Former Umist staff may strike

Work in the laboratories and workshops of the UK's largest academic institution threatens to be disrupted as academic support and technical staff at Manchester University prepare for a strike ballot later this month.

Union leaders are calling for industrial action amid claims that some technicians are being unfairly "downgraded" while others have been passed over for promotion after the merger of the former Manchester Victoria University and the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology.

Dave Jones, Manchester branch secretary of the manufacturing union Amicus, said: "The vast majority of senior posts in the new university were earmarked for (Manchester) Victoria University staff. What started out as a merger soon became a take-over as far as former Umist staff are concerned."

Manchester University said that it had yet to be informed of the Amicus ballot. It pointed out that the action was not supported by former Manchester Victoria Amicus members. About 190 members of the former Umist Amicus branch, supported by 90 manual and craft workers from the former Manchester Victoria University, are to be balloted on industrial action over pay and conditions on January 25.

The move, which Amicus said was also backed by some academic staff, is the first sign of conflict between management and academic support staff since the creation of the new Manchester University in October 2004.

It comes at a crucial point in negotiations between the university and all staff unions over an interim pay scale and a job evaluation exercise as the institution moves towards implementing the new national pay spine for academics.

Amicus leaders have called for the ballot because they claim members who are based at the former Umist sites are suffering "systematic downgrading"

and subsequent loss of pay as a result of the job evaluation exercise.

Meanwhile, academic support and technical staff who were better paid than their peers at the former Manchester Victoria University because they took on extra roles after voluntary redundancies claim that they are having those additional responsibilities taken away from them.

In addition, former Umist staff were passed over for middle and senior management positions created during the merger, they said.

Amicus withdrew from a joint campus trade union committee set up at Manchester last year as negotiations began on non-pay terms and conditions that came into effect in October.

The Association of University Teachers also withdrew from the committee, and has been negotiating separately on behalf of its members.

Mr Jones acknowledged that the dispute was not formally backed by the former Manchester Victoria branch but claimed it was supported by individual members of the branch. In the event of a strike, at least a third of the university laboratories and half of its workshops would be affected, he said.

A university spokesman said: "Although Amicus withdrew from the joint campus union committee, we have continued to meet with them to discuss issues, as we have with other trade unions separated from the committee."

tony.tysome@thes.co.uk

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