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Strike action on the cards at University of East London in row over job cuts

10 November 2020 | last updated: 11 November 2020

UCU has warned the University of East London (UEL) of potential industrial action over the university's decision to push ahead with compulsory job cuts.

UCU will ballot members at UEL for industrial action, starting on 17 November and finishing on 16 December. The row centres on 10 compulsory job cuts, including seven to academic posts, and the knock-on additional workload that staff would face. In July UEL said it needed to make 134 people redundant due to an expected decline in student numbers due to Covid-19, but the university is forecasting higher student enrolments than last year. The cuts would mean 92 jobs would go in total, after 82 staff agreed to take voluntary redundancy earlier this year. The latest round of cuts are aimed at senior academics with decades of experience in social sciences and architecture.

The union said it sent a worrying message to students that the university was cutting almost 100 jobs despite the university forecasting an increase in student enrolments, and with staff workloads already at unbearable levels.

UCU called on UEL to work with them to reverse the 10 compulsory redundancies and find an alternative. The union said strike action is a last resort but UEL has left it with no option after refusing to engage in talks facilitated by ACAS.

The union believes UEL may be acting unlawfully and is considering a legal challenge on grounds of lack of meaningful consultation, unfair selection, unfair dismissal, victimisation and discrimination. Six of the seven academics facing the sack are over 50 years old, five are of black and minority ethnic heritage, and five are female. UCU said UEL's claims of commitment to equality and diversity ring hollow when it treats staff like this.

Four of the seven academics facing the sack are also UCU activists, including the branch chair and vice-chair.

UCU regional support official Amanda Sackur said: 'UEL staff are reporting unmanageable workloads but the university is insisting on more cuts. The decision to sack another 10 staff on top of the 82 who have already accepted redundancy this year is completely unjustified, especially as the university's own figures forecast an increase in student enrolments. We urge the university to halt these cuts and work with us to support students and staff. If it refuses to do so we will continue with the ballot for industrial action so that members can show their strength of feeling against these job losses.

'Most of the academic staff the university is trying to sack have protected characteristics, and we believe UEL has deliberately tried to get rid of UCU activists. It is outrageous that the university trumpets its commitment to diversity and equality and then attacks staff in this way. UEL now needs to step back from the brink, limit any further damage to its reputation, drop these disastrous cuts and engage meaningfully with us in finding alternate solutions.'

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