The campaign against outsourcing at University of Sussex continues in to the Autumn 2012/13.
Since announcing their intention to outsource support services, affecting 235 jobs, University of Sussex has not given any new information to the trade unions. The unions have submitted a Freedom of Information request asking for details of this process. In our opinion, if the University continues to ignore the unions, members affected by the outsourcing proposals should be balloted for strike action over the University’s failure to consult with the recognised trade unions (in particular, UNISON, who represents the majority of affected workers).
An indicative ballot can and should be carried out immediately to allow members to indicate their willingness to strike should the University continue to fail to consult or to guarantee jobs, terms and conditions over the lifetime of any new contract. A yes vote can be won alongside the national campaign for action over pay in October. Staff need to be aware of the limits to TUPE regulations, covering transfer of employment (see below), which does not provide adequate protection of terms and conditions or even of continued employment.
Trade Union membership needs to be increased on campus, if every member recruits a colleague and encourages them to attend branch meetings and become actively involved in the campaign. This will strengthen the union and improve its chances of defeating the attacks.
A demonstration will take place against the outsourcing which we encourage everyone to attend (1.00 pm 26/09/2012). This can be a launchpad to building a democratic, campaigning movement against the University's plans.
Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (TUPE)
TUPE is a piece of legislation that comes into force when workers transferred from one employer to another. Such as when one company buys another out or when a public service is privatised.
In general it gives provision to protect the terms and conditions of the transferred staff, essentially meaning that they should keep roughly the same rates of pay, hours, place of work etc. Similarly there is provision for keeping staff within the same pension scheme, although management have already stated that this will not apply at Sussex University. There is even automatic recognition for the trade union of transferred staff.
It is a popular piece of legislation for managers to name check as a way of reassuring staff that the looming changes are nothing to be scared of as everything will stay the same. However, TUPE is not worth the piece of paper its written on.
Following transfer TUPE legislation can be superseded and contracts changed if the employer has a Economic, Technical and Organisational reason to do so. Now this can be pretty much anything, there is no technical definition but typically a the new company will claim that it needs to restructure the service on some flimsy pretence, such as making it run more efficiently or to make it more profitable.
This means that taking on public services becomes a lot more attractive to private companies, transfer today, tear up staff contracts tomorrow. It also means that the company can de-recognise a trade union.
At Sussex University the ground work for privatisation has already been laid, Catering and conference staff have had their hours of working bought out and £100,000s has been sunk into a revamp of the facilities. There has been a gradual erosion in the number of security staff and cleaning, already part-privatised. Taking over services with shiny new premises or with staff cut back to the bone is a lot more attractive to private companies, it saves them time and money. Senior Management have been leaning on the heads of the various professional services for the past few years with the warning that they must break even.
The Effects of Privatisation
This Summer the University of Sussex announced plans to “outsource” 235 jobs, in effect privatising large swathes of support staff from catering and facilities, and the services they provide, including health and safety, and security. This has been met so far by a furious reaction from staff and students on campus, with meetings and demonstrations of hundreds having taken place in the short time period since the plans were announced.
This is following a trend seen in higher education since the “Con-Dem” government announced the implementation of the recommendations of the Browne review, slashing up to 40% of the funding for higher education, trebling student tuition fees and overseeing an unprecedented wave of privatisation. The crisis of capitalism has left few profitable opportunities to big business. An estimated £750billion currently sits in the accounts of British banks and big business; vast funds which cannot be profitably invested due to the crisis. In response to this the Tory-Liberal Democrat government is making opportunities for the private sector to make profits from the public sector, Higher Education is no exception.
Universities like London Met that are facing massive cuts are resorting to the sort of slash-and-burn privatisation surpassing plans of Sussex, with London Met proposing the privatisation of all but teaching and the Vice-Chancellors office.
This idea of “competitive” universities in a market place of higher education represents the dreams of Tory ministers such as David Willets, as it would be an end to the idea of higher education being provided as a public good, and instead see universities transformed into profit pursuing private enterprises.
University Vice-Chancellors have a lot in common with Tory ministers and the vultures in the private sector than they do with cleaners and caterers at universities. On average earning £330,000 a year, some much higher, vice-chancellors and other heads of management often float between companies in the private sector and university managements.
The Effects of Privatisation
Universities often try to justify privatisation by arguing it reduces “waste” spending and improves efficiency. In reality however it is a clear move to cut university spending on what management may see as “waste”, but are actually essential services for staff and students
This is part of a trend that has been seen across the public sector as a whole over the last decade, and is being rapidly accelerated by the Con-Dems as part of their drive for austerity. The private sector is salivating at the prospects of the selling off of hundreds of services, in local government, the NHS and education. The Olympic G4S scandal is just one in a long line of private secto failures due to cost-cutting and maximising profits.
The privatisation at Sussex is part of this agenda and must be resisted by workers and students as part of a united democratic struggle, carrying the message – education for public need, not private greed!
Vote YES On UNISON Higher Education Pay Ballot
In Higher Education (HE) over the last three years wages have plummeted in real terms, with rises of just 0.5%, 0.4% and £150 respectively, in the context of soaring inflation.
This was apart from Vice Chancellors of course, who awarded themselves on average an extra £9,700 last year, with top university heads on outrageous average salaries of around £333,000.
The Con-Dems have slashed public funding of universities and transferred the financial burden of higher education onto individual students by raising the tuition fee cap to £9,000, which many institutions have chosen to charge.
Funding shortfalls have been made up through reducing staff numbers and massively increasing workload, through increasing student intake, by closing departments, and through the ultimately counterproductive selling off and privatising of services to be run for private profit.
All this has deeply affected workers in HE who are being asked to do more and more for ever decreasing wages.
The employers' representatives responded with a "final" derisory offer of just 1%. The HE unions put in a joint pay claim this year for 7% plus a number of measures to make pay fairer, such as the Living Wage and closing the gender pay gap.
A consultation of members showed HE workers saying 'enough is enough' and the HE SGE unanimously rejected the employers' offer and entered into dispute, with a ballot for strike action opening in September.
If members return a 'yes' vote, action looks likely to begin in the lead up to the national 20 October TUC anti-austerity demonstration, with further action in subsequent months if necessary.
Ballot runs from 12 September until 2 October