Under a sustained campaign by students and workers, the University of Manchester has been forced to retreat on plans to undermine the living wage and conditions for caterers. UNISON members backed by students, Unite and UCU won a comprehensive victory ensuring that no compulsory jobs losses, no cuts in hours or jobs and a commitment to support changes to the structure through re-training and reserved vacancies. We won in no small part due to the brilliant students who have run a campaign which has been very damaging to the University’s image. This is the first decisive victory the union has won for a great many years and we’ve recruited dozens of members because of the campaign.
This victory has come on the back of a testing period for UNISON members. In the summer of last year the University opened a restructure programme cutting 48 jobs in IT Services. Alongside this they targeted dozens of staff who had been on the redeployment register for the long term. We are going through a large restructure of our faculties because of the dissolution of the Faculty of Life Sciences which has been haemorrhaging money since unification in 2004. The University is being tight lipped on the level of jobs losses and we have heard figures from 10% to 40% of support staff could be in the firing line as they will not want to duplicate work or be over staffed in the new faculty and school teams.
Management then launched a galling attack on our catering staff who they separated out through a legal fiction by TUPE’ing them over to a private company wholly owned by the University called UMC. This has made them a separate bargaining unit but one in which we have extremely high density. At the beginning of the year the long running campaign for the living wage for UMC staff was won. The University heralded the step as a demonstration of their commitment to social justice. A month later they announced a cut in the number of UMC staff by 1/6, reductions in hours, pensions rights, over-time and weekend allowances. In short, they have decided to take their revenge on UMC staff and the union whilst claiming that UMC is making a year on year loss as grounds for the attack. This is at the same time the University has made a record surplus of £46 million mostly on the back of holding down wages.
The sheer unfairness of the move was plain for all to see and the union won the backing of the students’ union and also John McDonnell ensuring we saw off the attacks for now.