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Sussex UCU declares dispute over threat of compulsory redundancies

Friday 4 June 2021

We publish this blog post to share an urgent update regarding the negotiations over possible compulsory redundancies at the University of Sussex, and to lay out how together UCU members at Sussex can make sure that job losses don’t happen.

The headline news is that the University Executive Group (UEG) has refused to rule out compulsory redundancies as part of the widely criticised Size and Shape programme. Consequently we have now declared a dispute with the University and will shortly be moving to an indicative ballot.

UEG's refusal is despite:

(1) Extensive efforts by your UCU negotiators, who have made the following key arguments:

  • The University is in a relatively strong financial position. 2019/20 saw an operating surplus of £12.7 million with cash reserves of £250 million against outstanding loans of £180 million. See our blog post here.

  • Recruitment is above expected levels. See Figure 1 here.

  • Staff have gone above and beyond during the pandemic, and to now face the stress of an unnecessary redundancy process shows a lack of recognition of their efforts

  • The University leadership has acknowledged that workload levels are already unsustainably high, and that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted under-represented and marginalised groups. Any further reduction in jobs will intensify these existing inequalities.

  • We are happy to engage in a review of academic courses, BUT this has to involve genuine consultation with staff and not have the threat of job losses hanging over it.

(2) Senate voting today (28 May) in favour of the motion that "Senate has no confidence in the Engagement Process accompanying Size and Shape as it has been conceived and implemented so far, within its current timetable." (54% yes, 38% no, 8% abstain of voting Senators)

(3) Multiple Schools having passed motions at Engagement meetings calling for Size and Shape to exclude compulsory redundancies, by majorities of 90 to 100 percent (Education and Social Work; Global Studies; Law, Politics and Sociology; Life Sciences; Mathematical and Physical Sciences) or having raised this same call without objections (Psychology; Media, Arts and Humanities).

The strength of feeling across these School-level engagement meetings demonstrates the Sussex community’s opposition to any restructuring process that does not rule out compulsory redundancies.

Despite this pressure from UCU, School meetings and the Senate, UEG has not addressed these issues. Their current plans mean that proposals that could lead to compulsory redundancies are likely to be issued in September this year.

As a result (and in line with the overwhelming will of members at last month’s EGM) we issued a notice of Failure to Agree on 29 April. Although UCU negotiators have met twice since then to discuss the issue with UEG members, UEG has still declined to rule out compulsory redundancies.

We have therefore taken a further step, as promised in the Failure to Agree notice should the UEG not meet the union's single demand, and declared a dispute. (See the letter sent to the Vice Chancellor at the bottom of this post.)

Our demand is simple and reasonable – rule out compulsory redundancies as a result of the Size and Shape programme.

Below we lay out the next steps union members need to take to ensure our voices are listened to and our demand met.

1. Vote YES in an indicative ballot to be issued on Friday 4 June 2021. The next step in the dispute process is an indicative (non-binding) ballot, which will demonstrate the level of support for industrial action, up to and including strike action, should UEG continue to threaten job losses. This will be sent out by email next week and it is vitally important that you vote YES and encourage all your colleagues to vote as well. Getting a majority YES vote at Sussex will put your negotiators in the strongest possible position.

2. Join the 3rd UCU Forum (Friday 11 June, 1pm) open to UCU members and non-members. Bring a colleague/friend to broaden the discussion on cross-subsidy, mergers, workloads and other pressures we all tackle, to build collective solidarity between Schools and Professional Divisions.

3. Join the working group for Another Size and Shape is Possible, our project to build collectively a positive alternative to the current plans. We need as many people as possible to join. Please email to join.

The most basic role of a union is to protect the jobs of its members, and so it is crucial for all of us that we act collectively here. If we do not defend our colleagues, there will be no one to defend us when we need them.

UCU members are encouraged to write to us with any questions. See you at the UCU Forum next Friday 11 June.

In solidarity,

UCU Exec and Reps

[email sent originally to Sussex UCU members: Friday 28 May 2021]


UCU letter sent to Vice Chancellor on 26 May 2021

Dear Professor Tickell,

Re: Declaration of dispute – Failure to rule out compulsory redundancies as a result of the Size and Shape programme.

I wrote to you on 29th April 2021 registering a failure to agree on the following issue:

The failure to rule out compulsory redundancies as a result of the Size and Shape programme.

In that letter UCU outlined the actions that were required to be undertaken by Thursday 6th May 2021 by the institution to resolve the issue.

It is with regret that we note these actions have not been undertaken and I am therefore writing to formally register a dispute with you on the issue listed above.

UCU reserves its right to now progress this matter but the institution is aware of the action needed to resolve this issue and we remain open to meaningful negotiations.

This dispute will continue until such time as the above issue, and any issues related to any industrial action called for by the union in support of the dispute, have been resolved to UCU’s satisfaction.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Moran

Regional Official

University and College Union


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