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University of Birmingham Staff Ballot Members on Strike Action
News' Megan Stanley reports on possible strike action from Birmingham University College Union at UoB
This week the University of Birmingham’s academic union Birmingham University College Union (BUCU) have released its indicative ballot asking members if they would be prepared to strike. The electronic ballot will be open for three weeks from the 28th March.
The union, which represents over 1,000 UoB staff members is asking to strike over the following issues: aggressive performance management, disciplinary processes, and workload allocations.
Regarding disciplinary processes, Birmingham Socialist Students have reported that the University is being criticised for targeting staff it wishes to ‘manage out’. That is, encouraging members of staff to leave rather than firing them. This issue came to light when the University was defeated in its programme of targeted redundancies of staff in Modern Languages, Neuroscience, Engineering, and Hydrogeology.
BUCU have said ‘the University has failed to resolve disciplinary issues informally in several cases and is pursuing unjustified disciplinary proceedings against staff despite repeated objection of BUCU. We have identified serious issues in how the University conducts disciplinary proceedings which have been dismissed by the University in order to pursue their actions against staff.’
“The union, which represents over 1,000 UoB staff members is asking to strike over the following issues: aggressive performance management, disciplinary processes, and workload allocations
BUCU have reported that due to unreasonable performance management practices many staff now feel bullied and harassed, which is reportedly affecting health and wellbeing alongside morale and performance.
Earlier this year, Redbrick reported of students and staff protesting outside of the Guild of Students regarding staff working hours. BUCU states that some parts of the University added 280 hours to staff workloads. Birmingham Socialist Students have reportedly seen evidence that the additional hours have affected the hourly rate of casual staff across the College of Social Sciences. The pay cut is just over £2 per hour for the lowest paid post-doc and GTA teaching assistants.
The current proposal is asking its members for ‘discontinuous strike action targeting exam period, open days, and/or applicant days’ and ‘action short of strike’, which could see staff refusing to work over time or at the weekend. The proposal also suggests a Canvas boycott which would temporarily remove material for 24 hours. BUCU have emphasised that strike action would be a last resort if the University continues to refuse to negotiate.
Before striking the union has to first conduct an indicative ballot, and then a formal ballot. The formal ballot needs to reach over 50% of the votes from 50% of the membership for the strike to occur.
Birmingham Socialist Students, who were involved in the strike early this year, are encouraging the student body to support a potential strike. Writing in the Birmingham Socialist Student blog, current chair James Moran writes: ‘If staff are prepared to stand up to protect our education then students should stand by their side. While strike action may cause some minor inconvenience in the short-term it is vital that we work together to support better terms and conditions that will only benefit the education of students for years to come.’