Saturday, June 14, 2014

Educating managers in employee relations at Lambeth College

Today’s Grauniad carries a report on one of the things that has kept me away from blogging recently – the dispute at Lambeth College. UNISON members (in the Lambeth branch) took two days of strike action last week, during the second week of indefinite action by lecturers’ union UCU, and are planning further action.

The UNISON dispute is over the imposition of new, less favourable, contracts on new starters which, among other things, increase the working week and reduce sick pay for those who are off long term.

The attack on sick pay in particular has its origins in proposals which the Association of Colleges (the national employers’ organisation for the Further Education sector) could not persuade the national trade unions to accept (and which other London FE colleges have recently considered and rejected).

The financial savings from an attack upon the income of staff who are off long term sick are negligible and the impact upon the culture of an organisation which announces that it now cares less than it did for staff when they are most vulnerable is hardly likely to be positive.  Attempts to reduce sick pay are a purely ideological assault upon the rights and living conditions of working people, driven by a generation of managers who are Thatcher’s children.

The College management do appear perplexed that trade union members should take action against changes which will not immediately impact upon them and have been convinced that they could resolve the dispute with offers of (time-limited) “protection” for existing staff. Management appears to live in a world in which one cares only for oneself, an attitude of mind which sits comfortably alongside seeing education as, first and foremost “a business.”

The College workforce (both teaching and support staff) have a clearer understanding of employee relations than their better remunerated senior management colleagues however, as they grasp that a two-tier workforce undermines unity and (at an organisation with an annual staff turnover of 24%) will inevitably lead to downward harmonisation.

Both trade unions seek negotiation with the employer over the terms of the new contract, but the College insist that the new contracts are a done deal because they are “modern” and “fit for purpose.”

(If any readers have a spare English-Managementspeak Managementspeak-English dictionary that would help the negotiators I am sure.)

The College senior management remain apparently unflinching in spite of the news that their parsimony toward staff does not inhibit generosity to the Principal himself.

However, all disputes end with negotiation. It’s up to the management to start negotiating. In the mean time, delegates at UNISON Conference can expect to hear more about how they can “sponsor a striker” so that we can top up UNISON strike pay should our members be forced to take further action.

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