Liverpool University puts "a gun to the head of its workers"; Warwick students occupy against pay hike

Submitted by Matthew on 27 June, 2013 - 9:36

Liverpool University has said it will sack 2,800 workers and rehire them on inferior contracts — or sack them if they refuse.

Unions representing Liverpool University workers have described this as a “gun to the head”. Jo MacNeill, president-elect of the UCU lecturers’ union at Liverpool University, spoke to Solidarity:

Everyone from gardeners to managers is in the firing line — it’s 52% of staff. We think that this attack is a move towards much more of a “business model” for the university, away from it being an academic institution.

Industrial relations have broken down. They’re trying to bully people into accepting these conditions. Looking around the sector, at places like Lancaster, there is a real drive towards a market model.

The Section 188 of TULRA notice was handed out this week. Previously, a 90-day collective consultation period would ensue, but the government has changed that, and the consultation will only last 45 days.
At the end of the 45 days, unless an agreement is reached, the university will issue all 2,803 members of staff with redundancy notices. There will then be a 90-day notice period.

When staff are issued with their redundancy notices the staff will also be issued with a new contract. The current contract will end on 31 October, the new contract starts on 1 November, and anyone who doesn’t sign will be dismissed.

We’ve got a plan of action; we’ve passed a motion which enables the branch committee to activate a ballot as we see fit. We had an emergency meeting last Monday and the queue was out the door.

Nationally we’re getting a huge amount of support. We’re looking at getting a lunchtime rally on 2 July of people from all the campus unions. We’ve got a lot of support from local unions around Merseyside. We spoke at Merseyside Trades Council this week, where we met with great support.

It’s not just local, regional or national but it’s also international — we’re getting messages of support from all over the world. This is one push too far from management.

• Petition here

Protecting the public university

Since Friday 14 June students at Warwick University have been in occupation against the huge hike in the pay packet of the University’s Vice-Chancellor.

From the statement of Protect the Public University Warwick:

In the academic year of 2011/12 the Vice-Chancellor of Warwick University, Nigel Thrift, was awarded a pay
increase of £42,000. He now receives £316,000 – earning over twenty-two times more than the lowest paid worker at this university (£14,202).

This is not unusual. Vice-Chancellors of the country’s most selective universities have received similar pay increases. This is symptomatic of widening social inequality and a mass transfer of wealth from poor to rich, public to private.

Widening inequality within higher education is driven by the marketisation and privatisation of universities. Institutions that were once for the public good are now being turned over to private, profit-driven interests.

Unlike their Vice-Chancellors, university staff members have experienced a real wage pay cut.

Made in the name of “growth” and “efficiency”, these cuts go hand in hand with longer hours, less money and insecure contracts for postgraduate and junior staff members. This puts enormous pressure on staff and visibly reduces teaching standards, forcing us to ask: efficient at what?

At the same time, students are forced to take on the burden of financing higher education. While fees climb to £9,000 a year, bursaries are either cancelled or transferred to “fee waivers”; meanwhile, in universities like Warwick, maintenance costs are driven up by the construction of ever-more expensive accommodation.

This process is changing the perception of higher education from a public good to a private investment, from a communal right to an individual privilege, accessible only by the few.

The widening gap in pay between senior managers and frontline staff, and the debt forced on students, means that the university now reproduces social inequalities rather than contesting them. This undermines the university’s democratic function as a space in which free thought, debate and critical inquiry is fostered in order to give people the tools to challenge social hierarchies and play an active role in the public sphere.
We contest these reforms to our university, however the voice of the student body has been reduced to customer feedback and merely tokenistic representation.

We are occupying this council chamber in order to open that space, to start that dialogue and to make our voices heard.

If we are to halt this government’s assault on the university we must make ourselves heard together and begin to work towards an alternative.

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