we not only invite, but encourage, non-members to take part in our advice meetings;
- We have, on occasion, and after having been invited to do so, intervened on behalf of non-members who have been badly treated during recent redundancy periods. Though, of course, given our limited resources always prioritise providing such a service to our own members as right;
- Beyond the above, we provide additional assistance to members who are in difficulties, because they pay subscriptions to be in UCU – it would be disadvantaging them if we used their subscriptions to give detailed substantial support to non-members. It is one of the reasons why the percentage of academic staff in UCU at London Met, already significant, is currently increasing;
- Our campaign to reinstate our dismissed branch officers is partly based on the fact that they could have been ‘bumped’ into vacant positions in their faculty (created by resignations), and that there are new positions being created in their faculty, where there were no compulsory redundancies arising from the latest S188. Their re-employment would therefore not disadvantage non-members in any way whatsoever. Indeed, it would directly assist such staff as their current excessive workloads resulting from too few staff would be somewhat mitigated;
Like any union, UCU negotiates over pay and conditions, and non-members benefit from this as do our members. Pay rises secured, job cuts prevented, and terms and conditions protected, resulting from union campaigning and the sacrifice of union member action, benefit all staff not just the union members involved in such. We would of course prefer that non-members join us precisely to make our collective voice louder and our necessary collective actions stronger, and recently, many more members of staff have done just that. With those new joiners telling us they have now done so because of the awful way they feel they are currently being treated by management. With that in mind the following statement from the university management’s eponymous spokesperson bears some scrutiny:
“The wellbeing of our staff is of vital importance to us, which is why we have created a new structure to enable better processes to reduce stress and have significantly increased our investment in personal and professional development.”
This from a university management that have recently unilaterally ripped-up staff workload monitoring agreements and have explicitly decided to no longer account for the time staff spend on: lecture preparation; marking; course leadership; module leadership; research; scholarly activity; CPD; invigilation, moderation; clearing duties; departmental meetings; third-stream income generation; placement supervision; quality provision such as course validation and external examining; etc, but to simply insist on enforcing the contractual maximum of 550 hours/year, 18 hours/week of Formal Scheduled Teaching (FST) – and threatening to cut the fraction of anyone not teaching such regardless of however much of those ‘other’ activities they are expected to continue doing. We thus now have members of staff on substantive contracts with a full contractual workload given those other significant responsibilities (but under the 550 FST) being downgraded to 0.8 FTE (i.e. a 20% pay cut) whilst being expected to do the same work they were expected to be doing previously!
Management’s spokesperson makes no reference whatsoever to the appalling treatment of the army of casualised staff helping to keep London Met in business, including significant numbers of Hourly Paid Lecturers (HPLs), on exploitative, insecure, zero-hours contracts. As many of these workers are amongst our union membership we can assure the management mouthpiece that they most certainly don’t feel a reduction in stress or personally and professionally invested in by London Met management. Rather, like their more substantively employed colleagues, they feel very insecure, stressed, and increasing exploited by a management unwilling to listen to their individual and collective voices.
Indeed, just today we have had to write to the university’s Director of Human Resources over what we believe to be a blatant instance of health & safety law being breached regarding a member of staff currently off with stress resulting from an excessive workload.
In summary, despite management’s attempts to stop us from doing so, UCU frequently acts on behalf of all staff, not just its members, and our campaign against redundancies and the stress provoking, non-manageable workloads resulting from such catastrophic job cuts, is a case in point. We condemn the smears in the press by the management, which are not worthy of an institution that purports to be a seat of higher learning.
London Met UCU Coordinating Committee