Support Goldsmiths workers’ action

Image of the "wildcat", with text reading "Goldsmiths Precarious Workers: Hold Tight"

Education workers at Goldsmiths university in south London have launched a marking boycott, as part of a fight to resist job cuts. Workers in the Associate Lecturer and Graduate Trainee Tutor roles launched the boycott, and have since been joined by fixed-term teaching staff.

Their action has been taken “unofficially”, in confrontation with the anti-union laws. Free Our Unions sends our full solidarity to the workers. We reproduce their statement, from the website Precarious@Gold, below. A link to donate to their support fund can be found at the bottom of the article.

Overview:

Goldsmiths senior management team (SMT) is laying off 163 academics on fixed term contracts, along with 309 Associate Lecturers (ALs) and Graduate Trainee Tutors (GTTs). Having refused all of our requests to have our contracts extended until the autumn and be furloughed for that period (a solution which would have allowed Goldsmiths to retain its staff at low cost until student recruitment figures made clear whether we could be kept on longer term), the University is now simply allowing fixed term contracts to expire. 

These are redundancies on a huge scale: they will leave hundreds of academics unemployed during a recession and a pandemic, significantly increase workload for remaining staff and threaten the viability of undergraduate and postgraduate courses across the university. Furthermore, figures we have collected suggest around 75% of those being laid off are from a black and minority ethnic background: if these job cuts go ahead, Goldsmiths will lose a large proportion of its BAME teaching staff, leaving students with fewer nonwhite role models and a significantly narrower curriculum.  

We, Goldsmiths academics on fixed term contracts, will not accept this treatment. From today, Monday June 15th, we will join the marking boycott begun by our AL and GTT colleagues. In addition, we will work to rule until further notice. Our demands are for an extension of our contracts until October 31st, for SMT immediately to provide each of us with details on the timescale and process for review of our contracts, and for the University to meet and negotiate with us as a group. Further details, including a full list of demands, are below.

We do not want to take this course of action. We are deeply committed to working hard for our students and have no desire to cause them disruption. However, each time we have attempted, as individuals, to discuss our contractual situation with SMT, we have been ignored, told that no decision can yet be taken or given other unsatisfactory answers. We therefore have no choice but collectively to withdraw part of our labour. We also feel that our action, if successful in persuading SMT to renew contracts, will protect rather than undermine the Goldsmiths student experience in the long term.

Our demands:

  • Contract extensions All casualised contracts, including AL, GTT and FTCs, should be extended until the end of October, when it will be clearer from student recruitment figures and other financial indicators whether contracts can be renewed for a longer period. Given that the University has refused to furlough its casualised academic staff, it is up to SMT to investigate and offer financially viable ways to extend our contracts.
  • Clarity SMT must immediately contact all casualised workers whose contracts are due to expire this summer / autumn, including ALs, GTTs and fractional and full time workers on fixed term contracts, to give them a timetable for the review of whether their contract should be renewed, to arrange review meetings, and to make clear the criteria for the review process. Since arranging these meetings is well overdue, SMT should contact workers by June 19th.
  • Negotiation The University must  arrange to meet, at the earliest possible opportunity, representatives of University and College Union (UCU), along with elected representatives of those fixed term and casualised workers due to be laid off, to discuss with them planned levels of staffing, workload and student provision for the next academic year
  • Workload impact The University must publish estimates of the impact on workload for remaining staff of cutting 472 teaching roles.
  • Equality, diversity and racial justice The University must provide figures, where available, on the ethnic, gender and disability characteristics of the 472 staff to be laid off, and publish, by the end of June 2020, an equalities impact assessment of the plans to lay off 472 casualised workers.
  • Redundancy The University must  publish details of a system of enhanced redundancy payments to be offered in the event that any job cuts go ahead
  • AL hours The University must honour additional hours worked by ALs/GTTs during the lockdown: HR must ensure that Departmental Business Managers contact all ALs/GTTs and request pay claims for all hours worked in addition to contracted hours during the lockdown. 
  • Reduce pay inequality The University should enact temporary salary cuts to Senior Management, explicitly ringfenced to fund the contract extensions of ALs and GTTs (approx £2.1 million per year budget for ALs/GTTs). This should include the Warden’s Office, Executive and Governance Services, Finance Services, Goldsmiths Strategic Venture, Strategic Planning & Projects, Organisation and Strategic Services and Planning).

Our action:

From June 15th, academics on fixed term contracts will join the marking boycott begun by ALs and GTTs, and will continue this action until our demands are met.

  • We will boycott any outstanding assessment responsibilities, including marking and moderation, until the University meets our demands.
  • If called upon to mark work that has not been marked as a result of the AL/GTT marking boycott, we will refuse.
  • We will work to rule, i.e. perform only our contractual duties, until further notice.

Background:

The University has produced figures showing that 472 casualised workers, made up of 309 Associate Lecturers and Graduate Trainee Tutors and 163 academics on full time or fractional fixed term contracts, will be laid off during the summer and autumn of 2020.

Though SMT has refused to provide a demographic breakdown of those whose contracts will be terminated, figures we have collected suggest that 75% of those to be laid off are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, and an overwhelming majority are women. This confirms the findings of other reports that show BAME people and women are heavily overrepresented among casualised academics. Goldsmiths has claimed it wishes to “address the BME degree attainment gap and wider racial justice issues”, but sacking hundreds of BAME teaching staff will leave all students, and particularly the 45% of Goldsmiths’ student body that is BAME, with fewer role models, a narrower curriculum and an impoverished all round educational experience. 

Communication from the University has been very poor over this issue, and academics on fixed term contracts feel they have been treated callously and with disrespect. Before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, most of us had been told verbally by our heads of department that we would likely have our contracts renewed. Since then, the University has instead announced that all hiring was on hold and that SMT would “review” whether each fixed term contract should be renewed. None of our contracts have thus far been reviewed, however, and nor have any of us been given a timescale or process for this review. Our contracts end in a matter of weeks and we still have no clarity on whether we will be unemployed next academic year.

In order to offer a cheap solution that would allow the University to retain its staff, many fixed term workers requested to have our contracts extended for a short period, until October, and be furloughed for that period under the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. The Associate Lecturers campaign similarly requested that ALs be furloughed for the same time frame. All requests were refused, with the HR Director Carol Ford, in an email to all staff sent June 8th, wrongly claiming that academic staff are not eligible for furlough, despite the fact that other universities including the University of the Arts London has furloughed casualised academics and the Universities Minister confirmed on April 8th that university staff could be furloughed.

The university seems intent on allowing our contracts, most of which end between June and September, to expire. This suspicion is reinforced by Carol Ford’s suggestion in her June 8th all-staff email that the University would “not be able to confirm AL/GTT requirements for the next academic year until student numbers and choices for the 20/21 academic year are clear”. We cannot wait until the autumn, well after most of our contracts expire, to find out if we will have a job at Goldsmiths next academic year. 

The University is not being open about the fact these layoffs constitute redundancy for a huge proportion (perhaps around half) of academic staff, which will surely mean significant increases in workload for remaining staff and/or cutting courses and reducing the teaching time to which students are entitled. As such, the University’s plans should be the subject of collective consultation with the unions – including the Student Union. 

Please donate to our solidarity fund for causalised staff facing job losses: https://opencollective.com/goldsmithsmutualaid

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