The recognised unions at the University of Greenwich met with the new Vice Chancellor, Jane Harrington, on Friday 31st January, and it seemed to be a friendly and fruitful meeting. I say ‘seemed’ only because it was a first meeting and we have yet to see concrete proof of a major change in the institutional culture. Professor Harrington was friendly, shrewd and seemed genuinely concerned with the welfare of staff, as well as wishing to have a healthy relationship with the unions, she said that in her previous post (as Deputy Vice Chancellor at the University of the West of England) she’d been able to work with the unions (particularly Unison) on projects, sometimes putting out joint communiques. She volunteered that they didn’t always see eye to eye and there were healthy disagreements, but it was a creative and friendly relationship.
She would like to meet the unions on a regular basis, suggesting termly all-union meetings and she is happy to be approached by individual unions on relevant concerns. It certainly appears that we may have more and better access to the VC than we have become used to.
I made two substantial points on behalf of Unison, firstly, that there was a widespread feeling that professional and support staff were often taken for granted. We are the glue that holds the university together. Although the academics deliver the courses, we make it possible and provide context (library, IT, student support and advice, etc.)
I also brought up the current outsourcing the Estates staff and my worry that, not only might they find their employment less secure than with the university (despite the limited protections of TUPE) but their pensions were likely to suffer, as the Sodexo pension scheme is minimal compared to LGPS.
This was just a first meeting and as I said, we have yet to see what it might mean in concrete terms, although it was definitely encouraging, but we do have to remember that the university’s concerns and ours can clash, and even under the best circumstances, be trying at times. In supporting our members, the unions hold the university and the upper echelons of management, including the VC, to account on your behalf. What’s good at present is the possibility of a better and more fruitful dialogue. Let’s hope this possibility is realised.