(Probably) the final UCU Branch update of 2020

HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO YOU ALL!

In 2020, branch membership increased by 11%, staff on levels 6 and below enjoyed their first year of 30 days annual leave (negotiated + fought for by unions), cleaners and security staff became university staff (negotiated + fought for by unions) and we worked very hard to resist redundancies through change management and secured some minor wins (e.g. improved VR terms) in relation to this. 

It’s been a gruelling year for UoL staff, not least as COVID has forced us to adapt the way we work in ways we could never have imagined. Our new VC has established a new and very ambitious strategy.

At least four major change management programmes were instigated, and the way they were handled by university management leaves a lot to be desired.

We’ve had a number of very well-attended branch meetings. On Wednesday we passed a motion that resolves:

  • to call for an immediate commitment from the University of London Senior Management that there will be no compulsory redundancies resulting from restructuring.
  • to review the situation, and report back to members in the new year after the results of the new VR scheme have been made available.
  • to lodge a dispute and prepare for industrial action if the employer does not rule out compulsory redundancies.
  • to demand the University of London extends the VR deadline beyond the 5th of January so that colleagues have more time and information to consider their futures.

At our ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING on 28th January, members can shape the composition of the branch committee for the new year. This is an important milestone in what will be a trying 2021. A union branch is only as strong as the members who step forward and help us do the work that brings about change.

If you want to get more involved in UCU Senate House, there’s no better time than 2021.

We are going to go into 2021 fighting the same fights we were fighting in 2020. So rest up and enjoy your time off. But we’d ask you to consider a question before we return: “What one thing can I do next year to make my union stronger?”.

We look forward to hearing your answers!

UCU Senate House Branch Committee

Dispute with Employer

Dear members

Following the last branch members meeting, we immediately informed management, formally, of our intention to enter dispute unless they commit to no compulsory redundancies and improved Voluntary Severance (Redundancy) terms.

We were able to do that because of the huge mandate that you as members gave us when passing the following motion:

Senate House UCU Motion
PROPOSED BY SENATE HOUSE BRANCH COMMITTEE

Branch notes

  • The University of London has begun a process of restructuring which they claim is part of realising the new strategy, the restructuring requires that the University of London produce a “balanced budget”.
  • This follows years of ‘planned deficit’, to allow UoL to set up projects such as Co-Sector, which have never delivered the financial returns promised. Unfortunately, this ‘planning’ did not include a contingency for this, and so money to plug the gap is being sought from a reduction in the staff budget.
  • The University of London plans savings of over £9m, with half of that coming from staff savings. We believe this puts over 100 members of staff across the organisation at risk of redundancy.
  • Departments have been asked to make savings of between 10% and 20% with little consideration(other than with change management procedures) on what that means for the running of the organisation, or reassessing Organisational priorities.
  • Two of the restructure consultations launched propose an increase in new higher graded roles.
  • The University of London continues to invest in property, in this time of ‘dire financial straits’ at the expense of its staff members, despite the future viability of this business model being at risk.
  • Despite making continued ‘investment’ in property, the University of London cannot afford a respectful Voluntary Redundancy package for staff, being made redundant in the worst economic situation in decades.
  • The University of London has actively WORSENED its Voluntary Redundancy scheme since the crisis, in direct contrast to many higher education institutions, including those in rose financial positions. VCEG tells us that this is all ‘they feel they can afford’ But a rumoured £1.5M seems to have been found to purchase back the lease of Faber & Faber buildings from SOAS.
  • UCU and UNISON attempted to find solutions to some of these issues through extraordinary JNCCs triggered by local dispute mechanisms.
  • Our branch participated in an indicative vote on a union response to these issues.
    • 96.7% of respondents said that it is right for us to go into formal dispute with our employer over the terms for voluntary redundancy.
    • 78.9% of respondents said that they would be prepared to consider Industrial Action in the event of compulsory redundancy in order to fight to protect jobs and ensure better VR terms.
  • The University of London UCU and UNISON branches have written to the University of London senior management on numerous occasions reiterating opposition to compulsory redundancies, requesting an urgent meeting with financial data informing course and job cuts as well as the measures the University of London intends to take to mitigate redundancies.

Branch believes

  • Academic and Professional service staff cuts will affect the ability of the University of London to achieve the goals set out in its strategy.
  • Cuts to and closure of world-renowned institutes will diminish the University of London and reduce its distinctiveness as a centre for excellence.
  • The current VR offering is not respectful of staff, many of whom have made great sacrifices to ensure the success of the University over decades, and recently, in the face of the pandemic.
  • The current VR offering is not the best the University can afford, and offering more favourable terms would, likely, avoid the need for compulsory redundancies through change management processes.
  • The restructuring process has been deeply flawed with departments given savings targets that are unattainable without significant redundancies. Detailed financial data, equality impact assessments, revised job descriptions, detailed plans, or populated structure diagrams for the overall process were not given to the recognised trade unions in advance of discussions, or indeed at the launch of change management processes.
  • The University of London UCU should continue to support campaigns calling for government intervention or to support higher education and institutions like the University of London through the COVID-19 crisis.

Branch resolves

  • This branch calls for an immediate commitment from the University of London Senior Management that there will be no compulsory redundancies resulting from restructuring.
  • This branch calls for an immediate improvement to the terms of the current VR policy and to extend this option to all members of staff, including those immediately impacted by live change management processes, to ensure that those staff who do seek to explore this option have a viable way to survive being made redundant, and that redeployment to unoccupied roles is more viable an option.
  • This branch reaffirms its commitment to opposing compulsory redundancies.
  • The branch instructs the branch committee to seek such commitments but in the absence of such a commitment, to move forward to formal dispute and to prepare for industrial action if compulsory redundancies are announced; involving a statutory ballot for one or more of the following: strike action, external marking boycott, ASOS. The ballot to be launched as soon as possible.

We are pleased to say that UNISON has also passed a similar motion and communicated it to management.

We are awaiting a response from management and will be going forward into formal dispute this week if we do not have anything satisfactory to come back to members with.

UCU Senate House Committee

Disappointing emergency-JNCC meeting outcomes: pay freeze, VR, possible redundancies

Updates from two emergency JNCC meetings held in September 2020

Today the recognised unions attended the second of two Extraordinary Joint Negotiation and Consultation Committee (JNCC) meetings, the method through which Management and the Unions reach agreements on staff-facing changes. These were called at the JNCC meeting held in July, where the changes to incremental freezes and a more detrimental Voluntary Redundancy scheme were not agreed to because Management have failed to produce the information requested by the Unions, in order to enable members to make informed decisions.

What is clear is the following:

  1. There is a lack of parity of detriment to staff pay in the face of COVID-19
    • The seven or so members of VCEG (max 7 members staff on salaries over £100K) have taken voluntary salary cut of 10%
    • Staff on L10 and not in VCEG (including a minimum of 9 members of staff on £100+K) are not receiving their cost of living increase, in line with that negotiated by JNCHES, so estimated to be a max of 1%. (However, National Pay increase is set at 0%)
    • Everyone else, circa 1,000 staff, on Spine points 16 – 54 have had a cut in salary imposed, without any formal agreement being reached. The pause to incremental increases plus lack on National Pay Increase (agreed each year by JNCHES) is roughly 4.6% per person.
    • The majority of the highest paid members of staff are therefore suffering the least financial detriment.
  2. A new voluntary redundancy (VR) scheme is being introduced for those within the scope of any change management plan:
    • For some staff, the level of VR payment will effectively be the statutory minimum, without the cap on the total amount to be paid.
    • Statutory minimum is the least an employer can pay, without it being illegal.
    • This is approximately a 75% reduction to VR terms previously used by University of London, meaning that for each £1 a member of staff would have previously received, they will now only get 25p.
    • This is far below that being offered by other members of the Federation, including those facing immediate significant financial difficulties. In today’s meeting, we presented evidence showing that current VR terms at UoL are around 33% less generous than those at LSE, half as generous as those at Queen Mary, 3.5 to 4 times less generous than those at Goldsmiths, and 4 to 5 times less generous than those at SOAS. These are all schemes that have been active since COVID hit.
    • The Recognised Unions have not agreed to what UoL is currently offering but we are being told they cannot afford more, as paying out too much now will mean they may have to make greater staff cuts in the future.
    • No specific evidence to support the University’s position has been presented, no benchmarking data, and no comment on why UoL terms are less favourable than institutions whose financial position is arguably worse than ours.
  3. There are likely to be redundancies in the future:
    • This has been stated publicly in the Town Halls.
    • The Recognised Unions have received no information to confirm the overall scope of any intended redundancies.
    • The Recognised Unions have received no information to confirm that any area is outside of the scope of these redundancies.

Whether intentional or coincidental, there is a slow erosion of the rights and working conditions of those at the lower spine points, whilst those at the highest continue to only feel a pinch they consent to.

We need YOU to tell us what you want!
What is fair? Should the majority of those earning the most have their pay cut than those earning the least? Should a VR scheme that is barely above the lowest legally permitted go through as the sector faces the most financially unstable time in recent history? Or, would it perhaps be fair for the University tell staff what the plans for future redundancies are, so that Recognised Unions can engage in meaningful negotiations, to protect the most jobs?

If you’ve answer ‘yes’ to any of the above, we need you to join our next members meeting and tell us.

Please also use the anonymous ‘Ask a question’ function at Monday’s Town Hall to ask anything you want.

The University is failing to uphold the spirit of Recognition Agreement with its Recognised Unions and therefore leaving no option but to inform members of what is going on, so we can have the necessary conversations publicly.

It is your future, tell us what you want us to fight for.

Dates and terms for in-housing of cleaners and security staff at Senate House, University of London

UCU & UNISON

After more than 2 years of negotiation and continued scrutiny of the University of London’s plans, we have received written confirmation from the University of its plans to return cleaners and security staff back to its direct employment. This represents real progress. The key features of the University of London’s commitment include:

  • Security staff to be in-house by May 2020.
  • Cleaning staff to be in-house by November 2020.
  • In-housing of staff will not be subject to the previously-used methodology of market testing where in-housing is conditional on favourable comparisons with external bids.
  • Work has commenced on these tranches of in-housing. We understand that the current contractors have already been informed of last week’s Board of Trustee’s decision and that meetings are being organised to discuss the TUPE process requirements.
  • The Unions have challenged the decision to keep the Estates Maintenance Services contracted out to a specialist supplier. The Unions will continue to scrutinise and challenge this outcome.

Of course, promises are worthless unless they are followed through. We hereby commit to scrutinising every step of the TUPE process to the best of our ability, and to doing what we can to hold the University to the new commitments it has made.

That said, we do believe that the University’s commitments are genuine and that this agreement should lead to serious discussions about the terms for suspending the boycott.

The boycott has unintentionally focused on events organised by union members at the School of Advanced Study. Many of these members are on precarious contracts and the additional work-related stress caused by the boycott has impacted on their mental health and wellbeing.

Senate House, University of London in-housing campaign: significant progress made for cleaners and security staff

The Senate House branches of UCU and UNISON welcome the decision made by the Board of Trustees to support the Vice Chancellor’s commitment to insource our colleagues in the Cleaning and Security teams, which was announced today.

This is a significant step forward by the University of London and we will continue to engage with the larger in-housing process and of course be scrutinising the decision around estates management.

We look forward to working with the Vice-Chancellor and her team during the insourcing process and recognise the dedication and commitment of all those involved in ensuring we have collectively reached this point.

We look forward to welcoming our colleagues back in house.

Outcome of 4 July branch meeting: Senate House boycott

In this post, we summarise motions that were debated and passed at a branch meeting on 4 July 2019. These motions (full text at the end of the post) mostly relate to the Senate House Boycott (motions 2, 3, 4).

Motion 1 relates to a victory for UCU Senate House. We called on the University to consider introducing a standardised package of post-contract support for research-active staff reaching the end of their contracts. This new policy will be implemented soon. At the meeting, we reported to members that an earlier motion on this subject went to UCU Congress 2019 and was passed unanimously. We are not claiming that this is the answer to casualization, but we would encourage UCU branches around the country to negotiate for similar policies.

Motions 2, 3 and 4 call on all parties to find the common ground needed to bring the Senate House Boycott to an end.

Continue reading

Removal of students from Senate House following recent occupation

UCU & UNISON

The Senate House branch committees of UNISON and UCU recognise that whilst there are strong feelings around the current action and situation at Senate House, the University of London has a long and proud history of associations with activists and protests. The unions state again that they remain strongly in-favour of bringing outsourced workers in-house and continue to negotiate to this end.

The unions do not seek to pass comment regarding the action currently being taken regarding the in-housing of workers at the University of London but again impress upon management to uphold their duties of care to all who work at and visit Senate House.

While the unions note the internal statement provided by the University of London staff regarding the removal of occupants over the weekend, the unions remain concerned over the manner in which this happened.

The unions have repeatedly asked management to provide:

  • Guidance to staff involved in security regarding safe and proportional measures to occupation,
  • Guidance to all staff regarding health and safety/protocol during occupation,
  • Clear instructions to students and visitors regarding expected conduct at Senate House.

The Unions are not aware that any of the above has been provided. We therefore now ask publicly for these to be provided, to keep all who work at and visit Senate House informed and safe.

The Unions again state that we are opposed to violent and threatening conduct from any group or individual(s) towards those working at or visiting Senate House and would like to understand what management did to both protect the health and safety of staff and occupants, and de-escalate the recent student occupations and protest.

Open letter to UoL: Front of house roles advertised via Co-Sector recruitment

UCU & UNISON

UNISON and UCU write to you as the recognised trade unions of the University of London to express our confusion regarding some recent developments regarding the in-housing process.

We seek your explanation and input regarding the below issue.

As recently as the middle of last week UNISON and UCU were informed of yet further Cordant employees who, having initially been told they would be TUPE-ed over to the University of London with the in-housing of front of house services, would now not be as they were not in the TUPE scope.

UNISON and UCU raised the case of the affected workers, requested that the University of London reconsider their decision/challenge Cordant and, where possible, make exceptions. The unions were told repeatedly that this would not be possible.

The recognised unions were then extremely surprised on 16 May 2019 to see 6 jobs, for roles considered within the scope of TUPE, being advertised via the University of London’s Co-Sector recruitment pages for temporary positions. Links to the roles are provided below.

Receptionist x1 – https://recruit.thecareersgroup.co.uk/UOL/Vacancies/VacancyDetails.asp?VacancyID=6978

Receptionist x 2 – https://recruit.thecareersgroup.co.uk/UOL/Vacancies/VacancyDetails.asp?VacancyID=6983

Porter – https://recruit.thecareersgroup.co.uk/UOL/Vacancies/VacancyDetails.asp?VacancyID=6980

Post Room Operative – https://recruit.thecareersgroup.co.uk/UOL/Vacancies/VacancyDetails.asp?VacancyID=6981

Audio Visual Technologist – https://recruit.thecareersgroup.co.uk/UOL/Vacancies/VacancyDetails.asp?VacancyID=6979

At no point had the unions been told that any staff shortfall would be addressed via temporary positions advertised through Co-Sector’s recruitment agency, which exists to generate revenue for the University of London. Advertising roles in this manner, and not directly through the University of London, would seem to be a conflict of interests and, could be viewed as a way of keeping workers in these roles from receiving the full benefits of being directly employed by the University of London. The rates of pay for 4 roles highlighted below are also noted to be below the London Living Wage. The unions take particular exception to this.

The unions are particularly astonished to see that 4 roles, those of Receptionist x2, Porter and Post Room Operative seem to be offered without any guarantee of the provision of an agreed number of working hours. This would appear to conform to the definition of a zero hours contracts, despite repeated assurances from the University of London to both the Sub-JNC, the ICE forum and at all staff forums, that no new zero hours contracts would be issued by the University of London.

We therefore request the following clarifications:

  1. Why this situation (the advertising of the above roles) has arisen, given the University of London agreed to the methodology used for determining those in scope?
  2. If during the conducting of the review and scoping exercise it became apparent that this would give an inadequate number of staff to cover all shifts, why the University then did not challenge Cordant on the methodology?
  3. Whether the 4 roles noted above (Receptionist x2, Porter and Post Room Operative) are being offered on zero hours contracts?
  4. Why the rates of pay advertised for Receptionist x2, Porter and Post Room Operative are below the London Living Wage? Why is the rate of pay for Receptionist x2 different to that of Receptionist by £1.93 per hour?
  5. What problem  the University of London is attempting to solve by offering these roles on a temporary basis only? How long does the University anticipate that this temporary solution is likely to be required for?
  6. If the need for these roles becomes permanent, will those who occupy the temporary posts be automatically transferred over to full-time, open ended contracts, directly with the University of London?
  7. What is the rationale for advertising these roles through Co-Sector?
  8. Whether, as these roles are being advertised through the Co-Sector recruitment agency, the University of London now stands to benefit financially from not having to directly employ these staff (either through benefits to Co-Sector from appearing to have recruited workers through the Co-Sector agency or through lower costs/overheads and the temporary nature of the roles)?

This communication has been sent as an open letter to encourage transparency on this issue.

We look forward to your swift response.

UNISON and UCU Committees (Senate House Branch)

Welcome, Bienvenidos, Witamy to our new colleagues!

UCU & UNISON

Since June 2017 both UCU and UNISON have been arguing the case for outsourced workers to be returned to direct employment by the University of London.

We are pleased to confirm that the first tranche of Cordant employees who work in Front of House Services, the Post Room, AV, Switchboard and Porters will become direct employees of the University of London Senate House on the 20 May 2019. We have been working hard to ensure as smooth a transition as possible for those in-scope. That said, we share the understandable disappointment and frustration of those who appear to fall outside the scope of this first tranche of in-housing.

UNISON and UCU believe that every individual who works at Senate House should be a direct employee of the University of London and therefore we will continue to press the UoL to, as the bare minimum, adhere to the timetable that was shared at the most recent all staff meeting with regard to bringing staff in-house.

In-housing programme and Senate House boycott: timetable, support for staff, impact on jobs

UCU & UNISON

Since June 2017, UCU and UNISON have been arguing the case for outsourced workers to be returned to direct employment by the University of London. We are pleased that the University of London has acknowledged that in-housing, in principle, is the right thing to do and has started to implement a programme to end outsourcing arrangements for these colleagues.

UCU and UNISON made strong representations at formal meetings with the University on 4 April and 9 April expressing the tremendous pressure everyone involved is currently under. This pressure stems from uncertainties about the precise timetable for in-housing, the mechanisms for reviewing contracts, and the very serious consequences of the current Senate House boycott on the work of some of our members.

As a result of this, at an all-staff meeting on 11 April, University leadership expressed a willingness to explore ways of accelerating the in-housing of both the cleaners and grounds maintenance staff. We welcome that further detail about the process has now been published on the internal staff intranet and that the Vice Chancellor has acknowledged the need for the University to offer support to staff members who are adversely affected by current events.

However, members are anxious about the risk of cuts to research funding and possible job losses should the Senate House boycott continue for much longer. We are therefore lodging the following further requests:

  1. A clear written statement explaining the University’s financial situation, including estimated costs of the first phase of in-housing (whereby a group of workers will be UoL employees by 20 May 2019) and projected costs for the remaining phases.
  2. Monthly written updates for internal and external audiences about the progress of the in-housing programme. These communications should be written in straightforward terms and make reference to any action taken to accelerate the process.
  3. Pastoral support for any member of staff impacted by the Senate House boycott. Support should not discriminate against staff based on their position on this topic or, in the case of colleagues in the School of Advanced Study (SAS), the choices they have made relating to managing events.
  4. Clear guidance for staff in relation to the Senate House boycott outlining:
    • How the University expects staff to handle events potentially affected.
    • What the University will do to support workloads and activities that are affected.
  5. Given that it is the primary focus of the boycott, can the University of London explain what it is doing to ensure the continued success of the School of Advanced Study?

If you have any questions about this statement, you are welcome to contact UCU Senate House and UNISON Senate House branches.