This week and some of next the universities are on strike. But not Kingston. The strike is about pay and pensions, specifically the USS scheme which is demanding higher contributions owing to a disputed actuarial decision. While this part of the dispute does not apply to Kingston, except perhaps to a small number of individuals, the pay side of the dispute most certainly does. Union support has never been particularly strong at Kingston. The last figures this blog has seen has a figure of about 50% UCU membership. Previous strikes were poorly supported; only a few stalwarts manned the picket.
Are the staff at Kingston so cowed they cannot even vote in enough numbers to arrest the decline of their pay and conditions? Meanwhile management pay rises above inflation as the academic and ancillary staff’s decline inexorably. The bitter irony of such incompetent individuals being rewarded for the damage they have done to the University must be obvious to all. Yet we cannot fight back, or the majority prefer to leave it to a small number, though will presumably pocket any proceeds from the industrial action without demur. Management must be rubbing its hands in quiet satisfaction. Dark times indeed.
With senior management planning another round of compulsory redundancies this academic year, I’d like to urge colleagues to seek independent legal advice if they suspect they may be targeted. Once you have been made redundant it is virtually impossible to gain meaningful redress. Bear in mind that even if you successfully sue the university for unfair dismissal, the absolute most you can gain in compensation is one year’s salary, which is poor compensation for losing your job (unless you can prove discrimination on grounds of race, sex etc., in which case you can win more). It is much better to take action preemptively, before you have been dismissed.
I’d also urge colleagues to use extreme caution when relying on the services of the UCU, as there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that it prioritises its cosy relations with management over and above protecting the interests of its members.
One of the staff members made redundant two years ago applied for legal assistance from the UCU, but it refused to process their application, and the staff member actually had to threaten the UCU with legal action to force it to do so, whereupon the UCU did process the application but refused to support the claim, and gave a dodgy evaluation exaggerating its weaknesses. This staff member was also accompanied to their appeal hearing by a union rep whose job it was to take notes; when the staff member took the university to the employment tribunal, it transpired that the union rep had destroyed the notes, so that the staff member could not use them in their case.
Another staff member who was made redundant was misled by their union rep about deadlines for filing a claim before the employment tribunal, leading them to miss the deadline. Meanwhile, UCU officials were spared redundancy even when their qualifications for retaining employment were weak. It would seem that the UCU and SMT scratch each other’s backs.
The was a similar case at another London university recently, when a disabled staff member was discriminated against and made redundant. They wanted to take the case all the way to the employment tribunal hearing, but made the mistake of relying for legal services on the UCU, which effectively sabotaged it, forcing them to settle.
Again: if you want to guard against redundancy, seek independent legal advice before it happens. Do NOT rely on the UCU. If you do ask the UCU’s opinion and it tells you that you have no case, or your case is weak, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily true.