University Responds to UCU Letter

Colleagues will recall that a letter was issued to University Management 23rd February 2017.   UCU Committee received a formal response by email on 3rd March 2017, which we include herewith:

Dear UCU Committee,

Thank you for your letter/email of 23 February 2017 regarding the failure to agree in relation to grade protection and matters of concern in relation to the StAAR review.

The BEP programme is an important and significant undertaking for the University and vital for the University’s continued success.  We are fully committed to maintaining a constructive dialogue with the recognised trade unions throughout the BEP process. This has been evidenced by our commitment to weekly meetings throughout collective consultation and beyond together with informal monthly catch ups with myself.  The trade unions have also been invited to join an extensive programme of staff consultation meetings which have been taking place over the past several weeks specifically for the StAAR.

I recognise that the StAA Review is a complex piece of service redesign affecting a large group of staff. In the light of this we have also agreed additional activities to assist you including HERA training and additional meetings with Nikki Piece to address specific areas of concern.

As has been my practice, I and my team operate an open door policy for the trade unions to discuss queries and concerns.

With regard to the concerns raised in your letter we have invited you to put forward your views on grade protection, given that the University believes it is operating in line with and in some cases more generously than many other universities. Over the past few years the university has in all cases provided redeployment with pay protection to one grade only with the exception of an isolated case. Accordingly pay protection to one grade only has been the custom and practice.

I am unclear what you mean by the University’s apparent decision to unilaterally review the Organisational Change Policy.  The policy was agreed collectively following negotiation with the Trade Unions on 12 May2016.  I note your views on the production of personal names but this does not constitute a unilateral review of the policy.  We remain committed to the planned review of the policy as agreed in May 2016 and recognise that the APRs and some of the service reviews have entailed long lead in activities and processes, sometimes by external consultants, which the Organisational Policy does not accommodate. However we maintain that we have followed the Organisational change policy.

We are arranging a separate meeting with Nikki Piece to discuss your concerns in relation to the aims of the StAA Review.  The need for an extension of collective consultation will be considered following this meeting, as the potential impact of any extension on staff wellbeing is also a key concern.

In the meantime you are welcome to join any further staff consultation meetings which Nikki has planned.

Kindest regards,

Joanne

One can see that much of the letter is devoted to meaningless platitudes rather than tackling directly the issues that were raised in our correspondence of 23rd February.

On the matter of our Failure to Agree in respect of pay protection, there is insistence that the Organisational Change Policy (OCP) supports their stance on this matter.   They further go on to claim that UCU have been unable to supply evidence to support our position.

Two facts are undeniable:

  1. Section 10.4 of the OCP states that “Protected pay will apply where a substantive employee is to be redeployed into a post of a lower grade due to organisational change resulting in their existing role being removed from the new service structure.”   It DOES NOT state “…..into a post of ONE lower grade…..”.
  2. Interpretation of 10.4 of the OCP in the manner as described above constitutes a unilateral revision to OCP – something that the Head of HR appears to find it difficult to recognise.

Moreover, it is interesting to note that whilst HR are keen to affirm that there was only one instance (a “special case” where more than one grade loss was subject to pay protection, they are less keen to confirm how many instances of more than one grade loss did result in instant pay reduction.

UCU maintains that pay protection for all grade loss is consistent with the agreed OCP and that any deviation from that is unacceptable.

On the specific issue of extension to StAAR consultation to accommodate campus union concerns, this was clearly too difficult to rule upon without further consultation – it was in the event a flat “No” to that request!

Our concerns over deskilling were virtually ignored save for vague comments about the mechanism of HERA and the training that was offered to union officials.   The specifics of a deskilled role and lack of recognition for skill and experience was frankly ignored, as were our comments on the resultant lack of opportunity that flows from a structure devoid of middle grades.

Equally conspicuous by its absence was any response to our request for empirical evidence to support the contention that the new structure will improve service of student experience.   UCU believes that it is only by first implementing the technology that is constantly being referred to as providing the necessary efficiency gains and service improvements to deliver this “nirvana-esque” future that a new structure can be made to work.   The alternative is less people doing more work for lower pay – which could be the OED definition of workplace stress and dissatisfaction.

Brief update – UCU EGM 8 March 2017

UCU Committee called the Emergency General Meeting to give an update in the following areas:

  • Failure to agree notice
  • StAA review
  • Campus unions position

Six separate motions were proposed. All motions were passed, with no votes against.

Motion 1 – UCU Local Association declares its wholehearted support for Unison Local Branch in moving to dispute over aspects of the University’s approach to the StAA Review, and in doing so wish to recognise the valuable contribution that Unison members make.


Motion 2 – UCU Local Association expresses its regrets and dissatisfaction with managements failure to confirm that they will extend the formal consultation period with campus unions in the StAA Review process.


Motion 3 – UCU Local Association restates its fundamental opposition to compulsory redundancy.


Motion 4 – UCU Local Association is opposed to all forms of redundancy and severance mechanisms purporting to be voluntary where undue pressure is brought to bear upon those affected.


Motion 5 – UCU Local Association condemns the practice of requiring staff to sign new contracts with diminished rights under duress, in unrealistically short timescales, and without the provision of guidance on the changes contained within.

UCU Local Association further condemns all attempts to reduce rights formerly contained within Statute despite an undertaking to maintain those rights in terms and conditions for all existing staff.


Motion 6 – UCU Local Association expresses its deep dissatisfaction with managements failure to respond meaningfully to the joint failure to agree in respect of deviation from agreed pay protection policy as defined in the University’s own Organisational Change policy documentation.


Next steps…

Ultimately, UCU may consider that our only option is to declare a formal dispute; however for the avoidance of doubt Committee will be exploring a number of forms of action alongside more traditional approaches.   It is clear for example that adverse publicity can have a part to play!

StAAR – Setting out the Facts 3

What seems to have been of particular concern to the University in their statement to the T&A and included in their article on pay cuts and job losses was the vexed question of the Vice Chancellors pay award.

The Unison Branch Secretary linked the much reported 19% pay rise that the VC enjoyed to the somewhat less tempting 1% offer that the rest of us are lumbered with and the particularly uninspiring prospect of a pay cut for many of those in scope of StAAR.   Incidentally, there is a possibility that in some cases staff on Grade 7 could be faced with a drop to Grade 4 leading to an eye-watering loss of 50% of salary.

The University is at pains to point out that this was a gross misrepresentation of the truth, which indeed it may well be.   The reality however is that this misrepresentation is borne out of the University’s own fudging of the facts.   In an FOI request the University proffered the VC’s salary for his first term of office as being X whereas his annual salary was greater than quoted; they had in fact reported the wage paid for 10 months rather than the annual salary, presumably because that looked a little less generous.   They claim that when the following year was quoted as annual salary this created the “illusion” of a significant pay increase.   What strikes one however is that the numbers don’t quite add up.   12 (months) divided by 10 (months) works out at 120%, or a 20% increase.   Are we really being told that the VC actually took a 1% cut in pay?

Regardless, the proffering of wage paid rather than salary seems at best naïve.

StAAR – Setting out the Facts 2

In its recent Staff Briefing response to the T&A article, the University was keen to point out that the article misreported that 20% of ALL staff would be downgraded as a result of StAAR, which is clearly not the case.

In fact, the T&A quoted the Unison Branch Secretary as saying that “They are threatening to potentially downgrade 20 per cent of the current workforce…”.   If taken out of context then the University may well have a point.   Of course the quote was in reference to the Unison dispute with the University over their proposals in respect of StAAR, which of course DOES have the potential to result in the downgrading of 20% of those staff in scope.   In fact, the University in a statement to the T&A confirmed that there could be job losses – something that it was impossible to deny, but did not directly challenge the 20% downgrading claims despite doing so in the “closed article” on Staff Briefing.

In an almost Orwellian misrepresentation of reality, the University claims that at this stage and until matching and slotting has been undertaken “it is not possible to say if anyone would actually move between grades”.   What is possibly true is that it will be difficult at this stage to understand how individuals might be affected, but clearly if there are less posts overall, and no posts at Grade 5 when that is currently the most common grade, there is surely an inevitability that significant downgrading will occur.   That, as they say, is not rocket science!

There is, says the University, an opportunity to appeal, but equally the University is at pains to point out that “the consultation document….sets out a distribution of roles (not existing staff) and their grading”.   Quite how one can appeal the grade of a role that has been designed to meet the grade offered is perplexing, unless of course the University accepts that its expertise in the grading of roles is less than it should be.

On the issue of consultation the University claims that the T&A article asserts that “staff, academics, students and their respective representatives have been informed about the proposals at very short notice, and have not been involved in developing the proposals.”   In fact, the article merely says that “Unison has hit out after the proposals were revealed to staff within the last few weeks”.   It is however true that staff had first sight of a new structure at a presentation to which they had been invited at short notice, rather than having the opportunity to digest the organisational structure prior to coming to the presentation.   Control and restriction of information – another Orwellian tactic!

StAAR – Setting out the Facts 1

Some will be aware that Unison’s decision to go into dispute over StAAR led to some reporting in the local media and supportive comments from the local MP Naz Shah. Read the Telegraph and Argus article.

As one would expect, the University was quick to go to print to “set the record straight” although it is interesting to note that their “Setting Out the Facts” article was not offered to the local press as a full response despite asserting in the response that there were some factual inaccuracies.

So – let’s start with the first assertion that the review is “aimed at improving processes that support the student journey from enrolment through to graduation with the aims of improving the student experience, improving the quality of our student data and ensuring that we are operationally more efficient.”

No mention here of saving money, despite the fact that the review comes at a time of ongoing financial difficulty brought about by an ideological and dogmatic adherence to recruitment policies that are seriously damaging our recruitment performance.

The review is heavily reliant upon the implementation of technologies to streamline processes – something that the University has singularly failed to do on numerous occasions; restructuring without successful introduction of those technologies will serve only to increase workload for those that survive the cuts.

Job losses seem inevitable – the new structure is clearly designed to reduce the overall number of posts.   The report gave figures to those reductions of 30 posts (18 FTE’s) which the University disputes, arguing that the review is still ongoing and changes may be made.   Further, the University argues that “the review does not know at this stage if a reduction in posts would result in any actual redundancies, since some members of staff may be redeployed elsewhere in the University or the reduction may be achieved through natural wastage.”

All well and good, but as every area of the University is under review and that largely that is resulting in staffing reductions, it is difficult to imagine that redeployment is the answer.   The suggestion that redundancies will be voluntary or reductions made via natural wastage is also to some extent a moot point.   Being painted into a corner where the only options are MARS or some other “voluntary” package is redundancy by any other name.

For the record, UCU fundamentally opposes compulsory redundancy.

Unison & UCU United 2

Following on from the recent meeting to address members within scope of the Student & Academic Administration Review (StAAR), Unison will be hosting a stall between 12:00 and 14:00 this Friday 10th February in Richmond Atrium.

As well as making a visible statement of the depth of feeling of members, the event is also an opportunity to raise awareness of “Heart Unions” week.

StAAR places a large number of staff “at risk” either of losing their jobs or seeing their salary reduced, in some cases by two full grades with no pay protection. UCU stands alongside Unison as they seek to protect jobs and pay.

You can show solidarity by going along today.   Bring your friends, and if you can also wear something red to make it as colourful as possible.

Unison & UCU United

Members of UCU were invited to attend a meeting called by Unison to speak to members in scope of the in-progress Student & Academic Administration Review (first MARS and now StAAR!).

What was clear from the outset was that there was a strong feeling that the process was unfair, the impact on staff unjust, and that the potential impact on student experience was catastrophic.

Those who have attended StAAR briefings held over the last few days will be well aware that this is not an uncommon view. The new structure will lead to a number of job losses as well as significant salary cuts in particular at grade 5, with the attendant damage to morale (judged incidentally by the VC to be at around 8/10). There is no doubt that increased workload on lower pay will lead to lower morale and ultimately has the potential to damage the relationship that student facing staff have with students.

Equally as perplexing is the potential impact upon academics of having a demoralised administration team with less workload capacity to support them in the joint aim of providing the ‘excellence’ for students that we all aspire to. Without that support, more and more will inevitably be left in the hands of academics who are themselves facing ever increasing workloads.

Note also that a detailed assessment of roles reveals the interesting fact that it is student facing roles that are most likely to be downgraded – which is clearly at odds with the University’s stated aims to enhance student experience.

When quizzed about the apparent paradox of less staff, each doing more, the stock answer is that technology supported process improvement will deal with that.

All well and good, but given this University’s track record on systems implementation (attendance monitoring, centralised timetabling, etc.) one can see that unease about that as a solution is anything but misplaced.