The three recognised trade unions at the University of Sussex are conducting a co-ordinated indicative ballot for strike action, against plans to outsource 235 campus jobs.
The indicative ballot by Unite, Unison and UCU will open on Monday 8 April and will gauge the level of support for industrial action in an increasingly bitter dispute over outsourcing. This week has seen High Court bailiffs evict the 8-week occupation of the Bramber House conference centre. As part of that operation, four students were arrested on charges including criminal damage and obstructing the police.
The ballot, described as "a first step towards industrial action" by one union official, follows 10 months of fruitless talks with management, which have seen university bosses repeatedly cancel meetings and refuse to provide information, let alone seriously discuss the outsourcing proposals. The news of an indicative ballot suggests the campus trade unions have lost patience. It also comes less than a fortnight after the launch of a 'Pop-Up Union' by campus staff, who stated:
The Pop-Up Union is a result management’s refusal to engage meaningfully with staff, students, and the recognised trade unions for over 10 months. We are now taking things into our own hands.
The anti-privatisation campaign has also acquired documents via a Freedom of Information request which cast doubt on the University's claims to meaningful consultation. The report, prepared for University management following a small focus group exercise, has been cited as evidence of staff voices being taken on board, and to claim that opposition to the plans is in a minority. However, the report itself suggests the opposite:
“In many cases it proved difficult to discuss these issues without allowing people to talk about their opposition to outsourcing these functions. For most attendees, it was their first opportunity to discuss their feelings about the decision with someone representing the university. There was a general feeling that there should have been an organisational-wide consultation, prior to the decision to outsource, which would have given in-house teams time to look at how the service might be improved without outsourcing.
This follows a poll of over 800 students by the students' union, which found 70% opposed the outsourcing plans. A member of university staff told libcom that:
The report confirms what we have been saying all along - there has been no 'consultation', only a unilateral decision to outsource 235 campus jobs. The moves towards joint industrial action are promising. Divided we are weak, united we can shut down the campus if needs be. If the recognised trade unions can do that, great, if not, there's the Pop-Up Union.