Update 16 December: University HR have circulated an email about this to all staff today entitled “Proposed changes to Statute”. Leeds UCU would be grateful to hear your response to this email – please email your thoughts to email@example.com
The university’s Statutes are part of the terms and conditions of academic and academic-related staff. They set out the procedures for redundancy, grievance, discipline and dismissal, including appeals. UCU has been negotiating with the university management for some time over updates to Statutes, and some progress has been made. However, management has recently introduced a new grounds for dismissal – “some other substantial reason” – which will make it much easier for the university to dismiss people for any reason. What a way to celebrate being University of the Year! It doesn’t entirely chime with the VC saying one of the contributors to that award was “unparalleled investments in our staff”.
The current Statutes are at www.leeds.ac.uk/secretariat/statutes.html
What does “some other substantial reason” (SOSR) mean? It could be anything including cases where there is a personality clash, raising insufficient funding or not publishing enough, or simply that an individual no longer fits the academic interests of a department. Or perhaps the university is thinking of dismissing teaching staff without a PhD, or research staff who they think will not achieve a high enough score in the next REF. The examples the university has given where this might be used are: if a member of staff loses their driving licence, issues from a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check, conflict of interest and third party pressure. The last two are quite alarming! Third party pressure might mean for example if your research findings didn’t suit the commercial interests of a company who funds a major research project.
Leeds UCU has rejected this addition to Statutes, and so has UCU’s national Ratification Panel, who have to ratify significant changes to terms and conditions before the union can agree to them. We and the Ratification Panel also have several other significant concerns about the proposed new Statutes, see table below.
The university has nevertheless sent the proposed new Statutes to Senate and Council, with some vague wording about ‘subject to minor textual amendments’. We feel this was a completely inaccurate representation of the ongoing negotiations, and deliberately hid the major issues we are concerned about. The next step is for the Statutes to go before the Privy Council, a parliamentary body which essentially acts as a rubber stamp. Management intend this to happen before Christmas.
The university has told us that they only plan to use SOSR in exceptional circumstances, but Statutes contain the fundamental constitutional and governance provisions of the University, underpinning your terms and conditions of employment. This matter is too significant to leave to verbal assurances, and who knows what might happen when the senior officers of the university change?
A packed UCU local branch general meeting on 6th December voted unanimously to record a failure to agree and go into dispute if the university refuses to continue to negotiate with us, and specifically if SOSR is not removed. The university is well aware that we are willing to continue with negotiations, so we hope they will stop this headlong rush to drastically worsen your terms and conditions.
Members please check your UCU emails for the actions we would like you to help us with at this stage. And please discuss this issue with colleagues who may not be aware that the university is trying to worsen their terms and conditions. Many staff have contacted Leeds UCU to express their outrage at this, and the first step to getting involved in campaigning is to join the union, which is easy to do at www.ucu.org.uk/join
The Leeds UCU Twitter feed at https://twitter.com/leedsucu will have ongoing comments and imagery which we’d be grateful if you could retweet.
More details – comparison of current and proposed Statutes
The most significant differences are highlighted in the table below:
|Current Statutes||Proposed new Statutes|
|Removal for incapacity on ill health grounds:
If the member of staff does not agree that their contract should be terminated on medical grounds, the issue is referred to a Board with a medically qualified chair.
|Member invited to informal meeting. There is no provision for a medically qualified chair at this meeting.|
|Appeals against dismissal
At the appeal stage, the person appointed to hear and determine 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.”
|The membership of the panel shall include the Vice Chancellor (or Deputy Vice Chancellor) plus 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.|
|Dismissal on grounds of ‘some other substantial reason’ not included||Dismissal on grounds of ‘some other substantial reason’ included. No specific examples have been included but this could include: conflict of interest; personality clash; third party pressure; not having a PhD or; criticising management|