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Ruskin College accused of ‘victimising’ trade union reps

first_imgIn a statement, Ruskin College said: “Disciplinary investigations are internalstaff disciplinary matters which are entirely unconnected with any trade unionactivity of those involved. It would be wrong for any institutionto seek to discipline or suspend a member of staff as a result oftheir union activity; the notion that Ruskin College, the home of tradeunion education for more than 100 years, would do so is absolutelyinconceivable.  Ruskin UCU says that staff and students were not consulted on the move to shrink the college’s higher education programme. In a statement, the union said: “We firmly believe the college is being wound down for merger. This will see multi million pound assets, prime Oxford real estate and working-class resources built up over 120 years given free to the private sector.” The adult learning institution, which is affiliated to Oxford University, has been embroiled in an official dispute with UCU over its treatment of staff. The college, which has traditionally maintained strong links to the trade union movement, has recently moved to scrap trade union courses and to casualise teaching contracts in a bid to stem falling student numbers. The branch also accused the college offailing to carry out stress risk assessments for staff, in violation of their legalduties. Speaking to Cherwell,Dr Humber said: “Everywhere in the country I went to speak to people andaddress meetings support was fantastically genuine and warm. Of course, coupledwith this positive end of proceedings were – initially at least – feelings ofanxiety. UCU have criticized the college’s restructuringproposals on the grounds that falling student numbers are a result of poor managementrather than staffing costs or course content. Ruskin College received a 90% studentsatisfaction rating for the quality of its teaching in 2018, but just 35% forthe quality of its management – the lowest in the country. No data is availablefor 2019. These proposals led to a voteof no confidence in the college’s Principal in April, which was passed “unanimously”by Ruskin College’s UCU branch. The college’s business development plan has resulted in a pivot away from secure, long-term contracts towards the hiring of temporary and insecure agency staff. In 2018, the college spent 19% of staffing costs on contracted workers, compared to just 5% in 2015. These changes saw Ruskin College placed on UCU’s “list of shame” for academic institutions undermining staff pay and job security through casualisation. Two days after organizing the vote, Dr Humber was suspended from his post as a lecturer in health and social care. The Ruskin UCU branch said at the time: “We believe that Lee is being victimised in order to intimidate us as a union branch. This is utterly disgraceful behaviour from the management of a college with such deep roots in the trade union and labour movement.” The campaign to reinstate Dr Humber has attracted the support of ten union leaders and the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell. In a statement following Dr Humber’s suspension, Ruskin UCU said: “We believe that Lee is being victimised in order to intimidate us as a union branch. This is utterly disgraceful behaviour from the management of a college with such deep roots in the trade union and labour movement.” Ruskin College did not respond to a requestfor comment. “Then, at last, we’ll be out of the Alice in Wonderland world of Ruskin-based disciplinary procedure, where they’ve consistently made up policy and process to suit their own ends, and on into the world of ACAS and Employment Tribunals where there are real rules by which both parties in this dispute must abide.” Speaking to Cherwell, Dr Humber praised“the absolutely fantastic amount of support I got from colleagues in the UCU,from the union leadership and from the thousands of other trade unionists whowrote their support and invited me to address their branch and union meetings.”center_img Dr Lee Humber was suspended from his position as a lecturer in health and social care in April, just two days after organising a vote of no confidence in the college’s principal, Paul Di Felice. After months in limbo, Humber was fired last week, prompting outrage from the UCU. Ruskin College denies that the dismissal was related to Dr Humber’s trade union activity. In that time, the number of in-house staff has fallen from 75 to 55. Ruskin UCU allege that more than 80 staff, disproportionately women, have left during that period, including three entire senior administrative and recruitment teams. The union allege that this high turnover isthe result of a “climate of uncertainty, stress and fear” created by thePrincipal. The text of the no-confidence motion passed by the group states: “Alarge number of women have stated in exit interviews that they are leavingdirectly because of the Principal.” In a separate incident, the Ruskin Students’ Union was forced to relocate its May ball to a local pub after what it described as “poor, bureaucratic management” of their budget by the college. Ruskin College have been accused of ‘victimising’trade union representatives after a University and College Union (UCU) branch officerwas fired in mysterious circumstances, and four others are due to be maderedundant. Asked how he wasinformed of his dismissal, Dr Humber said: “A simple letter. It was the 43rdletter they’d sent me (in the first 50 days of my suspension) arriving on theFriday as so many of their meant-to-be intimidating communiques had. It was nosurprise to any of us. “It was clear from the very start thattrade unionists and many, many others understood that this as an attack on meas a trade union officer, on our UCU branch and on the national uniongenerally.” “I worried about how Iwas going to support my family, whether the stress the dispute bought on mewould infect my young kids, about what would happen in the future. Thankfully,due to the great resilience of my family, itself underpinned by the incredibledepth and breadth of support we received, we’ve all grown out of it and we’refacing the future with great optimism.” “Trade unionmembership at Ruskin is actively encouraged among the staff and there arecurrently four unions well-represented in College. Contrary to claims, thevote of no confidence in March was not unanimous, even among UCU members,and was supported by less than 20% of staff. Ruskin College remainsthe largest provider of trade union training in the UK with up to 3,000 repstrained each year.” “They made variousallegations all of which we refuted in great detail in a 14-page document wesent to the disciplinary hearing. They’ve dismissed our refutation. We’ve nowappealed against this decision and they’ll turn that down too. Last week, Ruskin College’s management outlined a further phase of restructuring to take place before the new academic year, including the discontinuation of four of the college’s six higher education courses in a bid to make the college less reliant on trade union teaching for its income. All five employees due to lose their posts as part of these changes are UCU Branch Committee members, which has led to accusations that union activists are being targeted.last_img read more

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