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UoB tells striking lecturers that picket lines are ‘trespassing’

Academics are calling it a breach of human rights

The University of Birmingham has told striking lecturers that picket lines are trespassing, The Telegraph has revealed.

In an email to university employees on 22 November, provost and vice-principal Tim Jones claimed that the campus is "private land" and choosing to picket on campus is therefore "unlawful".

However, over 1000 people have signed a petition calling for the university to revisit this decision and support the right to picket at UoB, with eight legal academics declaring it a breach of "the University's legal obligations under the Human Rights Act 1998".

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A rally at University train station on Tuesday

Lecturers have been striking for the past five days, with issues surrounding pensions, gender and ethnic pay gaps, the casualisation of staff contracts and workloads having reached breaking point.

However, just under a week before the strike action was due to take place, staff were told via email that "the University is private land and therefore picketing or any other strike related activity (such as a rally) will be unauthorised and held to be trespass."

This has been met with serious backlash from unions, lecturers, and students alike, with one MA student describing it as making her "ashamed of our institution".

A group of a group of legal academics from universities around the UK have likewise condemned the actions of the university, arguing that it is not "compliant with the University's legal obligations under the Human Rights Act 1998".

In an open letter, they further argue that this it is not "in keeping with any university community’s collective commitment to education and engagement, or with the deeply rooted civic mission of the University of Birmingham."

The university has allegedly extended the claims of trespassing to students protesting on campus too. Speaking to The Birmingham Tab, Phoebe Gill, one of the founders of University of Birmingham Student Workers , described how she and a group of other students were stopped by security and accused of trespassing whilst carrying a 'United Student Staff' banner through campus.

"We replied that we are students, not UCU members, and therefore our on-campus protest (which was, by the way, silent and simply a walk through) is lawful and protected by human rights laws. [When asked] to prove our student status, we refused and walked off of campus.

"We thought, as students, we have a protected right to protest peacefully on our own campus. […] Although this was a small confrontation, we all felt really uncomfortable and upset by being treated in this way by security at our own university, on our own campus. […] We hope senior management realise the precedent this kind of action sets for freedom and human rights at Birmingham."

Speaking to The Tab Birmingham, a spokesperson for the University of Birmingham said:

“We have worked with UCU’s designated picket supervisor during the current industrial action and pickets have been held every day at the locations agreed with UCU, which are at all of the main entrances to campus. There is a long tradition of pickets being held safely and peacefully at these locations by a number of unions. This is what they have proposed to do in line with the Government’s Code of Practice on Picketing. This approach to the location of pickets being outside of premises is common across HE and other sectors .

“Our focus remains on ensuring the safety of all our staff irrespective of whether they are striking, as well as that of students and visitors.”