Sussex University is privatising 235 jobs in its Estates and Facilities departments, over 10 per cent of the university workforce. Under a total facilities management package, some of the 235 will be transferred to an external “partner”. TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings [Protection of Employment] Regulations) will apply to those transferred but new recruits to the outsourced jobs will have worse pay, conditions and pension rights than directly employed university staff.
The university has previously privatised its crèche and nursery, in spite of vocal opposition from parents and campus trade unions. Its strategy, not unlike that of some local authorities, seems to be to outsource everything possible, leaving only a rump of managers to negotiate the contracts.
The proposals are deeply unpopular, naturally, with the staff affected, and with university staff and students more generally. A group of students occupied the university conference centre on 7 February, and have remained there ever since.
Despite its intentions the occupation is unlikely to achieve anything. The vice-chancellor and the claque around him are happy to sit it out, waiting for the occupiers to lose interest. The occupiers feel that they are taking action to help those less fortunate than themselves, whom they perceive to be too cowed to do anything. Perhaps because of this Lady Bountiful attitude, the occupiers have no support or relationship with the trade unions that organise the staff affected.
Sussex has a colourful tradition of student protest to which both the occupiers and the vice-chancellor constantly refer, but the times require harder-headed thinking. The well-meaning gesture is not harmless but dangerous, and weakens the ability of students and staff to organise for the long struggle required to save the university from the destructiveness of its present senior management. ■