The University of Birmingham puts students at risk of injury in order to break UNISON’s strike

This is how the University of Birmingham were trying to break the strike earlier this week – by asking students to come in for ‘last minute shifts’ tomorrow. The email was sent out during our negotiators’ meeting with management (during which they made no new offer!). For information, Worklink is a university department (which they call ‘a student agency’ when it suits them; they make it clear that it’s not an agency, again, when it suits them) that offers casual work to students. Thousands of precarious and short-term ‘assignments’ are being undertaken by students on zero-hour ‘work arrangements’ often replacing core services of the University. As zero-hours workers, students cannot claim sick pay and do not have access to other benefits such as maternity pay. UNISON members have also expressed concern regarding the lack of training that is offered to students, which puts both students and staff at risk of injury. It also means that overworked staff often have to do the extra work of training students themselves, and this is not recognised in their workload.

We are alarmed by the fact that they said that no experience is needed. This raises Health & Safety concerns re. how the students would be dealing with chemicals and other hazardous substances. Absolutely disgraceful.


We would also like to ask:

* why is the University of Birmingham’s managers prepared to put students at risk of injury?

* why are they trying to break our strike?

* why are they telling BBC News that the graduation hasn’t been affected by our action? (here’s evidence of only one notice from them to staff about disruptions; they got one of the dates wrong..)

* why aren’t they meeting our demands?


Another email was sent to students, trying to get them to break our strike (sent slightly earlier than the one at the top of the thread). Really shameful. We will be contacting HR about it soon. Interesting comment ‘welcome to our world’ (?)

We also note that during the strike in June, managers (especially from Catering) came to our rally to film their own staff, write names down, and take photos. We regard this as a tactic of intimidation. The General Manager of the outsourced Edgbaston Park Hotel (Richard Metcalfe) was there too – for what purpose? Staff in cleaning services who crossed the picket lines were ‘rewarded’ with a free lunch, and this happened also in the Edgbaston Park Hotel. Finally, Tim Jones has sent numerous emails to all staff working on campus (including casual workers) with misleading statements about the negotiations. Our responses to his emails are available here: https://uobunison.org.uk/dispute


The use of casual work by the University:

In our joint unions’ report, we demanded that ‘all staff are employed on full employment contracts, with the University as the recognised employer’, so everyone can have access to sick pay and other benefits. 

‘The University must ensure that all support staff, including undergraduate and postgraduate students working through Worklink and all teaching staff, including postgraduate students working through Worklink are employed on full employment contracts, with the University as the recognised employer. Similarly, for all academic related and support positions, we call on the University to ensure full employment rights by employing all staff on full employment contracts, with the University as the recognised employer. This will ensure:
• full maternity and paternity rights for all staff;
• the same rights to sick pay for all staff;
• equal protection against unfair dismissal for all staff;
• full rights to fair treatment and equal under the University’s policies and procedures relating to employees of the University’.

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