University of Leeds staff walk out over employment rules row

Rally: UCU members rallying on the Parkinson steps as part of yesterdays strike action at the university.
Rally: UCU members rallying on the Parkinson steps as part of yesterdays strike action at the university.
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Academics at the University of Leeds walked out yesterday in a row over changes to employment rules as the institution hosted an open day for prospective students and their parents.

Members of the University and College Union (UCU) stood on picket lines outside 17 entrances and staged a rally on the landmark Parkinson steps.

The university wants to introduce a ‘some other substantial reason’ clause as grounds for fair dismissal.

But the union says the change is unnecessary and represents “a threat to rigorous debate that is the very essence of what a university should be all about”.

Speaking on the picket line UCU regional official, Julie Kelley, said: “What we want to do is persuade the university to drop some of the detrimental changes they are wanting to bring into the employment statute, which will have a direct impact on terms and conditions of employment.

“We are very worried, particularly in light of the Higher Education Bill and Brexit. It’s an uncertain time for universities and staff. We are concerned that although the university has never dismissed anyone on ‘some other substantial reason’ grounds, by putting it into policy, it might eventually be used to get rid of people.”

Mrs Kelley said the university remained tight-lipped on when it might use the clause, adding: “The devil is always in the detail. ‘We can’t tell you when but we might use it at some point in the future.’ That’s really worrying. Certainly our members see it as an attack on their academic freedom.

“We think it opens up the doors for staff to be dismissed for spurious reasons. We just want them to go back to the status quo.”

A university spokesperson said: “We were genuinely disappointed with the decision to take industrial action, but impact was minimal and the open day was a success – we welcomed more than 5,000 visitors to campus to learn more about the university.”

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