The ‘12 on the 12th’ demonstration will be held outside Senate HouseSean Hickin

The Cambridge University Unite Branch and Unison University of Cambridge and Colleges Branch will carry out a demonstration today (12/11) against the University’s move towards outsourcing professional, non-academic jobs. The '12 on the 12th' demonstration will be held outside the Senate House.

The two unions have also signed an open letter, alongside the Cambridge Postgraduate SU, addressed to Vice-Chancellor Professor Stephen Toope, which urges him not to allow the “Estates Management Division to outsource our Estates Management Maintenance Team”.

The Estates maintenance team at the University is tasked with maintaining around 378 buildings. The Strategic Framework for the Development of the University Estate 2016 seeks to support the University’s mission by being “an expression of the University’s academic excellence, with high quality places and services, in order to contribute to the University’s and the City’s competitive advantage” and supporting “productivity by delivering a positive experience for students and staff.”

According to the open letter, in several announcements in September 2021 the Head of Estates Management Maintenance Division “put forward a proposal to his staff which will ultimately see the complete outsourcing of Estates Management maintenance services” and instead offer “one overarching contract to an outsourcing firm.”

This letter and planned demonstration come alongside the news that Cambridge will be taking part in industrial action over staff pension cuts.

A letter by the Cambridge University Unite Secretary dated 1/11 asks: “Where will it end? If the University is allowed to outsource a team of people, whose efforts carried the University throughout the pandemic shutdown, which services will they next turn to?”

The open letter draws attention to the underfunding of the Estates Management Maintenance team where only “11% of the total maintenance budget is allocated to the University in-house team” and that if they continue on this trajectory of funding, “the staff wage bill must be cut by 5% a year.”

While announcements in September assured support for those who escape Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) (TUPE), unions are worried that the underfunding of the team will mean such support and development for these workers “will not be possible to achieve.” TUPE is when workers transfer from one employer to the other, in this case from the in-house team to the outsourced firm.

For staff that get ‘TUPE’d’, pensions do not transfer to the new employer, and the staff “will lose their status as a member of the University, including the protection offered by the University HR policies and procedures.”

The letter points to other problems with outsourcing which might face the Estate Management Maintenance Unit, including the loss of direct managerial control, hidden costs, and being tied to the financial well being of another company.

When asked about claims that outsourcing reduces Trade Union involvement, the Head of Estates Management Maintenance Unit disagreed with the “inflammatory” statement. However, the open letter claims that despite the disagreement, the Estates Management UCU representative has been removed, and the Head “is in the process of removing both Unite representatives through TUPE action.”

An article published by The Association of University Directors and Estates (AUDE), cited in the open letter, states that “many universities feel that it is unfair and not a viable option for key roles within the university... to have a lower standard of employment protection, pay or pension provision than those roles that are clearly teaching or research focused.”

Another contention in the open letter involved Toope’s staff email sent on 14th October, which offered reassurance about supporting unions, in which he “directly referenced UCU″ but not Unite or Unison.

The letter demands a stop to outsourcing, University support for the staff threatened by the proposal, for the University to recognise “the worth of the staff affected by this proposal and [display] the same loyalty that the maintenance unit staff showed throughout the lockdown period”. It also calls for “Estates Management reasons for proposing this exercise [to be] scrutinised in depth, both from a monetary and an ethical perspective by an independent investigatory panel under the auspices of the Universities and Assistants Joint Board.”


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