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Official dispute

University of the Highlands and Islands strike days announced as staff and politicians criticise lack of talks

5 October 2023

UCU Scotland today announced dates for strike action at the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI). The strike is over the university's plans to cut £4 million, including £3 million from the staff budget making up to 44 roles redundant.

UCU members at the university will take six days of strike action starting on Tuesday 17 October and escalating through to the start of November. Members voted for strike action in a ballot with 77% of those voting backing strikes on a turnout of 86%. The union said that the employer has taken no steps or been open to talks that would prevent the strike going ahead. 

The union also released data showing high levels of staff dissatisfaction with the process the university is following to make staff redundant and to make cuts. The union surveyed its members at the university about the process and consultation carried out by the university. Of those responding to the survey, 7% said that they had applied for voluntary severance in late 2022 but that it had been declined. The union complained that the university has said cuts will now include compulsory redundancies and that it is wrong therefore to have refused to pay off people who had said they were willing to leave through the voluntary severance scheme.

Staff were also critical of the length of the consultation process arguing that it was rushed. The vast majority of respondents - 88% - were 'unhappy' or 'very unhappy' about the short length of the consultation. Despite this feeling amongst staff, the university yesterday (Wednesday) announced that they had closed the consultation and started sending out redundancy letters.

There was also criticism of the actions of senior managers at the university with 94% of members responding either as 'unhappy' or 'very unhappy' with the frequency of communication on the cuts from the university's senior executive team. 87% did not feel assured that senior managers were treating staff concerns transparently and thoroughly; and 93% were either 'unconfident' or 'very unconfident' that the redundancy consultation was being carried out fairly and transparently across departments.

Politicians across the Highlands and Islands have also called for talks and consultation between the union and the university.

Emma Roddick, MSP for the Highlands and Islands, said: 'I know that this situation will be causing anxiety and uncertainty for all staff concerned. UHI rightly has an excellent reputation, not only across the Highlands and Islands but further afield, and I have heard concerns from my constituents that they feel these proposals would have a disproportional effect on the education UHI provides. I urge senior management of UHI to work with its staff and the unions to find a way through this difficult time to ensure the stability of UHI, a valued local establishment, both educationally and financially.'

Liam McArthur, MSP for Orkney, said: 'UHI's financial position is clearly precarious but the extent of job cuts being proposed is alarming. Moreover, the process appears rushed and excludes key stakeholders. It is crucial that before any final decisions on redundancies are taken that an open and inclusive process is followed, one that allows enough time for all options to be fully considered. That is the least that staff and students deserve.

'I know from first-hand experience in Orkney what a vital role UHI plays in communities across the Highlands & Islands. That is why it is so important that decisions are not taken in haste that could result in lasting damage to the region.'

Angus MacNeil, Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP, said: 'The UHI is an impressive institution with 36,000 students in early 2023. They have an ethos of keeping people in the Highlands and Islands region, particularly the islands. The staff are passionate about the institution, about keeping people in these remote areas which helps students to study at home. This something we had hoped for over many decades.

'Nothing should happen now that should imperil the UHI. What is of paramount importance for the immediate term is that management talk to staff and recognise unions who are at about 40% representation of the workforce.

'It is good to talk to even 1% of the workforce, and therefore it would be incumbent and good practice for management to talk to the UCU who are representing many of the workers affected.'

Rhoda Grant, MSP for the Highlands and Islands, has lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament calling for the university to come together with all parties and find a solution without the need for large-scale job losses. The motion is currently signed by 16 MSPs from across Scotland.

Last updated: 6 October 2023