Standing room only at the Principal’s Open Meeting

A committee member writes:

It was standing room only at the Principal’s open meeting in the Moore Lecture Theatre today and staff waited with bated breath to discover just who were the “trusted” among us.

David Ashton rose to the challenge of answering whether “trusted staff” had been asked to attend and provided with prepared questions. “It wasn’t received as we intended”, he offered, semi-apologetically. There then followed an avalanche of questions about the College’s view on: the pension dispute; the pension scheme’s alleged deficit; whether there was a need to offer a defined benefit scheme at all; and, the assumptions underpinning the USS model. Disappointingly, the Senior Management Team (SMT) showed little appreciation of the impact UUK’s proposals and the College’s response locally to the dispute had had on staff morale – and on those not directly affected by the pension changes too. Sadly, nor did they demonstrate any idea about how to rebuild staff commitment to RHUL after the dispute is won. However, there was a concession from David Ashton when he agreed that salary deductions for striking would be spread across two months’ pay packets. Whilst not as good as the offer to strikers from institutions such as Glasgow and Keele, it was warmly received by the room.

Issues other than pensions were touched upon too. The gender pay gap and wider issues around gender disadvantage made a reappearance towards the end of the meeting, with anomalous arrangements for maternity sabbaticals exposed. Vice-Principal Katie Normington agreed to revisit this aspect of terms and conditions. “What will you do for me?”, asked an early career researcher who appeared to be wondering why they should stay at RHUL after just one year. “Well, we’ll have a new Head of Research and Enterprise soon”, came the typically comprehensive reassurance.

The meeting, of more than 150 employees, was remarkably even tempered given the disappointment felt by staff in USS, but the SMT missed a few “sitters” in neglecting to address many of the staff’s pension related concerns. However, it was very pleasing to note that the SMT had really taken our anxieties on board as they contacted the Chair of the Branch after the meeting to announce that they would spread salary deductions for all staff taking strike  action over three months. That certainly was worth celebrating.