Staff at Manchester Metropolitan University will strike against job cuts on 24 and 25 May, against a backdrop of hundreds of jobs at risk across the sector. Manchester University is planning to cut 171 jobs; up to 150 are at risk at Aberystwyth; 139 at the University of Wales Trinity St David; Sunderland, Durham and Plymouth are all looking for voluntary redundancies.
Publicly, universities have been blaming Brexit’s impact on international student recruitment and research funding. But Manchester Met has £400m reserves, while Manchester Uni is planning to hire an extra 100 junior researchers (presumably hoping they can pressurize them to perform harder).
The background to these cuts is the decision by the coalition government to lift the cap on student recruitment from 2015. Previously the government gave universities a quota of publicly-subsidised students that they were allowed to admit. That made admissions (and therefore staffing needs) relatively stable. The new free market system has created enormous volatility.
Some universities with a more “prestigious” reputation have recruited more students. Combined with a drop in the number of 18-year-olds (and a slump in mature student numbers following the rise to £9k fees), that’s caused problems for universities lower in the league tables. Contrast Manchester, in contrast, has a relatively high entry tariff in terms of A Level grades. But its management wants to increase entry requirements so as to become a more “elite” institution. That way they think they can rank higher in the league tables (some of which rate universities on the basis of how selective they are) and in student experience surveys that will feed into the Teaching Excellence Framework.
Aside from the devastating impact on the staff affected, cuts to courses are also deeply damaging for students who need to study locally rather than move away to go to university. Alongside news of the job cuts, employers have offered a national pay award of 1.7% this year. With inflation currently running at 2.6% this is yet another real-terms pay cut, while the pay of senior managers soars and the gender pay gap remains above 10%. All in all, the situation is bad for staff, bad for access to education and bad for students. UCU should take the lead in co-ordinating campaigns against these job cuts — and against the real pay cut — before they spread further.
• Read the statement of Save Our Staff Manchester
LSE cleaners fight back
Cleaners at the London School of Economics (LSE) will strike again on 17 May in an ongoing dispute for parity of conditions with directly employed workers. The cleaners, employed by cleaning contractor Noonan, struck for the first time on 15 and 16 March.
After their first strike LSE pleaded for a halt to strikes, promising that they would come back with an acceptable offer. They did not. Cleaners voted to strike every week indefinitely, with the first strike on 11 May and further strikes on 17 and 24 May, with more to be announced.
Over 70 cleaners joined the strike on 11 May and picketed LSE with support from student campaigns. In an attempt to smear the cleaners LSE sent an email to all staff claiming the protests were the work of ″protesters who had entered campus″ — implying it was solely the work of outside agents, not employees and students of the university. LSE also accused the pickets of ″noise pollution″ and affecting student exams. LSE Justice for Cleaners student campaign said: ″the email expresses a hypocritical concern for “noise pollution”, when students have been suffering disruptions due to demolition and construction on campus for the past two years (including exam seasons). Noise seems to be an issue for this university only when it does not favour its economic interests.″
LSE has apparently set up negotiations between itself, Noonan and Unison. Unison represents directly employed workers but the majority of cleaners are members of the United Voices of the World, who have organised the strikes. Strikes have already moved LSE to offer more sick pay, holiday and maternity pay. However the offer would still see them receiving just 10.9% of the sick pay and a quarter of the maternity pay of directly employed staff, and 10 days less annual leave. LSE has made no improvement to the cleaners′ pensions.
• Support their campaign and donate to the strike fund here
Fujitsu workers fight 1,800 job losses
Workers at Fujitsu sites across the country will struck again on 18, 19, 22, 25 and 26 May in their dispute over job losses, union recognition, and pay. Workers have already struck for 15 days between February and May, and strikes have been stepped up now that Fujitsu has served redundancies notices on a number of staff including Unite reps.
Fujitsu plans to cut 1800 jobs across its UK sites. Activists also protested at the Japanese embassy (Fujitsu is a Japanese company) in London and handed a letter to the ambassador. They leafletted the launch of ″Responsible business week″ run by Business in the Community for which Fujitsu is one of five Corporate Partners.
• Support the strike and donate to the strike fund here
Stop job cuts at EHRC
Around 50 people supported the PCS picket line at the Glasgow offices of Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) on 15 May.
Trade unionists in the EHRC — mainly PCS members, but also some Unite members — are staging four successive weeks of strike action around the country in the run up to the general election: Glasgow, London, Cardiff and Manchester. The strikes are the latest stage in a long-running dispute in opposition to EHRC redundancies. Government funding for the EHRC has been slashed by 70% since the organisation was created in 2008. A further 25% cut is now being implemented over a four year period. EHRC management is also implementing an ‘organisational restructuring’, at a cost of even more jobs. Potential redundancies were announced at the close of last year.
Employees in the “at risk pool” were disproportionately ethnic-minority staff, older employees, employees with disabilities, and trade union activists. redeploy Despite the availability of suitable alternative employment within the EHRC, and despite the legal obligation to do so, management has consistently refused to redeploy staff at risk of redundancy into those vacancies. At the same time, the EHRC has been advertising externally for a new raft of highly paid senior management and ‘strategic thinkers’.
Notices of dismissal were served on twelve members of staff in February, while they were taking part in a 24-hour strike against the proposed redundancies. Seven were from ethnic minorities, three were union activists, three were disabled and eight were older workers. At the time of their dismissal the EHRC had around thirty vacancies, including vacancies at the same grades as those dismissed.
Without precedent in the civil service, all twelve were dismissed with immediate effect and paid Compensation in Lieu of Notice (the civil service equivalent of PILON). They were also told that they had 24 hours to clear out their desks. Under pressure from campaigning by the PCS, supported by other trade unions, ten of those dismissed were reinstated onto the EHRC payroll. But industrial action was suspended by the PCS in mid-March and mediation talks resumed at ACAS. The EHRC continued to reject proposals for redeployment within the EHRC itself or elsewhere in the civil service. It also refused to allow those who had been dismissed and then reinstated to return to work, i.e. they were effectively on “gardening leave”.
PCS members responded to the lack of progress in ACAS talks by deciding on four successive weeks of strikes in the different EHRC offices, starting off in Glasgow last Monday. Ironically, the new Scottish EHRC Chief Executive recently gave evidence in an Employment Tribunal in defence of his former employer (the Scottish Refugee Council) against claims of unfair dismissal and sex discrimination. He’ll feel at home in the Scottish EHRC.
• Donations to: PCS PSG Hardship Fund, Sort code: 608301. Account no: 20151243 • Messages of support to PCS • Messages of protest to: Rebecca Hilsenrath, EHRC CEO, Fleetbank House, 2-6 Salisbury Square, London EC4Y 8JX • Twitter @savetheehrc
Nurses may ballot for strikes
A survey of Royal College of Nursing members shows that 78% of members would support strikes against the 1% pay cap. Members voted at the RCN’s conference on 14 May for a motion which called for a summer of protests against the pay cap and to consider moving to a formal ballot for strikes if the new government does not increase NHS pay.
RCN general secretary Janet Davies said: “What’s happened today is unprecedented for the RCN and is a reflection of the deep anger members feel. The current conditions in the NHS are driving people out of the profession and putting new people off entering it.
“Our argument is not with patients – this is about ensuring that they get the safe and effective care they need. The 1% cap on nursing pay is putting patient care at risk.”
Nurses have had a real-terms pay cut of 14% since 2010 and a recent report by the Health Foundation predicted that the NHS will face a shortfall of 42,000 nurses by 2020.