Yasmin Elsouda, BA International Relations
Once again the possibility of strike action, as a result of One Professional Services (OPS) restructuring, emerges. On 11 February, the SOAS branch of UNISON published the results of its consultative Ballot on strike action “in the event of compulsory redundancies resulting from the One Professional Service Restructure process”. With a 77% turnout, over 97% voted in favour of the strikes. The program for restructuring SOAS’s OPS began in 2017 and aimed to improve services and create efficiency savings of £1 million by 2019-20. Since then, there has been growing concern amongst staff members about the increasing precariousness of their positions.
over 97% voted in favour of the strikes
The initial response to management’s announcement of the restructuring was SOAS’ UNISON members requesting a formal commitment from SOAS that there were to be no compulsory redundancies as a result of the OPS restructuring. This was not met by management. The proposed cuts of 13 roles in the library have led to a huge backlash, with many hoping that management may reconsider the changes. There are also cuts being made elsewhere, like the SOAS IT specialist department where SOAS UNISON representative Alexander Nicholls works. Nicholls explains that this is concerning because the new structure does not offer secure employment for the highly specialist staff in that department or anywhere else in the school. The overwhelming majority that has voted in favour of industrial action reflects the significance of this feeling amongst UNISON members.
At present, SOAS UNISON has requested two meetings with SOAS management to further discuss a binding commitment to be made on the part of SOAS: that there will be no forced redundancies. This is in direct response to the result of the consultative ballot. The meetings are yet to happen and, based on earlier requests for a similar commitment, may not be fruitful. Nicholls emphasised that if the threat of forced redundancies continues, a formal ballot will be organised. Based on the existing support for the prospect of strike action, it is very likely union members will vote yes. If this is the case, the strikes “will probably take place around May/June time” stated Nicholls. In further remarks, he said that if the OPS restructuring succeeds, the next target will be academics and those he identifies as most vulnerable: SOAS’ Graduate Teaching Assistants. This also helps to explain the resounding support for UNISON from academic staff and the UCU.
There has also been widespread support from the student body for SOAS UNISON’s threat of strike action. The concern of many is that the increasing marketisation of higher education across the UK is leading to higher fees but lower quality of education. Many students have expressed concern over the new structure eliminating valuable staff members with specialist knowledge on specific regions and their role in the organisational structure of the university.
Photo Credits: The SOAS Spirit