Staff health at risk as London Met management rip up contractual agreements on working practices

Significant numbers of staff at London Metropolitan University are working the kind of hours known to be harmful to health. That was the conclusion of a new report released today by the London Met branch of the University and College Union.

Most of the full-time lecturers who were surveyed for the report indicated that they were working hours in excess of the European Working Time Directive, with a significant number working between 50 and 80 hours per week – hours that are known to increase the risk of a stroke. Half of the part-time respondents were working the hours of a full-timer (or more). A widespread complaint of both the full-time and part-time staff concerned a lack of consultation over recent workload increases, something that is supposed to be guaranteed by the academic contract. By contrast, zero-hours contract staff, who have hourly-paid agreements, often indicated that their work allocation had decreased. Some had no hours allocated.

Ninety-two per cent of respondents said that they experienced problems managing their workload, with 75% saying their workload was either “very” or “extremely” difficult to manage. These figures represent an increase on those reported in UCU’s 2013 workload survey.

The Secretary of North Campus branch, and former Health and Safety rep, Dr David Hardman, said: “We have been telling management for years that stress levels at London Met are unacceptable. Offering yoga and Zumba classes to staff is not a sufficient way of tackling stress. The real problem is unacceptably high workload pressures, often accompanied by bullying. Instead of finding ways to reduce these pressures, the senior management are now sacking hundreds of staff and pushing up the workloads of those who remain. They are also abandoning their contractual obligation to publish written records of workload allocations within subject areas. Hard-pressed lecturing staff are simply expected to somehow fit in the extra work, no matter how this might impact on their home and family life”.

In 2010 and 2014, after pressure from the Health and Safety Executive, London Metropolitan University conducted surveys of staff stress. These showed that London Met compared unfavourably with other national organisations on a range of measures, including work demands. Although such surveys are meant to motivate improvements – indeed “urgent action” was recommended on some measures – there was no evidence that this had happened between the two surveys.

The national union recently delivered a letter of censure to the Vice-Chancellor of London Met, relating to concerns over the imposition of redundancies and restructuring without meaningful consultation, and over the victimisation of the former local branch secretary and chair – David Hardman (quoted above) and Mark Campbell. The censure could lead to an international boycott of the university unless emergency talks lead to a positive outcome.

The full report can be read here.

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