This is a statement from the Keep The Caterers campaign at the University of Manchester, you can find them on facebook here.
In March, the University of Manchester announced plans to restructure its subsidiary company, UMC, making 46 redundancies in catering while moving the remaining staff on to ‘term-time only’ contracts. This latter move would have meant cuts of about one third to their total pay.
But now, as a result of solid negotiating by UNISON, and agitation and disruption by students, management have backed down. There will be no compulsory redundancies, no loss of hours and no pay cuts.
These victories in the fight against the university’s contemptuous treatment of its workers should embolden us all. We are strengthened in our belief in collective organising more than ever: in a sector beset by privatization and naked profiteering, it is important that students and workers come together in solidarity.
Our campaign was about challenging the audacity of an institution that made £46 million in profit last year to claim it cannot afford a living wage for its catering staff. This was clear when 96% of respondents of UNISON’s consultative ballot voted for strike action; when students occupied the Vice Chancellor’s office and disrupted a meeting in which management shamefully flaunted £600million+ plans for shiny new buildings; when hundreds of staff from across campus turned up to lunch time rallies.
It is clear that despite framing the restructure as a question of affordability the university simply sought to protect its profits. If there was money for Dame Nancy Rothwell’s living expenses, marketing campaigns and drinks receptions then there was and is money to pay catering staff a living wage and give them fair and full contracts.
UMC had served as an underhand way of employing people below the living wage which the university claimed to adhere to. It functions as as an internal outsourcing project, and though the worst excesses of the restructure have been defeated, we believe the trade union should continue a campaign for UMC workers to be brought back in house.
We also must not forget that some staff felt pressured to choose ‘voluntary’ redundancy, either because of an understandable fear of facing increasingly precarious working conditions, or a lack of faith in the ability of the union to fight their corner. This is an important reminder of the continuing need to build a strong movement. Indeed the drive towards marketisation in higher education is putting all jobs at risk.
There is power and strength that comes only from our unity, so it is important that the four unions on campus, as well as individual students and staff, continue to see our fights as one and be bold in our response to the battles ahead.
Another University is Possible.