University of Leeds staff to strike over changes to employment rules

Parents accompanying their children to an open day at the University of Leeds will be met by striking staff who are planning to picket over changes to employment rules.
The University of LeedsThe University of Leeds
The University of Leeds

Members of the University and College Union (UCU) have announced they will stand on picket lines outside 17 entrances to the university from 8am on Thursday, including the main entrance via the landmark Parkinson steps on Woodhouse Road.

The university wants to introduce a 'some other substantial reason' clause as grounds for fair dismissal, which could include conflict of interest, breakdown in trust and confidence, third party pressure, mistake or ignorance of law.

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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".

Staff can already be dismissed on issues such as conduct, capability and ill health and those dismissal procedures are written in to the university’s rule book.

UCU says there is no need to introduce a new dismissal that "covers pretty much anything", and warned the move could be counterproductive. It believes the clause could threaten academic freedom by allowing third party pressure from an unhappy research funder or a workplace disagreement to become a grounds for dismissal.

UCU regional official, Julie Kelley, said: "Strike action is always a last resort. But staff at Leeds have made it clear they are prepared to fight a catch-all dismissal rule which gives too much power to the university. Staff are understandably wary about how some managers might use this new power.

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"We are also concerned that the university wants to be able to sack people because of pressure from third parties. This could mean staff who produce research that is critical of major research funders or the Government, could fear being sacked. There is still time for talks to try to find common ground on this and avoid Thursday’s walk-out.’

In the recent ballot of UCU members, 67 per cent of those who voted backed strike action.

A university spokesperson said: “The university is not introducing any new grounds for dismissal, it is simply modernising the procedures it would follow, in the interests of openness and transparency. Checks and balances that prevent any abuse of procedures have been included, and the principle and protection of academic freedom remains a cornerstone of our constitution.

“We are disappointed with the decision to take industrial action, which we genuinely believe is unnecessary.

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“The university is confident that Thursday’s open day will be a success and is working to minimise the impact of any disruption. We look forward to welcoming students to campus to see all Leeds has to offer.”