By Pete Offord, ex-UoS catering and Unite rep
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.
Here's the thing, 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Following transfer TUPE legislation can be superseded and contracts changed if the employer has a Economic, Technical and Organisational reason to do so.
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.
Recently in Hampshire Sure Start Centres (Children's Centres) were transferred into the loving hands of a third party charity under TUPE. Within a matter of days this charity (Action for Children) restructured the service, shedding jobs and offering those staff new posts ,on their own far poorer conditions.
One worker based in Basingstoke was offered an “alternative” post in the New Forest. Staff had been promised by the County Council during the consultation prior to transfer that their jobs and salaries would be safe, all because of TUPE.
At Sussex University the groundwork 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.
Action needs to be take now to prevent outsourcing ever taking place, that means making it clear to University Governors that workforce will not stand for privisation. A campaign should be waged as part the necessary consultation that the University must undertake to make the view of campus known.
Union members should conduct a indicative ballot to show concretely that mood is there for a fight with a view to building for a ballot for industrial action if the University does not back down.