Staff at the University of East London (UEL) are on strike for a second consecutive day (23 February), following the sacking of four staff.
As well as the loss of their colleagues, University and College Union (UCU) members are protesting at “unmanageable workloads” resulting from 82 job cuts that took place last year, following a restructuring programme.
UCU said the four compulsory redundancies are “all the more shameful as [they] appear to be targeted. They disproportionately impact women, black and minority ethnic staff, and UCU activists.”
When approached by the Guardian last month, UEL did not respond directly to questions about whether it was targeting union members.
Instead, it said redundancies followed “competency interviews” and “every effort to progress alternatives”. Of the four sackings in the school of education and communities, it said the faculty was “an area in decline in both demand and positive student outcomes that required a definitive strategic response”.
The restructuring programme, it added, was intended to maintain the institution’s financial sustainability, “reducing risks to liquidity generated by the Covid-19 pandemic and reflecting the changing demand for courses – by students and employers – while continuing to increase the best possible educational and career outcomes for students”.
So many things make me #ProudToBeUEL but making brilliants scholars, teachers and union reps redundant in the middle of a pandemic is not one of them – UEL drama lecturer, Clare Qualmann
UEL is one of least nine UK universities in the UK to have announced money-saving job cuts in the wake of the pandemic.
This week’s two-day strike came after the institution’s management turned down an invitation to take the matter to the conciliation service, ACAS.
Ninety-two per cent of UCU members at the university voted for industrial action, on a 63% turnout. More strike action is threatened next month.
“These cuts are vindictive and completely unnecessary, especially given student intake is expected to increase again this year,” said UCU regional support official, Amanda Sackur.
“UEL must halt these redundancies, seriously engage with us to find a way forward, and make workloads manageable. Otherwise, industrial action will continue, and the university’s reputation will worsen.’”
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With Covid making it difficult to form physical picket lines, much of the strike’s visibility has come online.
‘I am on strike today [23 February] in solidarity with my sacked colleagues,’ tweeted Rebecca Crutchley, programme leader for UEL’s early childhood and special education programme.
‘I am currently working on my doctorate, using a narrative research methodology which I could not have written without the scholarly contributions of [professor of social sciences] Corinne Squire and [professor of political psychology] Molly Andrews.’
Supporters of the sacked staff have been tweeting using the hashtag #ProudToBeUEL. Among them is drama lecturer, Clare Qualmann, who wrote:
‘So many things make me #ProudToBeUEL but making brilliants scholars, teachers and union reps redundant in the middle of a pandemic is not one of them. #SaveUEL #StopTheCUTS @saveUEL.’
‘Twitter storms’ have also been organised using the hashtags #SaveUEL, #stopthecuts and #studentsdeservebetter.
Pic: UCU Solidarity Movement, from an original illustration by Anthony Bradbury