Published: 7th May, 2021
Last updated on 8 June 2021
Since October 2020, staff have been trying to resist the University leadership team’s plans to restructure several academic departments and student support services that involve significant cuts to staff jobs. Across the whole academic year, we’ve engaged in hundreds of hours of meetings, researched and written alternative proposals to avoid job losses, and repeatedly raised concerns with the highly paid executives who run the University – all while working extremely hard to support students during the pandemic and struggling with the stresses of that ourselves.
It hasn’t worked. They didn’t listen. So now staff are taking industrial action as a last resort to defend jobs, after Leicester UCU – the University’s largest trade union – held a democratic vote in favour of two forms of industrial action:
Yes, you have. And so have we. On 18 January, 145 staff were informed they were at risk of compulsory redundancy. Compulsory redundancy means being dismissed from your job because the work you do is no longer needed – with a couple of months’ notice, and a few weeks’ pay for your troubles. Staff got this news on the first day of the teaching term. Many of them had to go teach your classes right after. Do you think any of the staff who supported you this year are “no longer needed”?
Professor Canagarajah had originally to planned to cut 60 jobs from 145 staff placed at risk of redundancy in January 2021 as part of his strategic plan ‘Shaping for Excellence’. In May, 26 colleagues were issued with compulsory redundancy notices. Five academic departments have been impacted by the job losses. These include business; maths; informatics; neuroscience, psychology & behaviour; and English. Staff in three professional services units have also lost their jobs, including frontline library staff and educational specialists in the Leicester Learning Institute.
It might sound like 26 compulsory redundancies isn’t a lot, but the real impact of these plans has already been much, much larger: we have already lost at least 115 staff since January, through resignations and ‘voluntary’ redundancies and this is on top of the 100+ precariously employed tutors that were fired last year and another 50 voluntary redundancies in 2020. Through the process, the rules universities are supposed to follow to manage redundancy processes fairly have been repeatedly broken; important principles of academic freedom have been breached; and trade union organisers have been disproportionately targeted.
There is every reason why those 26 staff currently being made redundant can and should be saved. In addition, allowing these redundancies to proceed will set dangerous precedents for how staff are treated at this University. We are extremely concerned about the VC’s plans to move swiftly on to ‘Phase 2’ of ‘Shaping for Excellence’. No reassurances have been made that Phase 2 won’t include further redundancies; we have to assume that means they will. IT services, Research & Enterprise Division and ‘Learner Services’ – Learner Services is the AccessAbility Centre and Study Skills Centre in the Library – are next.
Whereas strike action is a complete withdrawal of labour, ASOS means working to contract and working in ways that disrupt “business as usual”. Most full-time staff are contracted to work around 37.5 hours per week. Anything over this means we are working for free.
We are currently undertaking 8 types of ASOS:
|1. Marking and assessment boycott|
|2. Not covering for absent or unavailable colleagues|
|3. Not using the University’s online systems on a Friday|
|4. Not rescheduling lectures, classes, appointments, meetings or other tasks cancelled due to industrial action|
|5. Not engaging in meetings over 50 minutes|
|6. Not sending emails before 9.00am and after 5.00pm|
|7. Not volunteering ideas or for additional tasks|
|8. Not undertaking work beyond that contracted|
The most serious and impactful for you is the marking and assessment boycott. It may mean that assessed work is returned late, or marked by someone other than your tutor. It may stop progression, degree awarding decisions or delay graduation.
However, know we have not made this decision lightly. Despite our best efforts, university management has refused to consider negotiating alternatives to the proposed redundancies. They have shown a complete disregard for staff views and the negotiating efforts of the UCU. And it may not seem like it, but ASOS is also about putting students first. Drastic job cuts impact your learning conditions. The university should be for all of us. So we undertake ASOS for all of us. For our threatened colleagues. For ourselves, who may be next. And for you, so there’s still a place that nurtures and supports, challenges and inspires, frustrates and lingers long after you graduate.
Will I still be able to speak with my dissertation supervisor? Will I still be able to get feedback on written work that is not marked?
Yes. Supervision at undergraduate and postgraduate level is a form of teaching, and this teaching includes having supervision meetings and providing feedback on drafts of written work. This is not counted within the marking and assessment boycott and you should continue to engage with your supervisor as you normally would. Except on 9, 10 and 11 June, when staff will be on strike.
Other forms of action short of strike – such as only working 37.5 hours a week, and not responding to emails outside the hours of 9am to 5pm on weekdays – may mean it takes longer for your supervisor to respond to you
I have mitigating circumstances for coursework due last term. Will I be still able to ask questions or seek advice from teaching staff?
Yes. Providing advice on mitigating circumstances – whether related to the completion of assessments or not – is a form of pastoral support to students. This is not counted within the marking and assessment boycott and you should continue to engage with your personal tutors, course tutors and student support services as you normally would. Except on 9, 10 and 11 June, when staff will be on strike.
Other forms of action short of strike – such as only working 37.5 hours a week, and not responding to emails outside the hours of 9am to 5pm on weekdays – may mean it takes longer than usual for your tutor or another staff member to respond to you.
What is the difference between ASOS and strike action?
Strike action is a complete refusal to work. While on strike, staff will do no part of their jobs, and they will not be paid. Currently planned strike dates are 9, 10 and 11 June.
ASOS – Action Short of a Strike – means working to contract and working in ways that disrupt “business as usual”. This started on 4 May 2021 and will continue until our dispute with the University employer is resolved. For legal reasons, we have to specify in advance what forms our Action Short of a Strike will take: the 8 forms of ASOS we are taking are listed in the table above.
What can I do to support staff?
Write to the Vice-Chancellor, members of the Executive Board, and the Head of School about how you feel about it. Contact details for these senior executives – the people who are making decisions to fire your staff – are here. Talk to your fellow students. The more attention, the better! Remember, being polite doesn’t mean you can’t be angry.
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Trade Union: A trade union is an officially recognised body that represents workers with a common trade or that work in a specific industry or organisation. The purpose of a trade union is to secure improvements in pay, benefits, working conditions, or social and political status through collective bargaining. It also works to ensure that employers follow the law and enforce their own policies and procedures fairly and equitably across the employer organisation. Trade unions are democratic entities that work by committee. Decisions taken are agreed by majority vote in branch meetings. Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) is the largest of three trade unions recognised by the University of Leicester. When a trade union fails to get agreement with an employer over changes to working conditions it is allowed by law, under the Trade Unions Act 2016, to ballot its members to obtain a legal mandate to take action, as Leicester UCU did in April 2021 to defend staff jobs. You can see who are the elected officers of the Leicester UCU branch committee here: four of the twenty-five officers will lose their jobs if the redundancy plans go ahead.
Voluntary Severance or Voluntary Redundancy compared to Compulsory Redundancy: Voluntary severance or redundancy is when an employer offers staff the “opportunity” to leave their job voluntarily in return for a financial settlement that is usually a little better than the money given to staff made redundant against their will (this is called compulsory redundancy, and the money received in that situation is called Statutory Redundancy Pay). Since the staff being made redundant don’t earn anything like the six-figure salaries of the people who are firing them, this isn’t very much: about 1 week’s pay for every year they’ve worked at the university. Over the last year, in order to avoid being made compulsorily redundant or, for those whose jobs were not at risk of redundancy, just because they can no longer stand working in an environment where they are valued so little, a significant number of staff have taken the voluntary redundancy option. Others have resigned. “I’m not at risk, but I’m affected” is an article explaining how such losses are felt by those staff who remain.
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