Strike ballot at Heriot-Watt University in row over rushed job cuts

28 September 2020

Members of the UCU at Heriot-Watt University are being balloted for strike action in a row over the prospect of compulsory job losses.

The ballot opens tomorrow (Tuesday) and will close on Tuesday 20 October.  The row centres on cuts that would see more than 130 jobs at risk. The union argues that the rushed timetable to cut jobs - with the first staff due to leave at the start of November - means that alternative options for savings have not been sufficiently explored.

The union said that losing 130 members of staff would have a drastic impact on both the student experience and the university's reputation.  Remaining staff would also be left with higher workloads and less contact time with students, who would be taught in bigger classes.

The university carried out a round of redundancies in 2017, when 70 staff lost their jobs and recruitment was frozen.  The union argued that, coming so soon after the last round and before the full financial fallout from the Covid-19 crisis for universities is clear, there were questions to be answered about whether the crisis was being used as a smokescreen for unjustified job cuts. 

The union said the university's decision to cut jobs, and not to rule out compulsory redundancies, was at odds with universities minister's Richard Lochhead request for universities to abide by the principles of fair work. He said that compulsory redundancies must only be a last resort after all other avenues have been considered. The union says this is clearly not the case at Heriot-Watt.

UCU's Scotland official Mary Senior said: 'This decision to cut 130 jobs at Heriot-Watt University will add to the worry and upset among staff and students. The news comes at a time when staff have worked tirelessly to keep the university running during the Covid-19 crisis and when the chances of finding other work will be hard. That these cuts come so soon after jobs losses in 2017 raises questions about the university's management and whether managers are using the Covid crisis as a smokescreen for unjustified job cuts.

'UCU is open to negotiation and consultation to avoid compulsory job cuts. We urge the university to work with us to identify alternative savings, not rush through job losses at this difficult time. However, we are clear that members need to show their strength of feeling against these job losses, and that's why we are balloting members for strike action to defend jobs.'

Last updated: 28 September 2020