Staff members belonging to the University and College Union (UCU) at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) were on strike yesterday, in protest against the university's derecognition of their union and plans to cut facility time for union representatives. Derecognition is an extreme move by the university authorities and is seen by the strikers as an attack on their right to organise independently.
Over three-quarters (77%) of members voted for the strike, which is supported by the UCU nationally. The action follows a rally on 6th Oct attended by UCU members from across the country which challenged the university's vice-chancellor's address to new students.
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Nottingham Trent University has formally terminated recognition of UCU in a direct attack on independent trade unionism on the campus. The university has been attempting to rewrite the recognition agreement for months, proposing a set of radically inferior arrangements that would see the campus unions marginalised in favour of a 'consultation and information forum' that would include non-union representation, while facility time for reps would be cut by a staggering 80%.
UCU has attempted to negotiate with the university but managers have refused to move one inch from these proposals and on Friday 3rd Oct, they formally terminated the recognition agreement with three months notice, a full six months less than is stipulated in the agreement.
A ballot of members, which closed on 29th Sep, decided overwhelmingly in favour of strike action.
On the 6th Oct, Protestors from across the country, including cities as far away as Newcastle and London, gathered outside the Royal Centre in Nottingham at the lunchtime rally to coincide with the vice-chancellor addressing new students inside. The crowd then heard speeches from supporters including UCU head of higher education, Malcolm Keight, and Sasha Callaghan, the union's president.
Local UCU members are angry that the university is formally terminating recognition of UCU - the world's largest post-16 education trade union. Despite NTU saying it will continue to deal with the union, it is insisting that it will only recognise UCU if it complies with its new proposals.
UCU says Nottingham Trent has been attempting to tear up the current terms for negotiating with the union for months in favour of radically inferior arrangements that would marginalise the campus unions and cut facility time for union reps by 80%.
The existing Recognition Agreement signed by the unions and the University provides for nine months notice of termination. On 4 July the university wrote to UCU and said it was aware that it should give nine months' notice, but had decided to terminate the agreement on 4 October.
Sasha Callaghan, told a rally of UCU members in Nottingham that "NTU members have the full support of the national union. They have to win this fight to defend the right of staff in the sector to independent union representation. The whole academic world is now watching the University and I urge them to come back to the negotiating table before their reputation is further damaged."
Sally Hunt. UCU general secretary, said: "Nottingham Trent University needs to understand that UCU does not take threats like this lightly. Union members have a right to expect to be properly protected at work and not messed around like this. Nobody involved with NTU wants to be taking industrial action, but the university's conduct has forced members into this position."
In an interview for Notts Indymedia, chair of NTU UCU, Brian Ward, said that "The emphasis from university managers across the sector is now to run Universities as a business... The problem with this approach is that high quality research, good teaching, time spent helping students etc does not fit neatly into this model." Although there have been some criticisms of the strike from people claiming to be students on this site Brian says that "Many of the students I have spoken with have been supportive of the position being taken by the union and recognise that there is a relationship between the working conditions of university staff and their own educational experience. Overworked tutors, larger class sizes etc are detrimental to both academic staff and students."
When asked whether trade unions are still relevant Brian responded that "If you had equal bargaining power between employer and employee there might well be an argument for saying that you would not need trade unions. In the absence of such a position the employee runs an increased risk of - bullying, discrimination, job insecurity, health and safety breaches, overwork etc."
"The increased workload pressures on staff in UK universities means that trade unions in this sector are arguably more relevant today than they were say 20 or 30 years ago."