USS Pensions

UCU recently emailed members regarding USS claims that the current pension scheme is yet again in a precarious position and that there is a need to increase contributions to protect the benefits of scheme members.

As before, the actuarial assessment that they have commissioned is based on the most pessimistic of predictions of the performance of investments, and UCU is again challenging the validity of the approach. We will no doubt hear more about that in the coming weeks and months.

USS believes that an increase in overall contributions of 6.6% is necessary to retain existing benefits, but your employer has already declared itself unwilling to bankroll even a share of that increase. Whispers even suggest that our own institution may well have been at the front of the queue when that particular declaration was made.

It is worth recognising that our FE Colleagues in the TPS Scheme already enjoy significantly better benefits that their HE counterparts, which presumably means either that USS are less successful at making shrewd investment or that they are more interested in a burgeoning surplus than they are in serving the needs of their investors (i.e. us!).

Whatever the reasoning, it is important that UCU makes a principled stand against this direct assault on what is after all your deferred income (not some free cash bonanza as some would have us believe). Members are urged to make sure that they make their feelings known by firstly participating in the consultative vote, a link to which (unique to each member) is contained within the UCU email from Sally Hunt that will have arrived in your inbox on Tuesday 19th.

Please vote – whatever your view. Your participation is vital.

UCU Committee

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Your Rights in Respect of Changes to Contract

Colleagues are expressing concerns when they find themselves being asked to sign revised contracts as part of restructuring, and the LA offers the following advice in this respect.

Firstly and most importantly members should be aware that these new forms of contract have not been agreed with UCU despite assertions to the contrary, and indeed our attempts to engage in meaningful negotiations in this respect can be described as challenging at best.

You should also recognise that even if it were true that this new form of contract met with UCU approval, you are under no obligation to accept that contract if in your view it leads to a diminishing of terms and conditions when compared to your existing contract.

For the avoidance of doubt, UCU’s role is to negotiate terms and conditions on behalf of staff.   In undertaking that role UCU would not however take a position on an individual situation; that is a matter for the individual to consider what they feel is the best course of action for them.   UCU is however keen to ensure that when making those choices a member has the necessary data to make an informed choice.

Caring employers will be aware of ACAS guidelines in this respect and will seek to adhere to the reasonable approach that the guidelines set out.   Whilst not legally enforceable, industrial tribunals will take a dim view of employers that elect to ignore the code.

You may like to read this helpful ACAS leaflet:

It sets out their advice to employers when contemplating variations to contracts of employment.

ACAS is keen to encourage employers to take a collaborative and supportive approach when considering making changes to contracts.   Where that is likely to involve more than 20 people they make it clear that a failure to engage with recognised unions will lead to a breach of employment law.

So what are the options open to an employer in broad terms?

Employers can take the following routes:

  • Individual negotiations over terms and conditions,
  • Collective negotiation (compulsory in law where 20 or more persons are affected),
  • Imposition

ACAS is clear that imposition of a new contract should be seen as the last resort which entails the employer terminating an individual’s existing employment and offering re-engagement on new terms.

In such circumstances, the employee’s rights to notice and/or payment in lieu would apply.   Note also that under the ACAS code the employer is compelled to offer a new contract.   Any suggestion or implication that the new contract offer is only available if accepted before dismissal is strictly and manifestly in breach of the ACAS guidelines.

ACAS suggests that it is best practice to issue a fact sheet that sets out line by line how the new contract compares with your existing one.   To date this is not the approach being taken at Bradford.

ACAS makes it clear that it is not appropriate to use dismissal to incentivise staff to sign a new contract.

The unilateral imposition of a new contract is a breach of your existing contract; ACAS suggests that an employer may be vulnerable to legal challenge in such circumstances.

From UCU’s perspective the move to a new form of contract without conclusion of formal consultation with the recognised campus unions is disappointing and suggestive of a wilful hardening of attitudes towards representation.

Cost Saving in Context

Perusal of the University’s financial statements over the past few years make for interesting reading in at least one respect.

The data is publicly available so we thought it would be helpful to share this with members who might have their own views…

Statements for the financial periods 2012 to 2016 reveal that the “Number of higher paid staff excluding pension contributions (£100,000 +)” has doubled, thus:

  • 2012/13: 7
  • 2013/14: 7 (this drops to 6 in 2015 financial statements)
  • 2014/15: 15
  • 2015/16: 14

Add in pension contributions and other employer overheads and it is reasonable to speculate that this probably equates to significantly in excess of £1m more on higher grade salaries over the period despite a landscape of budget cuts, cost saving, grade reduction and job losses.

One must at all times, however, remember that we are all in this together!

Vice Chancellor Communication

Members will be interested to hear that subsequently to the response made by the Chair of Council, the VC felt compelled to make his own direct response in a letter to UCU Local Association.
In accordance with the request made in the covering email to which the letter was attached, we hereby share this with members.
The letter:
Dear Chris,
 
Baroness Taylor has passed a copy of your letter to me of 26 April 2017. I would like to take this opportunity to respond to some of the specific issues which you have raised.
 
As you are aware, we have set out an ambitious 10 year vision to become a word (sic) leading technology university. A significant programme of work is in place to help the University achieve this vision. I recognise that a programme of this magnitude is challenging and will bring about significant change across the University, which can be unsettling and unwelcome for some staff. In order to support staff we have put in place an extensive programme of support to assist them through this period of change.
With regard to your specific points:

Academic Redundancy Criteria

Joanne Marshall and her tea m have considered your feedback on the academic redundancy selection criteria. Whilst some of your feedback was directed more towards the circumstances that have led to potential redundancies, or to the principle of making redundancies, your specific points on the criteria have been carefully considered and amendments have been made.

Administrative Restructuring

Whilst we recognise that there is a reduction in posts at Grade 5 and an increase at Grade 4, the Student and Academic Administration Review has been driven by an extensive business process assessment.  This assessment informs the roles which are required and the duties and responsibilities within these roles. These new roles have then been subject to a very thorough job evaluation process. Throughout the consultation, assurances have been provided with regard to future career progression within the structure. There will be an extensive programme of development put in place to support our commitment to career planning, professional development and promotion.

Academic Portfolio Review

The Academic Portfolio Review fulfilled the University requirements to meet the expectation within Chapter BS of the UK Quality Code. Students were involved in programme review activities through the following means: student meetings at both undergraduate and postgraduate level to explore their learning experiences; student feedback gained througsurveys, namely the Bradford Student Survey, National Student Survey and Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey; evidence from StaffStudent Liaison Committees; and data ostudent complaints and appeals. The APR methodology was designed to ensure the student voice played a big role.

Effectiveness

Colleagues undertake business travel and attendance at many events and venues throughout the academic year. These are agreed with the appropriate managers through the normal University processes and are informed by the University‘s PDR process and the University’s strategic objectives. We continue to build on and improve our communications and engagement throughout this process to help colleagues better understand how we are working towards achieving the vision .
 
I recognise that this continues to be a challenging time for many colleagues across the University. I urge you and the other campus trade unions to continue to work constructivelythrough the established University forums and procedures to assist us in achieving our strategic objectives. I thank you for your help and efforts so far.
 
Yours sincerely
Brian Cantor

University Chair of Council Baroness Taylor Responds (sort of!)

UCU Local Association committee were pleased to receive a response to our letter of 26th April (sent both by e-mail and hard copy) which arrived in in-boxes on 16th May late in the afternoon.

Sadly the letter does little to suggest that Council considers the current strategy places the institution, its staff and students at risk.   Nor is there any suggestion that current failings might lead to a change of view.   The Baroness makes no mention of our request for a meeting with her to discuss member concerns, and also we note that the letter was channeled via the Office of the Vice Chancellor.

In particular, the Baroness explains thatthe role of Council is to provide strategic oversight of the governance and management arrangements of the University but not to become involved in operational decision making which properly rests with the Vice Chancellor supported by his Executive Team”.

This is a worrying perspective which suggests that Council are only concerned with ensuring that the rules are being followed and that the management team and structure is appropriate.

In fact, HEFCE expect that Council follow the principles of the Higher Education Code of Governance, a Committee of University Chairs code of practice.   That places the responsibility upon Council to be assured that appropriate steps are being taken to deliver (institutional sustainability, through its mission and strategy) and that there are effective systems of control and risk management.”

UCU suggests that Council oversight must extend beyond simply ensuring that the right boxes are ticked, to include a responsibility to ensure that the strategy is delivering in a timely manner and in line with the promises made that led them to approve it.

Since implementation, targets for recruitment have been missed, as have the subsequently “revised down” targets.   We simply ask how long this pattern of failure can be allowed to continue before Council begins to question the efficacy of current policy.

Baroness Taylors letter is reproduced here……

“Thank you for your letter written on behalf of the UCU Local Association dated 26 April expressing UCU concerns following the Extraordinary General Meeting.

I think we all know that these are challenging times for the whole HE sector with so many changes on so many fronts and that our University is also having to update in many ways. These changes will inevitably need careful handling and I can assure you that Council is aware of this.

Perhaps I can start by saying that the role of Council is to provide strategic oversight of the governance and management arrangements of the University but not to become involved in operational decision making which properly rests with the Vice Chancellor supported by his Executive Team.

As a Council we fully support the University Strategy and associated action. Council approved the establishment of the Bradford Excellence Programme, fully recognising the need for change in the University. Council is also fully aware of the pace of change and note that this is not uncommon in the sector with many other universities taking forward ambitious change programmes in response to Government policy and funding changes.

Obviously I have brought your letter to the attention of the Vice Chancellor and his team. I will report your letter to the full Council at the next meeting later this month and we will (as we always do) receive and question reports and updates on all these issues.

I will contact you after the meeting of Council with any views of members.

Yours sincerely

Baroness Ann Taylor”

Suitable Alternative Roles

Colleagues within scope of StAAR are now being faced with some stark choices as the fallout from the review begins to crystallise.   In particular, those that have not been fortunate enough to survive the process of matching and slotting are being encouraged to apply for alternative roles often at a lower grade than their current one.

UCU understands also that managers are being briefed to advise staff in this position that if an employee does not engage with the process in this respect that they face the prospect of not being offered a redundancy (which may be the outcome once all avenues have been exhausted).

UCU believes that the approach being adopted is legally questionable at best, and has sought guidance from the UCU regional office on how the legislation around this issue is couched.   The guidance provided is included for your information below, however for the avoidance of doubt UCU Committee are clear that a decision to withdraw from the process, however distasteful that process might be, should not be taken lightly.

If the employer has made the business case for a restructure that may result in redundancies they have to comply with the law regarding consultation.  The purpose of collective consultation under section 188(2) TULCRA is to:

  • Avoid dismissals;
  • Reduce the number of employees to be dismissed; and
  • Mitigate the consequences of dismissals.

Roles can be downgraded to avoid dismissals and can be used to support a case for a restructure.  However, a post would not be considered redundant if the same role continued but on a lower rate of pay.

In a redundancy process, this is what the law says in relation to alternative work.

Alternative Work

An employer should give employees at risk of redundancy the chance to apply for suitable alternative work.  In general, failing to consider suitable alternative work can make a redundancy dismissal unfair.  An employer should be looking for alternative employment opportunities from the moment they realise the role is at risk.

Offers of suitable alternative employment are covered by section 141, ERA 96.  This states that any offer must be made before the old contract ends and must begin within four weeks of the date of the end of the original employment.  An employee who unreasonably refuses a suitable role that is the same as or not substantially different from, their previous work can lose their redundancy pay.

The issue of whether work is suitable is considered separately from the question whether an employee is reasonable in refusing it, although there may be some overlap.  The more suitable the offer, the greater the scope for the employer to show that refusing to accept it is unreasonable.

Whether work is suitable depends on objective, job-related factors such as the terms and conditions and the skills required, taking into account individual skills and experience.  Work is normally considered unsuitable if it involves material changes in pay, skills and experience or status.

The reasonableness of a refusal to take up an offer often depends on subjective factors personal to the employee.  The test here is whether the employee had sound and justifiable reasons for refusing the offer, taking into account personal circumstances such as domestic arrangements, health and housing.

The manner in which an offer is made can be relevant to the reasonableness of any refusal, especially where this has damaged the parties’ relationship.

The employee should be consulted about alternative work and given enough information to be able to decide whether it is suitable.  Failing to do this is likely to make a refusal reasonable.

Where a member opts to accept a new job at lower grade to avoid redundancy, unions may be able to negotiate a period of pay protection preserving the old terms and conditions, known as “red circling”.

UCU LA Appeals to University Council

Members will know that UCU and other Campus Unions are working hard to encourage senior management to engage in meaningful and fruitful negotiations to protect jobs and minimise the effects of BEP, APR’s and the fallout from those programmes.

Members are also no doubt acutely aware that despite this the University has recently announced that there will be compulsory redundancies, and in at least one case this despite their being a role with a job description that closely matches an individual’s current role.

As part of UCU’s ongoing commitment to representing the views of members and to ensure that our voices are being properly heard at the highest levels of governance, a letter was issued to all lay members of Council last week, with a request for a meeting with the Chair of Council to relay our concerns not only for members jobs but also for the future of the institution.

Here is the letter…

 

26th April 2017

Dear Council Member

We write to you to express our concerns at the situation in which the University now finds itself.

UCU understands that the Vice Chancellor is keen to reposition the University and make it “fit for purpose”, and certainly would agree that there is an appetite for change and that may itself present some challenges. We fear however that the current policy is failing to achieve some key objectives.

The initial promise was for a period of reduced recruitment that would soon be overtaken by strong growth as league table position improved as a result of improved outcomes. To date that has not happened and indeed the University has just fallen five places in The Complete University Guide. The Five Year Plan is now a Ten Year Plan (for the moment at least), and there is a real sense that the current and ongoing process of restructuring is being driven primarily by a desperate need to reduce costs to offset the lost income caused by worsening undergraduate recruitment.

UCU fears that the current “big bang” policy to reposition the University simply isn’t working. Moreover a lack of honest and effective communication has left members (and others) at best bemused, and in some cases alarmed and distressed.

We believe that contrary to the views of some at the executive level morale is languishing in the lower reaches of the scale, indeed some are talking of a 40 year low in this respect.

During our last UCU General Meeting members raised concerns about a lack of confidence in the current University strategy and it was agreed that it was essential that we take this unusual step of writing to you to make sure that the views of our members are communicated directly to Council.

In addition to the broad themes articulated above, some more specific issues emerged and these are detailed below.

Academic Redundancy Criteria

The University has introduced a new set of standards that are based on a 5-year performance, where staff can be selected for redundancy despite a long track record of excellent performance up to and including their most recent review period.
To be clear, UCU is fundamentally opposed to any form of compulsory redundancy, a commitment that was recently confirmed by motions passed at UCU EGM. It was however willing to collate the observations of members and pass those to management. Those observations were not taken into account and indeed the selection criteria remain as they were originally presented.

Administrative Restructuring

It appears that where administrative areas are restructured, the inevitable outcome is a wholesale reduction in middle and upper middle grades either through their abolition or downgrading of posts; grade 5 appears to have been virtually abolished. Alongside this comes an increase in the highest administrative grade (11) which some might consider is being funded through this wholesale downgrading and job losses; note that grade 11 was up until very recently the rarest of grades. The resultant “grade void” will have the effect of severely limiting promotion prospects for those on the most common grade 4.

Academic Portfolio Review

Members lacked confidence in the quality assurance processes followed to approve courses as part of the APR’s. For example, there is evidence of “deficiencies” in terms of the guidelines as set out in Chapter B5 (Student engagement) of the UK Quality Code for Higher Education.

Risk

Members also wished for some reassurance that adequate contingencies are in place to militate against the effects of perceived risk factors, in particular the significant potential impact both of Britain’s exit from the European Union and the introduction of the UK Higher Education Bill.

Effectiveness

Many in the University continue to face uncertainty about their employment status or their remuneration as a consequence of review and restructuring. Moreover, the regime of austerity touches many of us when undertaking everyday duties and particularly in the maintenance of professional development through courses, attendance at academic and professional events etc. Members feel that it would be helpful if the outcomes and deliverables evident from corporate travel and attendance at events by those at executive level were communicated more widely, and that their relevance to the University’s stated aim to be the “Technology University of the North” should be effectively articulated.
Yours sincerely
UCU Local Association

ucusupport@bradford.ac.uk