The one-day strikes set initially for early March at Leeds University were called off, first temporarily and now permanently following a groundbreaking agreement reached at the brink of a new strike day on 18 March.
The planned strikes had been suspended two weeks earlier when the management pulled back on the immediate threat of compulsory redundancies in the Faculty of Biological Sciences and came up with a new process for organisational change which involved talking to the unions. ACAS-mediated talks continued but then it was clear the management was dragging its feet and, at yet another packed University and College Union (UCU) meeting on 11 March, the strikes were back on.
A final breakthrough on 16 March saw the signing of the agreement, which spells out a process with new more open procedures to avoid redundancy. In Biological Sciences, in the front line of the cuts, steps aimed at avoiding compulsory redundancies will be extended to the end of January 2011. New measures to facilitate redeployment and retraining as well as the reinvigoration of research work are to be piloted in the faculty.
This all represents a sea-change in attitude of a management which for months has been trying to ride roughshod over normal agreed procedures when redundancies are threatened. The past few weeks have been described by the UCU negotiators at Leeds as a rollercoaster during which time the union was essentially derecognised.
The president of the UCU at Leeds University has reminded members that the cuts are not off – but the management has been forced to agree more appropriate procedures. There is general agreement that the threat of strike action with a large turnout in the ballot was the single factor that brought management back to the negotiating table.
The rest of the union, nationally, is now looking to the agreement at Leeds as a model in the sector as several more face similar redundancy threats, including Sussex.