UNISON members will have read with concern incoming Interim Director Professor Graham Upton’s ‘Process of Transformation and Change at SOAS’ statement, emailed to all-staff on 6 May.
The UNISON Branch Committee will be submitting a formal response to the 8 ‘principles’ of change outlined in Graham Upton’s email, which are due to be considered at the forthcoming Board of Trustees meeting. However, we wanted to write to you today, as we appreciate that there will be widespread alarm among staff following Graham Upton’s statement.
In particular, members will be dismayed by the spectre raised in the statement of a further round of academic and professional service restructuring, less than a year since OPS was implemented. The Branch Committee shares these concerns, and is further alarmed by the School’s proposed timetable (i.e. that proposals be signed off by the trustees in June and changes ‘implemented with pace and speed’ as early as September). In our view this would almost certainly preclude meaningful consultation with affected staff and campus unions, risking a further breakdown in trust following the traumatic experience of OPS.
In response to Graham Upton’s statement that ‘a reduction in staff is inevitable’, including the possibility of redundancies, the Branch Committee yesterday (7 May) held an emergency meeting where we reaffirmed our branch’s long-standing position of total opposition to any compulsory redundancies at SOAS. The Branch Committee further voted to seek authorisation from the national union to begin the process of holding an industrial action ballot of members in the event that compulsory redundancies are proposed this summer. We did not take this action lightly, but due to the limited timetable proposed by the School, we unfortunately felt that we had no choice but to proceed down this path now, if we are to be in a position to take effective and robust action in defence of members’ jobs should the need arise.
Furthermore, the Branch Committee noted that Graham Upton’s statement confirmed that the sale of the leases for the Faber Building and 21/22 Russell Square had provided a ‘solution’ to the School’s short-term financial issues. We therefore dispute the School’s claim for the need for any new restructuring to proceed at the pace and in the manner proposed. We cannot help but view the timetable set out as nothing more than an attempt to push through cuts before the imminent arrival of the next permanent Director, Professor Adam Habib. The Branch Committee again calls on the School to share full information regarding the School’s financial position with the campus unions, without any preconditions.
The Branch Committee acknowledges the unprecedented situation facing the School and UK Higher Education. It is regrettable that Graham Upton’s statement concerning ‘viability problems’ has brought further negative national press attention to the situation here at SOAS, which can only further damage the School’s short-term prospects. Moreover, we regret that the School appears to have taken a decision to respond to the current national situation by seeking to shift the burden of the crisis on to the shoulders of us, its staff, who are continuing to serve our students and colleagues to high standards in these challenging times.
We call on the School to join with organisations such as the Campaign for the Public University and the Council for Defence of British Universities, together with the higher education trade unions, to campaign for a new government funding settlement for Higher Education post-Covid19. This should involve supporting initiatives like the Convention for Higher Education’s meeting “Responding to the crisis: organising to defend Higher Education in the pandemic era” (10am, Saturday, 9 May 2020).
As we face an uncertain period as a School community, the Branch Committee takes heart from the fact that we know our branch will remain united whatever happens. Our members have a proud history of standing together, from our recent response to OPS, to the long and successful struggle against outsourcing. We have looked after each other in times of need before, and our branch will fight to defend the job of each and every member of staff across the School. We will also stand side by side with our colleagues and friends in SOAS UCU and SOAS Student’s Union who face their own uncertain futures. We are one workforce and one community. Our branch will reject absolutely any attempt to divide the SOAS community.
The Branch Committee will be keeping members updated on the progress of our negotiations with Graham Upton and the School’s Senior Management Team over the coming weeks and months. However, we recognise that you may have colleagues who are not UNISON members, so please do share this information with them, but, more importantly, please also ask if they will join UNISON. As you know, we are a strong branch, kept healthy by its members. However, the more members we have, the greater our strength in future negotiations with management. In tough times we all need a trade union that will stand with us, so please do speak to your colleagues about joining the union. Further information can be obtained from our Membership Secretary, Wilbur Moser (firstname.lastname@example.org) or at https://soas-unison.org.uk/join
Finally, we understand that you may be anxious about what the coming months will bring for you and those close to you. We would like to say that even in these isolating times, as a member of UNISON, you do not have to face problems alone. Your Branch Officers and local UNISON reps are there for you if you need any support or advice. Moreover, please consider getting involved in your branch to help look after yourself, your friends and your colleagues at this time. We are all stronger working together in UNISON.
SOAS UNISON Branch Committee