The “Big Freeze”: recent Senior Management proposals at RHUL are unacceptable

The College recently circulated a letter to all staff about College finances and announced an intention to impose changes to our employment conditions. The RHUL-UCU Committee would like to respond formally to this letter and make clear our disagreement with the proposals.

Senior Management claimed that they wish to be “measured and balanced” in their actions. Yet the letter ignores the serious consequences of a pay and promotion freeze on individual staff, on the research and teaching mission of the College, and on equalities outcomes. Further, the letter attempts to misuse information from the recent joint trade union staff survey to validate some of its announcements.

Senior Management at the College have, over a very long period, failed to address a culture of overwork. Now, as a result of the pandemic, they propose we accept  further cuts in living standards and cuts to career opportunities at a time when workloads have never been greater. Staff throughout the College are reporting unprecedented levels of stress.

Those Branch representatives who were informed about these managerial decisions prior to the publication of this letter expressed their concerns, and sought assurances about any future managerial plans that might be even more draconian. There needs to be full consultation and negotiation, as is required by UK employment law and the local recognition agreement, before any measures are adopted. To be clear, ACAS, the UK’s government-funded advisory, conciliation and arbitration service for employment matters,  makes clear that consultation is  based upon dialogue between union reps and the employer, with the aim of exchanging views and seeking to incorporate the contributions of employees in decision-making. ACAS warn that “making a pretence of consulting on issues that have already been decided is unproductive and engenders suspicion and mistrust about the process amongst staff” (ACAS website, accessed 20 November 2020). Perhaps this will be a helpful reminder of what is expected. 

Pay gaps = inequality

On gender pay, RHUL has an embarrassing history: women’s pay inequality was the fifth worst of British universities in 2018. The reported “improvement” in 2019 saw the median gender pay gap drop from about 1/3 to just under ¼. Slow progress on gender and racial equality has been made with more equal appointments of new staff, and promotions among existing staff. Note: there is no readily-available, detailed, longitudinal data on RHUL’s race and disability pay gaps. Freezing promotions will have the direct effect of shutting off this path for greater equality.  It also fails to reward and encourage the extraordinary effort of the College’s academic and professional staff. Such proposals cannot help staff retention and recruitment.

Freezing pay

Staff have seen their real salaries eroded by 20% over the last 10 years. UCU has campaigned nationally to reverse this decline in living standards and professional status. UCU nationally remains in dispute with university employers over the last pay round. Senior Management at Royal Holloway, along with their UCEA (Universities and Colleges Employers Association) colleagues, should be discussing in national negotiations how to restore the attractiveness of university careers for new entrants.

Management should not be seeking to impose a 0% pay rise at the local level, when this is a matter for national negotiations. In their letter, Senior Management argue that feedback from our joint trade union survey in May supports their “decision” to freeze the pay of those colleagues on grade 10 and above. In our survey, some grade 10 staff did indicate a willingness to consider salary sacrifice to be used to save the jobs of our casual colleagues. Most of those precariously employed colleagues are no longer at the College, and Management has not indicated that salary savings will be used to rehire these valued and valuable staff.

The impact of extra work

National UCU surveys have shown that, prior to the effects of the pandemic, members were already working two days a week unpaid on average. Action to reduce unsustainable workloads was part of 2019/20 pay claim. Whilst all staff will be delighted to hear that student academic reps at RHUL have told senior management that they feel “very positive about the experience they are receiving during the current circumstances”, that positive assessment is the direct result of the intense and ongoing hard work of colleagues at the College. The initial RHUL joint trade union survey in May, and the recent UCU short surveys of staff, report a significant increase in working hours. Even before the mass layoff of our precarious colleagues this summer, RHUL was cited as one of the biggest users of insecure contracts in Higher Education. As so many colleagues were “let go”, it will come as no surprise to you that the proportion indicating in the May survey that working hours had increased in (43%) rose to 86% and 48% in the November survey, for academic and professional service staff respectively. Many respondents stated that these workload increases were substantial.

Restructuring and Redundancies

Upon hearing Senior Management’s proposals for real pay cuts and the postponement of merited promotions, RHUL-UCU wanted assurances that compulsory redundancies would not emerge as the next stage of current plans. It is worrying that the  letter hints at the possibility of staff cuts. That such an option is being considered is an insult to staff that have so obviously demonstrated their commitment, flexibility and value.  It jars uncomfortably with all the recent talk of community, and managerial expressions of gratitude.

College management has drawn up a 3 year post-pandemic strategy with derisory  consultation with staff. Much of this, such as the re-commitment to the research-led teaching of the College and our traditional values of international-level teaching and research, is to be commended. But those objectives (and proposed further expansion of the College in Egham, in London, internationally and through on-line programmes) will be undermined by pay and staff cuts, freezing of promotions and pay, and a lack of recognition for the efforts of staff during the pandemic period.

Industrial Relations at RHUL

Branch Officers have repeatedly raised  safety matters arising from the pandemic with Management. A number of risk assessments begged serious questions, and UCU members have repeatedly expressed concerns about virus transmission in teaching spaces. RHUL-UCU raised these concerns with management, only to be told that “there is no evidence of transmission in teaching spaces on campus”. But if you do not look for the evidence of transmission, you will not find it.

A full return to consultation and negotiation on employment matters at the College is now required. We need the urgent reestablishment of the Management-Union working group to reduce casualisation and meaningful dialogue on equalities issues. Greater collaboration on workplace safety, such as examining how to increase remote teaching in the Spring term, would help to alleviate the extreme anxiety reported by our members. Some 65% of academic staff call for less face-to-face teaching in our latest survey, while just 17% reject the idea. Management regularly quote that students, on our campus university, want face-to-face teaching. So do lecturers, once it is prudent for the safety of both students and staff.

Posted on behalf of the RHUL-UCU Branch Committee

“Just Say No”: RHUL-UCU Committee recommends a no vote on the Four Fights offer

All UCU members are about to be emailed and asked for their response to the 2019/20 offer on pay and conditions from UCEA, the employers’ body which negotiates on these issues with all trade unions in HE. You are all working flat-out so are likely to have forgotten the details of the campaign and some of you may wish for a steer from the Branch Committee. The Branch Committee recommends rejection. Here’s why.

In late 2019 and early 2020 members of UCU at RHUL and many other universities took industrial action as part of a campaign for better working conditions. Known as the “Four Fights” dispute, UCU asked for action to eradicate gender and race pay gaps; the end of the scourge of casualisation; compensation for “overtime” and the end of intolerable workloads and a pay rise. You can remind yourselves of the details here.

Discussions with the University and College Employers Association (UCEA) were terminated by the coronavirus. The final offer from UCEA offered only future local level work to make improvements in three areas: national frameworks for looking at and generating data on pay gaps; for discussions on workloads; and to explore scope for reducing casualisation. There was no money for the frameworks or sanctions for institutions who do not engage in joint local work on these issues. There was no improvement on the 1.8% (average) pay rise which was imposed in 2019.

RHUL UCU held two short and issue-specific open meetings in May to discuss the offer and ascertain our members’ responses. Members were keen to hear the experience of those Committee members who had been discussing casualisation and equalities with local management and to gain a sense of the robustness of local negotiations. It was with disappointment that we had to explain that working groups in these areas had been halted by Senior Management in March, as they argued they had to focus on the COVID-19 crisis. You may be disappointed to learn these issues were considered so expendable in March; you may, however, be more surprised to know that even now we still cannot get a response to our requests to re-start these working groups or an alternative, effective, mechanism for resolving these long running issues.

The members who attended these meetings and who emailed in their views were strongly in favour of rejecting of this offer. Branch Committee delegates fed this response back to the national negotiators. It was a very widely held response nationally. Rejecting the offer does not mean that we will be taking industrial action, it just means the onus is on UCEA to continue discussions with UCU.

We firmly believe we should all vote to reject this offer.

Posted on behalf of the RHUL-UCU Branch Committee

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What Happened To The Four Fights And USS Disputes?

Given the scramble to make sense of the radical changes to our operations and the attendant destruction of our terms and conditions of employment, you could be forgiven for forgetting that it was only a few weeks ago that we concluded our industrial action on the 4 Fights and USS disputes. For those who have forgotten what the two disputes were about, let’s remind you.

The Disputes

The USS dispute reflected ongoing issues which were not entirely resolved by our strike in 2018, when we managed to get the employers association, Universities UK (UUK), to back down from their plans to end a defined benefit scheme. An update on this dispute from early May is available here.

The Four Fights dispute combined a number of issues handily outlined on this graphic.

Ballots for action were taken at the institutional level, as it was thought this was the best way to meet the legal requirement for a 50% turnout. Around 50% of UK universities, including RHUL, then took part in 22 days of industrial action before Christmas and again in spring term. Action Short of a Strike (ASoS) continued at RHUL and many other institutions until the end of April, though ASoS remains in place in institutions who joined that action during the second round of ballots.

Offers Or Not

Discussions with UUK to resolve the pension dispute have not culminated in an offer. Progress has been made in terms of greater cooperation between UCU and UUK in pressing USS to drop Test 1, to look at the cost and benefits of de-risking and to elicit greater information sharing. However, there is no offer to reduce members’ contributions or for employers to absorb some of their burden (in recognition of the past payments holiday or the strike action required to save defined benefits). To be clear, there is no offer from Universities UK (UUK) on the table with respect to the pensions issue.

There is an offer with respect to the Four Fights. Discussions with the University and College Employers Association (UCEA) were unexpectedly halted due to the coronavirus, with some anticipated marginal gains disappearing and taking us back to the earlier offer. Members should note too that the negotiations for the 2020/1 claim should have started by now, but these have been postponed for the same reason. The final offer from UCEA does not improve on the (imposed) average 1.8% pay increase. However, it offers local level work to make improvements in the three other areas: national frameworks for looking at and generating data on pay gaps, for discussing workloads, and to explore scope for reducing casualisation are proposed. Data and best practice would be shared at the national level, to stimulate wider work in these areas. There is to be no money for the frameworks or sanctions for institutions who do not engage in joint work on these issues.

The Higher Education Committee (HEC) of UCU had originally planned to re-ballot for continued action in March 2020 but this was scrapped due to the corona crisis. As it stands today HEC has decided there should be re-ballots on both issues starting either on 30th June or as soon as practically possible after that date. Continue reading “What Happened To The Four Fights And USS Disputes?”

March of the Schaculties

An earlier version of this blog referred to a specific School. We have removed these references in order not to single out one School.
The new Schaculties are up and running and the new Heads of School are starting to issue their schrategy documents. Meanwhile, Professor Badcock has invited external speakers in to “help” everyone to start thinking about the College’s next strategic plan.
Sometimes we forget how privileged we are to be working at Royal Holloway. As recently as 2011, we were ranked 88th in the world in the Times Higher rankings. The College operated on a system of consensus. While that meant that change might be slowed down, it also meant that everyone was on board. Strategies of prudence meant that the College was in fine financial fettle.
The change in national higher education strategy under the coalition government involved HEU fees rising from £3000 to £9000 in one fell swoop, with uncapped student numbers following shortly thereafter. The unit of resource per student effectively went up by 50% and we could admit more of these highly profitable students. While uncapped numbers meant greater competition (notably from the Russell Group) for top students, standing still in student numbers would have meant a large increase in our income that could be spent on appropriate buildings and, crucially, deepening the academic structure with new hires of talented lecturers, while tough student recruitment standards would have further raised our standing in league tables as well as the quality of education.
Be that as it may, there is a vital REF occurring next year. While senior scholars cast scorn on the NSS and the TEF, and leading experts in equalities view ‘tick box’ schemes as at best a diversion, the REF remains largely respected in the sector, and is noted internationally. The College did well in the 2014 REF with an overall GPA ranking of 26th in the country (modestly down from 24th in the 2008 REF). Ultimately, each Schaculty will be judged on how it does in the upcoming REF. As resources in the sector are frozen or declining (whether or not the Augar recommendations on lowering fees are adopted), the College as a whole vitally depends on each Schaculty succeeding in the REF as well as the College’s overall REF outcome.

Continue reading “March of the Schaculties”

Equalities Tea(ch)-in – 4th July

We are delighted to invite you to the Royal Holloway UCU Equalities Tea(ch)-in at 2pm-3.15pm, 4th July, in the Library Events room. Refreshments including ‘equality biscuits’ will be served. Students, staff and other members of the Royal Holloway community are most welcome.

Our planned programme is:

Jeff Frank, Professor of Economics (RHUL) and Equality Officer RHUL UCU

Introduction to current thinking on equalities, and the role of representation, promotion, pay and managerial authority. Best practice now is for ‘hard’ mechanisms for achieving equality in preference to ‘soft’ measures such as awards, ‘subconscious bias training’ and leadership training programmes, which simply don’t work. Jeff presents new data from the Essex experiment on gender pay, and argues that the same hard approach can be taken to diversity including ethnicity and LGBTQ students and staff. Mechanisms that assume that discrimination is only historical are naïve and inconsistent with reality.

Clem Jones, President, Student Union RHUL

Using a research framework provided by The Student Engagement Partnership (TSEP), the SU have been undertaking a piece of qualitative research regarding the educational experience of students of colour (SoC) at Royal Holloway in order to identify inequalities present and scope for improving inclusivity/diversity of representation at RH.

Emily Pfefer, doctoral researcher at Queen Mary, University of London

Emily will discuss her PhD thesis, ‘The Silence of Transparency: A Critical Analysis of the Relationship between the Organisational Salary Environment and the Gender and Gender/Ethnic Pay Gap in UK Higher Education.’ She explores how efforts to create transparency around pay by universities serve to conceal and silence questioning of the experience of inequality, with regards to gender and ethnicity. Her research is based on a mixed-method study of two research intensive universities in Southeast England, using secondary pay data, a survey of asking academics whether they discuss pay and semi-structured interviews of academics, trade union representatives and remuneration policy shapers.