University of Sheffield in formal trade dispute with union over closure of archaeology department

The University of Sheffield has become embroiled in a formal trade dispute over the closure of its archaeology department and other controversial decisions.

Wednesday, 8th September 2021, 8:58 am
Updated Wednesday, 8th September 2021, 8:58 am

The University and College Union (UCU) filed the trade dispute declaration on August 26, asking the university to reconsider the decisions which it says have a major impact on staff and students.

The declaration was made over the decision to close the archaeology department, the decision to restructure the School of Languages and Cultures, the School of East Asian students, and the 12 dual and single honour partners impacted by this decision, according to Julie Kelley, UCU Regional Official for Yorkshire and Humberside.

The union has also accused the university of a "breach of the implied term of trust and confidence" in its decision-making process.

Campaigners and supporters gather in front of University of Sheffield building to protest against the closure of Department of Archaeology.

On July 12, the University Council had voted to support the University Executive Board's suggestion to abolish the department, leaving just osteoarchaeology and cultural heritage, a move that department staff argue "would mark the unequivocal end of archaeology" at the university.

More than 200 members of the union then voted to ballot for 'sustained industrial action' during the autumn semester if the university did not reverse its decision.

On July 16, the staff-side unions submitted a joint formal letter to the director of human resources and registered a failure to agree over the issues and, as a result, two meetings were convened as part of the recognition agreement.

Ms Kelley said in the letter: "Those meetings took place on Monday 2nd August and Friday 6th August, respectively, and unfortunately no meaningful progress was made to progress or resolve the concerns that trade unions raised during those meetings.

A woman holding up a placard in support of Department of Archaeology.

"Since then UCU have undertaken an indicative electronic ballot of all UCU members and held a further emergency general members meeting and in all of these consultations members have voiced their serious concerns over the university’s governance and decision making processes that have been followed.

"Regrettably in these circumstances we have been left with no alternative but to register a formal trade dispute.

"However, in the interest of good industrial relations - and to avoid UCU escalating the matter to a statutory industrial action ballot - should the university wish to meet with UCU to explore and agree actions that would resolve this dispute UCU are more than happy to meet at any time.

"We are specifically calling upon the university to initiate an independent external review of the governance procedures that have led to these decisions.”

In response, a University of Sheffield spokesperson said: "We are disappointed to have received notification of a trade dispute from the University and College Union (UCU) given that work to develop detailed plans to support the future of archaeology following the University Council decision is ongoing, and no redundancies have been proposed at this stage.

"While we have concluded our agreed internal collective dispute resolution process, we have offered to meet with UCU to discuss their concerns further and to see if there is a resolution available."

Archaeology at Sheffield has been ranked as the seventh best archaeology department in the UK, according to the union.