Workers at Edinburgh Napier University are set to ballot for strike action following an escalation of the dispute between support staff and the institution.
The main support workers union, UNISON, is also calling on higher education minister Richard Lochhead to intervene in the dispute to force Napier to delay compulsory redundancies.
The Evening News revealed exclusively last week that up to 70 jobs are set to be lost at the university alongside pay and increment freezes for the rest of Napier’s 1,500 strong workforce.
Of the jobs set to be lost, seven are academic positions with the majority of the rest set to hit support staff.
UNISON has issued a formal ballot notice with votes to be accepted from July 21 following a breakdown in negotiations after the university rejected a counter-proposal to wait until student recruitment was known in September and to open a voluntary redundancy scheme in the interim.
The union said the university had only offered “cosmetic changes” to the original offer.
The University said they have reduced the number of job losses to under 50 and have offered to delay any exits until September and labelled the ballot “premature”.
If backed, the strikes are planned for fresher’s week and the first week of teaching.
Lorcan Mullen, UNISON regional organiser, said the move towards strike action was not taken “lightly” and labelled Napier’s approach “destructive”.
He said: "If members support our call for industrial action, and if Napier continues down this destructive path, UNISON will be able to call strikes in freshers' week and the first week of teaching. That is not something we take lightly, but we must keep all options open to protect the jobs and incomes of our members.
“We are hopeful the ballot will focus minds and lead Napier to adopt the unions' very reasonable counter proposal of pausing the process until student recruitment income is known, and opening a genuinely voluntary severance scheme in the meantime.
“Napier's finances were strong going in to the crisis, and they are far from the worst hit university - they have the latitude to stand by their workforce, and we are calling on them to use that latitude."
Mr Mullen also claimed Napier’s approach to the job losses breaches the Scottish Government’s Fair Work standards, and called on Mr Lochhead to enforce those standards and prevent redundancies.
He said: "UNISON takes the Scottish Government's Fair Work framework seriously, and we welcome the Minister's previous remarks on the importance of this policy in responding to the crisis.
“From time to time, the policy must be re-emphasised so all employers in the sector play by the same rules. Employers making the effort to stand by their workforce should not feel they are being put at a disadvantage.
“We call on Mr Lochhead to use his influence to the utmost to defend the jobs of our members at Edinburgh Napier University."
A spokesman for Edinburgh Napier University said: “Higher education institutions across Scotland are facing considerable challenges and serious shortfalls in their income as the effects of Covid-19 impact finances.
"Edinburgh Napier University has already taken significant steps to mitigate and minimise the predicted deficit next year and ensure our long-term financial sustainability. We now need to look at our staffing costs, which represent the majority of our expenditure.
"This will be done in a way that maintains our academic excellence and ensures we will continue to offer an excellent Edinburgh Napier student experience.
“We have been working closely with our TU reps and colleagues in exploring all possible options to reduce the impact on staff numbers as much as possible.
"So far those discussions have enabled us to reduce the initial forecasted number from 100 to under 50 roles and, because of this progress, we have offered to delay any exits until September. Having discussed voluntary severance, we are also awaiting Unison’s proposals on an acceptable scheme.
“Calling for a ballot on strike action seems premature, given that consultation discussions are ongoing and have to date been constructive.”
Minister for further education, higher education and science, Richard Lochhead said: “This is a difficult time for many as we navigate our way through this crisis and our universities face significant challenges and are not immune from the economic impact of the pandemic.
“This is also an anxious time for staff and we strongly encourage all employers to apply the Fair Work principles and a flexible approach to dealing with the impacts of coronavirus.
“I would expect the university and the unions to work together and make every effort to protect staff jobs and minimise disruption to students.”
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