Last Wednesday 8th March, Precarious Workers Brighton attended the open day for the School of Computing at the University of Brighton, to inform parents, care-givers, guardians, and prospective students about working conditions in the department.
Until last Wednesday, the University’s Senior Management Team had not acknowledged the demand letter that Precarious Workers Brighton sent them on Tuesday 28th February, which called for the University to rectify the situation whereby Hourly Paid Lecturers in the School of Computing have undergone a 70% pay cut as of October 2016. Our demands included reinstatement of demonstrators to lecturers in the School, retrospective pay at Lecturer rate for those staff, the reinstatement of all fee waivers lost as a result of the downgrade, and a legally binding agreement that such an attack would not occur again.
We undertook this action on Wednesday because the University had not responded to our letter by our deadline of Tuesday 7th March; because at that point, no public acknowledgement of the UCU’s dispute regarding this matter had been offered by the University; because the University had refused other avenues of mediation; and because these working conditions are also prospective students’ learning conditions. We therefore thought it important that the parents, care-givers, guardians, and prospective students in attendance were informed about the kind of conditions that they would be learning in, and the kind of institution they would be attending.
We are pleased to report that the response from parents, care-givers, guardians, and prospective students was incredibly positive. Almost unanimously, those we spoke to expressed their concern at this attack on Hourly Paid Lecturers by the University, and the unliveable wage and workload that they have been forced to accept.
There was a strong feeling that this is not how a university should treat its staff or its students, that prospective students were put off attending an institution that treats its staff and students in such a way, and that such an attack is unacceptable against any worker in the University, and should not be replicated.
Whilst the University had not responded to our letter by the deadline of Tuesday 7th March, they did issue a response on Wednesday afternoon. The University’s Director of Human Resources, Gavin Wright, sent the following:
Dear Precarious Workers Brighton,
Thank you for your email dated 28th February.
Whilst the points in your email are noted, the University is already in discussion with UCU over these issues and would not engage in discussion on such matters with non-recognised trade unions or staff bodies, particularly if they seek to remain anonymous.
Aside from noting that at the time the email was sent, the University was in fact not publicly in discussion with the UCU, our response to the University is simple: it is fine that you do not want to talk to us, because we do not think there is anything to negotiate. As the strength of feeling on Wednesday made clear, at a minimum the University should be remunerating its staff at a level that allows them to live, and it should not be attacking students – postgraduate or otherwise – during their study.
We are therefore calling for the University to issue a public statement agreeing to the demands that we have issued. We have set a deadline of Friday 24th March for this. If it is not met, we will continue to inform the public about the callous way that staff and students are treated at the University of Brighton.