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  • Writer's pictureThe Gaudie

UCU Threatens Strike Action If Compulsory Redundancies Aren't Ruled Out

Trade union officials open formal dispute with University over fears of staff cuts


By Kirsten Koss

Two months after standing down from a row in the University’s modern languages department, hundreds of academics could return to the pickets this summer.


Union keen to take action, ballot suggests


After a recent consultative ballot showed overwhelming support for industrial action, the Aberdeen branch of the University and College Union (UCU) have opened an official dispute with the University, which faces an ongoing financial crisis.


UCU members will now be asked if they are willing to participate in strike action in a bid to avoid compulsory redundancies, with a formal ballot set to open on Friday 24th May.  

The announcement of a formal dispute comes after the University’s voluntary severance and enhanced retirement schemes closed on Tuesday 30th April.


University looking to cut £12m in staff costs


Professor Karl Leydecker giving speech
Photo Credit: University of Aberdeen

In a University-wide email last week, Senior Vice Principal Karl Leydecker informed staff that the University was “getting closer to achieving its goal of reducing staffing costs by £12m”, noting there were 240 applications to step away from the institution. 


As of 8 May, 152 applications have been granted, with 104 staff set to leave professional services and 48 academics set to leave. A further 54 applications were denied.


Staff express fears over potential redundancies 


Despite this, many staff are worried about the prospect of compulsory redundancies. One member of professional services shared their fears over the uncertainty with The Gaudie, noting:


“It’s really scary being in this vague situation where it feels like my job could be axed at any point, but nobody knows for sure. 

“All we’ve been told is that jobs might be cut across Academic Services and that’s it. It’s not very reassuring and it’s deeply stressful inside and outside of work.”


Asked by The Gaudie to rule out the possibility of compulsory redundancies, a University spokesperson dodged the question.  Instead, the spokesperson restated Professor Leydecker's comments, noting that “good progress" was being made on finding additional savings.


The spokesperson added that the University was "committed" to supporting staff during "this period of change."


UCU: “We cannot delay”


This reassurance has done little to reassure the UCU, who sent the following message to their members, announcing their intention to ballot for strike action:  


"We believe we are close to an agreement and had hoped, with good reason, that we would resolve the issue without the need to enter a formal industrial dispute. However unfortunately the University has still not removed the threat of compulsory redundancies.”


“We cannot delay any longer. Whilst we hope that we will be able to resolve this dispute soon, we must also ensure that a ballot can still take place before the end of the academic year if it is necessary."  


"For this reason we must continue with our preparations for an industrial action ballot. If as we hope compulsory redundancies are ruled out, the ballot can be called off."


Union decision is “disappointing”, says Leydecker:


Responding to news of the dispute, Professor Leydecker told staff that University management were “deeply disappointed” with the decision, insisting that union officials are “fully aware that [the University] are in the final stages of confirming our financial position.”


The Senior VP blasted the plans to open a ballot as “unhelpful and disappointing”, adding that further updates on the financial position would be shared at a staff open session on Wednesday 22nd May.

Staff trust affected by botched modern languages consultation 


Reacting negatively to Professor Leydecker’s comments, one miffed academic noted:


“It is quite surprising to hear the Senior Vice Principal declare his 'deep disappointment' with AUCU's notice of their intent to ballot members for industrial action.


“AUCU has been clear about their concern with the threat of compulsory redundancies and has asked SMT to rule out the possibility.  SMT have been unable to do so, so AUCU has initiated the process for industrial action, with a scheduled start date of Friday 24 May.  


“If the updated financial position that SMT presents on Wednesday 22 May indicates an improvement in the University's circumstances to the point that compulsory redundancies can be ruled out, it seems clear that AUCU will withdraw their intent to ballot and close the dispute with the University. 


"All of this is part of a clearly defined process of industrial relations, which the SVP is aware of and has been involved with before.  


“So while his 'deep disappointment' is evident, that disappointment is matched by academic and professional services staff who are seeking reassurance from SMT that their jobs are not at threat.”


The same academic suggested that fractured trust between the UCU and senior managers has yet to recover from the modern languages situation:


“Given recent experiences in MLTI and Senate, it is clear that SMT do not consider long-established formal processes to apply to them...

...and when such statements make clear resistance to such processes, staff understandably lack confidence in SMT to govern effectively and transparently."


As tensions rise once more, it remains to be seen if UCU will take to the pickets, or if University chiefs are able to dodge industrial action once again.

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