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Leicester university workers ballot for action against redundancies
Sarah Seaton, chair of the University of Leicester University and College Union branch, has spoken to the Socialist about fighting proposed redundancies and the impact the pandemic has had.
What has been the experience of university staff over the course of the pandemic?
It has been difficult for everyone. The workload was already unmanageable pre-Covid, but has now become absolutely unsustainable - for teaching, research and support staff alike. We were fortunate in that many of us could work from home, unlike some other professions. But at the start of the first lockdown, all temporary workers' contracts were terminated and the burden of that work shifted onto permanent staff. No choice, no pay increase - nothing. Many of us also have caring responsibilities, being expected to home-school our children while working full-time hours. It's impossible.
Can you explain how your dispute with the University of Leicester bosses came about?
On the first teaching day of 2021, university staff came back to an email from the vice-chancellor notifying us of a consultation over reconfiguration plans which put 145 jobs at risk of redundancy. The mood was instantly one of shock and disbelief. To be told we were facing unemployment amid the uncertainty of the pandemic was just incredible. Despite the exhaustion of our members, the shock very quickly crystallised into anger. We know that if we don't fight job cuts now, similar attacks will be coming down the line for other workers.
What has been the response of the UCU branch?
Our branch has historically had a strong position on opposing compulsory redundancies after a previous dispute we won in 2018. We called an emergency general meeting at short notice, where over 200 attended. There was incredible strength of feeling. We agreed for the union go back to the vice-chancellor's office giving them until 1 February to withdraw the proposal or enter into dispute. We passed a motion of no confidence in the university executive board. As it failed to withdraw the proposal we have now declared a dispute and are preparing to ballot.
What has been students' reaction?
The Students' Union at University of Leicester have been hugely supportive, with the 'Students Against Redundancies' group also moving a motion of no confidence in the university executive, passing by 116 votes out of 120.
I feel incredibly sorry for current students. There is a danger that the question of tuition fees becomes limited to demanding a refund for the lockdown period, when really education should be free and accessible to all, with fees scrapped completely.
What do you think is a solution for both students and workers?
Obviously, the university's executive needs to immediately halt its redundancy plans. We must demand that the government step in and fund the shortfall in university budgets rather than the insidious creeping influence of big business.
In The Socialist 10 March 2021:
What we think