Union calls for urgent talks to safeguard jobs and win back staff trust
Members of UCU at the University of Leeds have today voted overwhelmingly in favour of both strike action and action short of a strike. The turnout was 66%; the highest figure UCU has ever had in a ballot. The union said the unprecedented turnout was indicative of the strength of feeling among UCU members across the country over savage funding cuts and damaging job losses.
Almost two-thirds (64%) who voted supported strike action and over three-quarters (78%) agreed to action short of a strike. The union said its members at Leeds had made it clear they would defend jobs and courses at the university and called on vice-chancellor, Professor Michael Arthur, to win back the trust of staff by agreeing to serious negotiations.
Professor Arthur in his role as Head of the Russell Group of universities has publicly acknowledged that national budget cuts will have a 'devastating effect' on staff and students. Yet under his plans, 54 staff at the University of Leeds have already lost their jobs and up to 700 more are at risk. The university says it is looking to make £35 million worth of savings through an 'economies exercise' and all university departments, even those making a surplus, have been told to identify cuts of between 10 to 20%.
UCU said the cuts at Leeds had already inflicted serious damage and warned that further redundancies would lead to higher student:staff ratios than seen in other similar universities and would further increase the workload of the staff left behind. The union said the plans had to be shelved to allow the union and university to work together to minimise damage to the university.
UCU will now consult with members about what type of action it might take should the fresh negotiations UCU has called for with management not bear fruit.
Leeds UCU president, Professor Malcolm Povey, said: 'UCU members have today delivered a clear mandate for industrial action at the University of Leeds. We thank our members for participating in such large numbers and reiterate UCU's belief that a negotiated settlement is still possible if the vice-chancellor will, at last, recognise the strength of feeling among his workforce. Our priority remains to defend our members and the quality of education experienced by our students.'
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'Michael Arthur has himself acknowledged the devastating impact cuts will have on staff and students. The bottom line is that serious job losses will impact massively on the university's ability to function as a leading university in the region, let alone globally. The university should be working with us to oppose the government's savage cuts to higher education and must immediately put plans to axe 700 jobs on hold. Now is the time for fresh negotiations and for Michael Arthur to seize the opportunity to win back the trust of the marvellous staff at this university.'