Letter to the University of Birmingham – trade union concerns relating to the campus in Dubai

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Following our email sent to the University of Birmingham on the 12th of October (link), we sent a letter to the University to raise trade union concerns with regards to the new campus in Dubai. The letter builds on a motion that UNISON passed at a members’ meeting earlier in the year [which can be found here]. We thank UCU for supporting the letter, and for their contribution. Please see the email/letter below.

As recognised trade unions representing support and academic staff, we are disappointed that we have not been consulted on the opening of the Dubai campus, or on the policies that will apply to the members of staff who will be working for the University in Dubai. Understandably, many of our members have raised concerns about the lack of adequate and clear assurances that their rights will be upheld while working in Dubai. In order to have a constructive dialogue and better understanding of the practicalities of working and studying on the Dubai campus, we have a series of questions and assurances that we need from you.

Trade union rights:

  1. Will University of Birmingham staff working in Dubai be given full access to trade union representation from UNISON, UCU, UNITE and GMB (the recognised trade unions) in line with our recognition agreements?
  2. Will the trade unions be given access to staff contact details so we can advise them on their rights, in particular their right to join a trade union?
  3. How will you guarantee the right to take industrial action and/or participate in rallies and peaceful protests on the Dubai campus?

Support:

  1. We demand that the University provides free legal support to any member of staff or student who requires it as a result of living or working in Dubai, regardless of whether it is deemed to be a criminal or civil offence in Dubai. Can you confirm that this will be the case?
  2. There have been a number of recent arrests in Dubai that are of particular concern – for example the sudden arrest of PhD student Matthew Hedges on ‘spying’ charges while conducting research for Durham University (we emailed you about this case last week) and of a British woman who reported to the Dubai authorities that she had been raped. Can the University provide full details of its urgent return policy and enter into an open and honest discussion with staff regarding what it would do should they be unexpectedly detained, including the full extent of support that will be made available?
  3. What provision of disability support is there in place for students and staff?

LGBTQ and women’s rights:

  1. What power does the University have to make sure that LGBTQ staff will not be taken to prison if they disclose or express their sexuality and gender identity publicly in Dubai? What has been done to protect staff in this respect?
  2. How will students and teachers in Dubai be taught to deal with someone who discloses as being LGBTQ?
  3. Many LGBTQ people both here and abroad are not ‘out’ at work, and therefore may not be able to state why they do not wish to go to Dubai. Please confirm that nobody has been or will be pressured into working on the Dubai campus and that this will not form part of the PDR or increment process.
  4. Recent scholarly research, quoted on the website The Conversation has questioned the possibility of an organisation’s ability to secure the security of its LGBT employees who work in countries hostile to their rights (Moeller and Maley 2018). We call on the University to examine recent academic research in order to explain how it will ensure their rights and, more widely, defend its decision to enter into partnership with a country whose legal system is antithetical to the university’s publicly professed values. Trade unions on campus remain concerned for the emotional health and physical safety of our members who are forced into engaging with the Dubai project.

Moeller, M. and Maley, J.F. (2018) ‘MNC considerations in identifying and managing LGB expatriate stigmatization’ in International Journal of Management Reviews, 20(2), pp.325-342.

 University policies and processes:

  1. How will procedures such as disciplinaries, grievances, flexible working requests and others be followed? In particular, what discrimination and sexual harassment policies and training will be made available?
  2. Any documentation originating from Dubai authorities affecting the rights or well-being of University of Birmingham employees should be made available in English, and English Language documentation should be used for staff contracts, policies, and rights and responsibilities. This principle should override any contractual agreements made by the University of Birmingham with Dubai or any other external organisation. Similarly, staff should only be bound by English language documentation concerning their rights and responsibilities, and their legal position – should unfortunate circumstances occur. Please could you confirm that this is the case?
  3. Will trade unions be invited to staff inductions, with any documentation shared with us in advance?

Pay and workers’ rights:

  1. We would like to request access to your pay scales for staff working on the Dubai campus.
  2. Will the University commit to not working with organisations that mistreat migrant workers in Dubai?
  3. Given that the university has said it will not penalise anyone who does not wish to participate in the project, we seek its assurance that staff who morally object to working for this project will not be penalised if they refuse to take on tasks that will enable them to earn increments or payments for the PDR exercise. If, as you have already claimed, staff will not be penalised for refusing to participate, then it is only consistent that those who do so will not be rewarded purely for this reason.
  4. We need reassurances that no Birmingham based staff are pressured into going to work on the Dubai campus, either temporarily or permanently. They should not be asked to give any reason for declining a job offer in Dubai.

Students:

  1. Will you be offering the same proportion of scholarships to students based on the Dubai campus as the scholarships on the Edgbaston campus?
  2. How will students’ wellbeing be supported? How will counselling and mental health support be provided to the students?
  3. What happens if a student discloses (during counselling sessions) aspects of their lives related to their sexuality or trade union involvement, or anything else that is banned in Dubai? Will there be counselling services based on the campus, or will they be provided online?
  4. What are the course fees and where will these be made public?
  5. Who will be undertaking reasonable adjustments plans and how?

Academic freedom and communications:

  1. Academic freedom and the right to freedom of expression are vital to any University and that all teaching and learning resources should be available to all University of Birmingham students, regardless of which campus they study on. Will the University students and staff be able to access exactly the same library resources and curricula in Dubai as in the UK?
  2. How will the University ensure that students and staff can set up LGBTQ societies and networks, or any other groups that are related to women’s rights and LGBTQ people’s rights?
  3. The University needs to reassure staff and students that their communications regarding the Dubai campus (online and offline) are subject to the University of Birmingham’s own guidelines and policies. The recognised trade unions should be consulted if any changes to communications policies are proposed by the University.

And finally, we ask the University to commit to the following statement:

Regardless of where they are born or where they work, everyone has the right to belong to a trade union, to freely associate and campaign with others, to be in a same-gender relationship or express same-gender attraction, to accurately express their own gender identity, including transitioning their gender. It is a personal choice for LGBTQ people on whether or not to be out at work.

We call upon the University to take whatever action is necessary to distance itself immediately, publicly and unmistakably from Dubai’s atrocious record on LGBTQ rights, on trade union rights and on migrant rights, and to ensure that staff are fully and frankly informed, in writing and up front, about the dangers of working in an environment in which their basic human rights will not be respected, and which refuses these rights to everyone, including our own students in Dubai.

  

Signed,

UNISON committee

UCU committee’

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