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Monday deadline to avert strike action at the Open University

28 January 2016

Strike would hit Open University offices in Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Gateshead, Leeds, London, Oxford, Milton Keynes, Manchester and Nottingham

Bosses at the Open University have been warned they have until Monday evening to come back to the negotiating table with a fair offer for staff affected by a recent restructuring, or face strike action on Tuesday (2 February).

The row centres on the university's failure to deliver guarantees for 500 staff affected by a massive restructure that will lead to the closure of seven OU regional centres.

Members of the University and College Union (UCU) have said they are prepared to meet up until Monday evening to try and resolve the issues, but warned they would be out on strike on Tuesday if the university failed to make good its promises to look after affected staff and keep their expertise within the Open University*.

The union wants a guarantee of fair transitional arrangements for staff in the regional offices, including a commitment to flexible working, and some office space for regional staff to hotdesk as the institution implements its plans.

UCU said to lose such huge amounts of expertise would be a devastating blow and has questioned why so many centres are being hit at the same time. Staff in the local offices evaluate and support students with disabilities, provide course materials, assign tutorial groups, run examination arrangements, advise on study options and manage the hugely popular degree ceremonies.

UCU Open University branch president Pauline Collins said: 'The Open University risks losing the experience and expertise of hundreds of staff members if it does not sort out transitional arrangements for its restructure plans.

'We are fed up with its refusal to honour commitments made to staff and will be walking out on Tuesday if it does not come back to us with some serious developments. We remain happy to talk right up until Monday night's deadline but the ball is in the university's court.'

In November the Open University's council rubber-stamped plans to shut centres in Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Gateshead, Leeds, London and Oxford, despite widespread opposition. The university's senate had rejected the plans, describing them as 'very high risk' and saying that they 'failed to support the academic mission of the university'. Thousands of people signed petitions against the closures and MPs tabled a motion in the House of Commons criticising the plans.

The council's decision led to a wave of national and regional strikes at the OU in November, with three-quarters (72%) of UCU members who voted backing strike action. UCU members at the Open University had previously only taken strike action in national campaigns over pay and pensions. However, industrial relations had never previously got to the point where members walked out in a local dispute.

* It is clearly in the interests of the University and our students that as many staff as possible are retained in employment by the University. All ALS and learner support staff able to relocate will be encouraged and helped to do so. Where other staff, e.g. in Regional Services, wish to relocate, training and development will be offered to facilitate this wherever possible. Flexible working arrangements for those unable to relocate will be fully explored as part of implementation planning, where this is compatible with the development of the new working arrangements outlined above.

Page 11 Open University council papers 24 November 2015