No to the sacker’s charter – support the UCU dispute!

Do you think your management should be able to sack you for any reason they like?

Statutes are part of the terms and conditions of academic and academic related staff. The University wants to add a provision to dismiss people for “some other substantial reason” which they say could include:
• third party pressure
• breakdown of trust
• mistake
This is a threat to academic freedom.

The University’s Statutes set out procedures covering all stages from informal stage, through formal stages, including appeals. These Statutes already contain many grounds for dismissal – redundancy, capability, ill health, conduct – which should cover anything significant. But management want to introduce an additional catch-all dismissal clause – “Some Other Substantial Reason” (SOSR).

UCU has been negotiating over the proposed new Statutes for some time, trying to prevent your terms and conditions from being eroded. But the university has refused to concede on SOSR. They also want to scrap having independent chairs for appeals and independent medical experts for ill health cases.

The Human Resources director circulated an email to staff with examples of when this new SOSR statute might be used: “conflict of interest, breakdown in trust and confidence, mistake or ignorance of law or failure to comply with a legal requirement essential to the post”. Other examples the university has given are: if a member of staff loses their driving licence, issues from a Disclosure and Barring Service check, and third party pressure. Elsewhere, Huddersfield University is trying to use SOSR as grounds for dismissing experienced teaching staff without PhDs.

Dismissing staff on grounds of making mistakes is a serious concern – staff would be more likely to cover things up, blame others and not report possible safety errors, which doesn’t bode well for a co-operative, productive or safe workplace. Allowing third party pressure or workplace disagreement as grounds for dismissal threatens the principled disagreement which is essential to academic freedom and would risk the heart of what a university should be – a community of ideas debated openly without outside interference.

Management say that dismissal for “Some Other Substantial Reason” is legal so they could use it anyway – but the University is legally entitled to pay only statutory sick pay when people are ill, and we wouldn’t expect them to do that. The University of Leeds is supposed to be a good employer (we are University of the Year after all!) and we don’t want to join a ‘race to the bottom’ for worsening staff terms and conditions. Having SOSR in Statutes means it’s likely to be used in all sorts of situations – as the HR email proves. At the moment, we can challenge any dismissal which is not for reasons of conduct, competence or ill health – SOSR would make it MUCH more difficult for us to do that.

Dispute

Leeds UCU voted for, and is now in, a formal dispute with the university on the changes to Statutes. Please support this dispute. This is an issue of national significance for UCU.

We need your help to get the issues across to staff and to publicise as widely as possible what the university is trying to do.
• Please display and distribute leaflets and posters (download the leaflets here: leaflet and poster)
• Tell colleagues at other universities so the word gets around.
• Help us get good media coverage by sharing any press contacts you have.
We hope to persuade the university to drop the proposed SOSR statute, otherwise we will ballot for industrial action. We could also ask members in other universities to ‘greylist’ Leeds, lobby the University Council, and lobby the government Privy Council who would have to agree the changes (see http://ow.ly/Dh5N309lU4w).

Details of proposed statute changes

The current Statutes are at www.leeds.ac.uk/secretariat/statutes.html

Current Statutes

Proposed new Statutes

Dismissal on grounds of ‘some other substantial reason’ NOT included Dismissal on grounds of ‘some other substantial reason’ included. 
Removal for incapacity on ill health grounds:
If the employee does not agree that their contract should be terminated on medical grounds, the issue is referred to a Board with a medically qualified chair.
Appeal panel includes VC (or Deputy VC), one lay member of the Council and a member of the Senate, one of whom ‘may’ be medically qualified.  No medically qualified chair required.
Appeals against dismissal
At the appeal stage, the person appointed to hear that appeal “are persons not employed by the University holding, or having held, judicial office or being barristers or solicitors of at least ten years’ standing.”
Appeal panel includes VC (or Deputy VC), one lay member of the Council and a member of the Senate (no mention of legal qualifications).  There is no provision for an independent and legally qualified practitioner.

Statute – response to Vice-Chancellor’s email

The university management have told all staff that dismissal for ‘some other substantial reason’ (SOSR) is within the law and that they want to update our Statutes to reflect this.

Management have no right, under our current Statute, to make dismissals for ‘some other substantial reason’.

‘Dismissal for some other substantial reason’ has been within the law since the 1970s, but university management here, and in other institutions across the country, chose not to stoop to the legal minimum protection when updating their university statutes in the 1980s and 1990s.

So, why now? Our conditions at the University of Leeds are better than the law in many ways (paid parental leave and sick pay, for example) and we want to keep it that way. We don’t think our conditions of employment (or anyone’s, for that matter) should be pared down to the basic legal minimum of “anything that’s not illegal”.

‘Dismissal for some other substantial reason’ is potentially dangerous because it could be so wide ranging. We’ve already given you examples e.g. breakdown in trust, third party pressure.

In terms of the University Executive Group (UEG) being exempt from Statute, neither the Senate paper or the paper that went to Council in November 2016 contained the paragraph about UEG being exempt. When that paragraph appeared is a mystery, and it has not been the subject of negotiations between UCU and university management. We are encouraging the university management to continue negotiations with us.

I urge you to take part in the indicative poll and to say yes to industrial action. If you haven’t received your e-poll, check your “clutter” folder and if it’s not there email UCU head office: EBailey@ucu.org.uk.

e-poll, members meetings, messages of support

You are likely to receive an e-poll later today or tomorrow from national UCU about the Statute dispute.  This will be in indicative online poll (not the industrial action ballot, which will be by post).  Please vote yes to industrial action in the indicative online poll.
All of this week we’ll be holding meetings across the main campus to inform members about our dispute over Statute.  These will be briefing and campaign planning meetings.  Please do your best to attend one of the meetings.  I’ve added some suggestions about who might attend which meeting, but these are just based on location, so whether you are in a faculty or a service, feel free to attend whichever is most convenient to you.  Please note, all the meetings are 12-1 EXCEPT Friday which is 1-2pm.

Date and Time

Location

Suggested Faculties

Monday 20thMarch 12-1

Worsley SR 9.58c

FBS and FMH

Tuesday 21stMarch 12-1

Civil Engineering Lecture Theatre B (3.25)

Engineering

Wednesday 22ndMarch 12-1

Liberty Building Lecture Theatre LG 06

Law and LUBS

Thursday 23rdMarch 12-1

EC Stoner SR 7.70

MaPS and Environment

Friday 24th March 1-2

Michael Sadler Building LG15

Arts and rest of ESSL

 

We will organise a separate meeting for staff at St. James’.

Messages of support for our UCU branch have been pouring in from branches and activists nationally. Many of them see our defence of academic freedom at Leeds as being relevant and important to the sector nationally. Some of the messages of support we have received are:

  •  I’m sending my support to your campaign knowing this important issue is not just worth challenging for current staff but those to come too. As those in senior management continue to press for policies which undermine working conditions and morale, what they also create are conditions which see the rewards of success fall away from those who put the hard work in, and fall towards those who drive through change.
  • I hope you manage to get everyone connected with the university on board- all the key stakeholders.  Their support will add weight to your voice. (Huddersfield University)
  • You have my full understanding, endorsement and human support as well as solidarity. Good luck with your industrial action! (University of Glasgow)
  • Thank you for fighting this erosion of employment rights of my colleagues in Bristol. (University of Bristol)
  • My sincere wishes for a positive outcome. (Keele University)
  • I am writing to support your campaign against moves by management to make it easier to sack staff and the dispute over the university’s decision to change the statutes that cover grounds for dismissal.
  • Please accept my best wishes in your fight over this. (Manchester Metropolitan University)
  • Our branch supports your members and offers this message of support on behalf of all UCU members here. (Blackpool and Fylde College)
  • All strength to you in your resistance to these proposals. (University of Stirling)
  • I wish to give a shout-out to your struggles in restoring the pride and sanctity of the noble teaching out there.  Well done Comrades!!! (London South East Colleges)
  •  Stay strong brothers and sisters. (Lincoln College)
  •  You have my full, unqualified support in your fight against the ‘Sackers’ Charter’ proposed by your management. My stomach churns at the thought of the many morally dubious ways in which this clause might be used, particularly as – in times of huge change in HE – universities begin rethinking their strategies and priorities. It does not bear thinking about. Good luck. (University of Swansea)
  •  Loughborough branch has featured the Leeds story in its Newsletter – best of luck in fighting off the changes to statute. (Loughborough University)
  •  You are defending the integrity of the whole of the teaching profession. (Anonymous)
  • In solidarity!  Please resist this management-centric crap!  Thank you for the effort from all of us academics. (University of Edinburgh)
  • You must nip this in the bud before it spreads throughout the sector. In my opinion, this should be a concern at National level, not just branch, potentially it affects us all. (University of Hull)

Support for Brighton UCU

UCU University of Leeds has sent a message of support to colleagues at University of Brighton who have voted to strike over their management’s obstinate refusal to back down over plans which are detrimental to staff, trying to railroad through redundancies and demotions without serious attempts to find a negotiated, agreed solution with the union representing the staff.

University of Leeds UCU sends full solidarity and support to our colleagues in University of Brighton UCU for their dispute over management breaches of trade union agreements and in defence of their negotiating rights, including the upcoming strikes on 20&21 March.

We are deeply concerned to hear of the planned closure of the Hastings campus, and dismayed to learn of the assault by University of Brighton management on the working conditions of academic staff which is accompanied by the refusal to comply with the agreed disputes procedure after Brighton UCU invoked it in a bid to work towards a resolution.

For a Vice Chancellor to announce that the University’s position is “that it does not require the agreement of the UCU in respect of these issues” is a flagrant bid to derecognise the UCU, to sideline members, and to impose deleterious conditions upon staff at the University of Brighton.

We sincerely hope that the Vice Chancellor and University management reconsider their position swiftly and send full support to all University of Brighton UCU members for their strikes, noting the strength of feeling among them indicated by their very strong ballot result.

University of Brighton staff are meeting today to agree a programme of industrial action.

You can find out more about the UCU dispute with University of Brighton at ucu.brighton.ac.uk

One Day Without Us at University of Leeds