Birmingham University backs down on staff cutbacks


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The Independent Online

Plans for a large-scale change in the working conditions of support staff at Birmingham University have been abandoned under pressure from students threatening to disrupt forthcoming open days.

Birmingham Defend Education, a student group at the university, were planning to 'mobilise a national demonstration' and 'days of action' at open days at the end of June, if support workers' conditions were not protected.

In a letter to Birmingham's vice-chancellor David Eastwood, the group had given the university a deadline of Wednesday 15 May to guarantee 'no compulsory redundancies, no forced shift work, and no loss of pay for the workers under threat'.

Management caved on the afternoon of the last day.

In a statement claiming victory, the group said: 'The university has made substantial concessions. The staff union will now be taking the dispute forward through negotiations and, recognising this, we are not going to call action on the university’s open days'.

361 members of the university's support staff had been at risk of redundancy and cuts to hours, pay and conditions, a majority of them women or minorities. Professor Eastwood, meanwhile, is on a salary of £406,000, making him the second-highest paid vice-chancellor in the country. 111 senior managers at the university are paid over £100,000 per year.

Hattie Craig, Birmingham SU's incoming VP of education, said: “This victory would not have happened without three years of student mobilisation and protest at Birmingham and nationally. The recent national demonstration at Sussex has shown university managers that when the student movement mobilizes it will really harm them.”

"This outcome demonstrates that protest and direct action work," said Birmingham Defend Education's spokesperson.

"Unions were negotiating these issues behind the scenes for two months, whilst the management kept announcing further attacks. As soon as they started to sign up large numbers of new members and talk about strike action, in conjunction with our warning issued to David Eastwood, the university abandoned the majority of their attacks within two weeks.

This is not the end of the campaign, according to the group. 'Both staff and students will resume organisation in the next academic year'. They aim to 'continue to build a sustained campaign rather than just one big action'.

'The University (and the Students’ Union) are not paying their staff a living wage, they continue to treat workers without respect, and are increasing the number of casualised contracts'.

A spokesperson for the university described Birmingham Defend Education's claims as 'inaccurate and misleading'.

"The University of Birmingham is committed to paying a competitive wage to all our staff, which is generally significantly in excess of the minimum wage. For the last five years local pay awards to support staff have consistently been higher than those paid nationally.

"The University has recently opened consultations with groups of staff in its hospitality and accommodation services and is engaged in positive and continuing discussions with support staff unions.”