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Strike days announced at University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) as staff and politicians criticise 'lack of talks'

By Philip Murray

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UHI Headquarters in January 2023. Picture: James Mackenzie.
UHI Headquarters in January 2023. Picture: James Mackenzie.

A series of strikes are set to hit the University of the Highlands and Islands this month after staff voted in favour of a walk-out over plans to slash millions from its budget and make dozens of people redundant.

The University and College Union (UCU) Scotland today (Thursday) announced dates for six days of walkouts at the UHI. The strike is over the university’s plans to cut £4 million, including £3 million from the staff budget, making up to 44 roles redundant.

The industrial action will result in a strike on Tuesday, October 17, a two-day walkout on October 25 and 26 and then three days of action on October 31, November 1 and 2.

Seventy-seven per cent of union members voted in favour of the strikes, on a turnout of 86 per cent. Afterwards, the union claimed that the employer had taken no steps or been open to talks that would prevent the strike going ahead.

The union also released data which it said showed high levels of staff dissatisfaction with the process the university is following to make staff redundant and to make cuts.

Related: University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) staff back strike action over cuts plan

Related: YOUR VIEWS: UHI needs to talk to address finances

A survey of members revealed that seven per cent said that they had applied for voluntary severance in late 2022 but that it had been declined. And the union has complained that the university has said cuts will now include compulsory redundancies and that it is wrong therefore to have refused to pay off people who had said they were willing to leave through the voluntary severance scheme.

Staff were also critical of the length of the consultation process arguing that it was rushed – with 88 per cent unhappy or very unhappy at the shortness of the consultation period. Despite this feeling amongst staff, the university yesterday (Wednesday) announced that they had closed the consultation and started sending out redundancy letters.

There was also criticism of the actions of senior managers at the university with 94 per cent of members responding either as ‘unhappy’ or ‘very unhappy’ with the frequency of communication on the cuts from the university’s senior executive team. Eighty-seven per cent said they did not feel assured that senior managers were treating staff concerns transparently and thoroughly; and 93 per cent were either ‘unconfident’ or ‘very unconfident’ that the redundancy consultation was being carried out fairly and transparently across departments.

A number of politicians across the Highlands and Islands have also called for talks and consultation between the union and the university.

Emma Roddick, MSP for the Highlands and Islands, said: "I know that this situation will be causing anxiety and uncertainty for all staff concerned. UHI rightly has an excellent reputation, not only across the Highlands and Islands but further afield, and I have heard concerns from my constituents that they feel these proposals would have a disproportional effect on the education UHI provides. I urge senior management of UHI to work with its staff and the unions to find a way through this difficult time to ensure the stability of UHI, a valued local establishment, both educationally and financially."

Rhoda Grant, MSP for the Highlands and Islands, has also lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament calling for the university to come together with all parties and find a solution without the need for large-scale job losses. The motion is currently signed by 16 MSPs from across Scotland.

Other politicians speaking out included Liam McArthur, MSP for Orkney, who said the extent of the job cuts was "alarming" and that the process "appears rushed and excludes key stakeholders"

Angus MacNeil, Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP, said: “Nothing should happen now that should imperil the UHI. What is of paramount importance for the immediate term is that management talk to staff and recognise unions who are at about 40 per cent representation of the workforce."

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