College staff considering strike action over operations review

A petition has reached over 2,000 signatures

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Durham University college staff are considering strike action in response to a restructuring process that could threaten over 60 jobs.

A petition created on Saturday evening to protest the process has now reached over 2,000 signatures, from both staff and students of the university.

The petition was created by anonymous group “Students of Durham University”, and states: “We implore our fellow students, staff and alumni of Durham University, along with their friends, family and anyone who has benefitted from the collegiate system at Durham, to sign this petition to emphasise the widespread concern over the potential impacts of the restructure plans”.

The petition has reached over 2000 signatures in three days

A Durham University employee, based at Van Mildert College, told The Durham Tab: “Anything published in student newspapers so far is as much as we know ourselves.

"Some of us received these impersonal letters in the week beginning the 4th March, with any feedback to be given by the 14th. These contained outlines of what might happen, but I haven’t even received mine yet. They were addressed 'Dear Colleague'- they didn’t even have our names on”.

Staff are adamant to see change happen, and were pleased to see support from students.

One told The Durham Tab: “The changes are bad for everyone. They want us to do more, but not get any more money for it, and they won’t be reducing student fees either. Staff are considering whether to go on strike”.

Projected changes to the jobs of college bursars will see only two bursars taking on the finances of all colleges. A staff member told The Durham Tab: “The changes they’re trying to implement won’t work across all colleges.

"For example, Durham's colleges are vastly different sizes. Whilst they might be next door to each other, these colleges will often have quite different needs, and staff can’t be expected to balance these”.

They added: “Observations should have been held to assess the needs of individual colleges within the university, and this wasn’t done. Equally, none of the staff are having their needs met. At the moment, as a parent, my hours suit quite well, so I don’t need childcare”.

When asked about who the changes seem to be affecting the most at this stage, they said: “So far, the changes seem to be targeting people at Pay Grade 3 and above (£9.38-£10.84 an hour).

"A lot of housekeeping supervisors have been given three months. They’ve been told their jobs will no longer be available, but that they can reapply for other roles. Then, of course, with fewer positions available, these will be much more competitive".

University staff are allowed to reapply for jobs. An exception applies to those who are granted Enhanced Redundancy. These will not be re-engaged by the University for at least 24 months following their original termination date, unless an exception is granted by a HR Director, or their nominee.

The employee also discussed the importance of housekeeping staff, a role they believed was one whose importance was overlooked. They said: “Housekeeping staff are often the first point of contact for students, and the University doesn’t seem to recognise this.

"Going into their rooms, we’re able to pick up on problems such as drug use, self-harm. Our job is one of care – over the course of the year, we get to know our students, and we do mother them.

“Other employees, across other colleges as well, are having to reapply for their jobs if they want to keep them. I know of a Head Porter at another college, who has been asked to reapply for his job. The new job would require him to do more than his current one – and then he’d have to take a pay cut, as well”.

A Combined Honours student from University College who signed the petition told The Durham Tab: "Durham prides itself on allowing students to take charge of building their communities with college support.

"By stripping that support, the welfare, and health and safety of students is put in jeopardy.

"As a theatre technician, I have found college offices to be instrumental in building risk assessments and advising me about any hidden issues within colleges. Without this support, where staff have intimate knowledge of their respective colleges, the potential for something to go wrong is heightened".

Asked about the reforms' impact on morale, a college staff member added: “The atmosphere at work’s horrendous – it’s all we can talk about. We keep asking what’s happening in Phase 2. None of us know anything”.

The employee claimed certain staff members have been photocopying letters they have received from the University, in order to give copies to their colleagues, who are not anticipated to be directly affected by the reforms. The University has told The Tab Durham that all colleagues who are in scope of the review have received a letter.

Chair of Colleges, Professor Martyn Evans told The Durham Tab: “We are currently in extensive discussions with both staff and students about the possible impact of the proposals for them, following the relevant consultation frameworks”.

The petition against the proposed restructuring can be found here.