Eligible for voluntary severance after all!

Some members will have been relieved today to discover that they are eligible to apply for the voluntary severance scheme after all!

While the ‘human error’ which meant so many of us didn’t receive our notification e-mails a month ago isn’t quite on the level of revealing the names of those at risk of redundancy, it still raises questions about the competence of college’s HR department, and its ability to appropriately handle the implications of the current restructuring process.

As we’ve noted before, voluntary severance schemes are often followed by redundancy schemes; the threats to jobs of administrative staff associated with academic departments already point in this direction. We encourage departments once more to make their objections to these ill-formed plans known to the senior management team. We need to make sure that the Senior Management Team and Council are fully aware of the wide range of effects that these changes will have, with deleterious effect to all staff and students, in this consultation window; the perspectives of individual departments play an important role in communication the problems we can already see coming our way.

As the recent disastrous staff survey results showed, there is no doubt that academic staff at Royal Holloway are angry and do not trust the Senior Management Team; after the way that the restructuring has been mishandled, colleagues in professional services are also frustrated and demoralised. Many departments have already written to the Principal to raise their concerns – we will be reporting back how much the Senior Management Team listen to their views after the consultation closes.

Notes from the UCU General Meeting, 27th February 2019

We will be circulating the minutes of our most recent general meeting to all members very shortly, but in the meantime, here’s a selection of highlights.

Personal Development Review – “Appraisal” in old money

Officially the Branch’s position on the PDR proposals remains that we suggest members use the agreed 2016 appraisal form, with associated guidelines. We also stand by our call for members to boycott the consultation process on PDR, as it bypassed meaningful campus trade union involvement. At our October meeting with senior management they agreed to work with us to change the PDF guidelines, in particular to ensure a PDR could never be the sole trigger for starting capability proceedings. This work is as yet incomplete.

Ballot outcome

We were re-balloted about action over casualisation, gender gap, pay, and workload – UCU thought a national ballot meant that less engaged branches could be carried by more engaged branches. With only a 40% turnout, this probably means that the 2018 pay claim is now over. We will not be taking any action over pay and equalities. National advice is now for local branches to pursue campaigns on the issues raised on the ballot. Last year’s pensions dispute is far from over.

Pensions Update

We suspended our industrial action over the threat to defined benefit pensions when a joint expert panel (JEP) was agreed by employers and UCU. The JEP initial report looked at the previous valuation (the one about a large deficit), which USS and UUK argued meant we couldn’t have a defined benefit pension. The creation and membership of the JEP was endorsed by employers and UCU, and both sides were hopeful of a long term resolution. The first two recommendations have now been rejected by Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS). It is difficult to foresee a positive outcome from the second stage of the JEP’s work, without more pressure from institutions, so our pensions are still potentially under threat. We will be writing as a branch to ask the Principal of Royal Holloway to use his influence, with other employers, to encourage USS to accept the recommendations of JEP, which indicate a defined pension is feasible with lower contribution increases than those currently planned. Continue reading “Notes from the UCU General Meeting, 27th February 2019”

Have you received your invitation to take voluntary severance?

Some of us have received the email invitation below and apparently some of us are still waiting. Whatever the intention, and we await confirmation from HR, this has left some academic colleagues feeling that they have been singled out for a nudge towards the exit. Rumour has it the Heads of Department were not informed of the email before it was sent, and so could not “assuage staff” (as they were advised to do by HR when they reported that their teams had raised concerns). Apparently, they have not received the same invitation themselves (yet).

Other staff are quite confused by the wording of the email. The focus is more on the dates when it was announced and when it will open, rather than the overall rationale or what the College is offering staff to encourage them to refocus their energies elsewhere. Surely an educational institution should send clearer communications?

Finally, we have been asked by members why the scheme states explicitly that interested staff may not take a union representative or workplace colleague with them when they meet management to discuss accepting the offer. At the recent Joint Negotiating and Consultative Committee, between UCU and representatives of senior management, we suggested that colleagues are likely to want support when considering such a life changing decision. However, the response stressed that the voluntary nature of this scheme meant staff did not need such support. It is clear from our members that they think otherwise.

Ahead of REF2021, another round of TEF and the Augur review, the College needs to work much harder at supporting staff and increasing morale.

Posted on behalf of the RHUL UCU branch committee. 

Restructuring and Severance: The Current Situation at Royal Holloway

We know we have been talking a lot about UCU work on the national level, in particular the on-going Get The Vote Out campaign for the 2019 Pay and Equality ballot. However, there’s been a lot going on locally as well, and it’s time for an update. We’ll also be discussing these issues at our next General Meeting on  Wednesday 27th February at 1pm in Moore Annex Lecture Theatre – mark your diaries now.

Academic Restructuring

The academic restructuring process has been grinding on since Council approved the plans to reorganise our Faculties into Schools in November. The impact has mainly been hitting professional services colleagues who provide administrative support to departments, as the process has been designed to cut costs by slimming down personnel. Although a great deal of labour has supposedly gone into mapping the tasks done by individual members of staff, a lot seems to have been overlooked in the final plans, leaving both professional services and academic colleagues wondering how on earth everything is going to work when the new system is implemented in August. The cuts will particularly affect the student experience as it will take away the important personal relationships our students build with our professional services staff supporting our academic departments – current students are already asking about the impact it will have on them, and departmental letters and petitions objecting to the changes are in circulation.

Professional services colleagues have also been having one-to-one meetings where they have been informed of their options in the new structure. The process takes no account of a colleague’s experience of a particular department, but instead is ‘skills-focused’ – completely ignoring the accumulated knowledge and memory that will be lost along the way. All three campus unions are working together to support affected colleagues, so there’s a lot going on behind the scenes even if it isn’t visible to branch members on a daily basis; there will be meeting for staff affected next week, so keep an eye out for details.

If you see a professional services colleague experiencing treatment you don’t think is right as part of the academic restructuring process, please tell your department UCU rep, or let the branch know by e-mailing us at rhulucu2018 at gmail.com.

We would suggest that members encourage their students to ask about the impact on their studies now, and to write in to the consultation e-mail address – admin-restructure at royalholloway.ac.uk.

Whether the supposed cost efficiencies that the academic restructuring is supposed to provide materialise or not, the financial savings are unlikely to dig the college out of the hole it has landed itself in.

Voluntary Severance

The news that the college is opening a voluntary severance scheme for academics was sneaked out in this week’s Principal’s Newsletter; the heading ‘Why do we research?’ was particularly tin-eared given its content. Similarly, the timing of this announcement after the news that the REF will allow HEIs to submit the work of staff who have been made redundant is very unfortunate. We would remind colleagues interested in finding out more about Voluntary Severance that they should explore the possibility of a clause explicitly forbidding the inclusion of their work in the REF in any VS agreement.

However, as far as the terms of the VS scheme are concerned, we note that they do not make up years of pensionable service lost by taking VS; that the total VS payment is capped at a year’s salary; that colleagues considering early retirement will not be paid added years’ service; and that colleagues wishing to discuss this scheme do not have the right to be accompanied by a colleague or a trade union representative. We wonder what HR think they have to hide if they’re forbidding someone from having support when contemplating a life-changing decision. The terms also claim that an equality impact assessment has identified no adverse impact on any protected characteristic group; given HR’s record on equalities issues, as best demonstrated by their hostility to our branch’s Equalities and Diversity officer for simply carrying out casework, we have our doubts.

Voluntary severance is different from voluntary redundancy: redundancy roles cannot be replaced immediately, while severance roles can, and an employer doesn’t have to demonstrate that there is no need for a particular member of staff (e.g. due to restructuring or cutting a programme) in order to offer VS. That said, a long list of universities have recently opened voluntary redundancy schemes, often the prelude to compulsory redundancy, and it is easy to see a future in which Royal Holloway joins them. Such an unattractive offer is unlikely to make the kind of savings the college needs after its choice to invest in its buildings rather than its people in recent years. The prospect of such a process, along with the uncertainty and worry caused by the impact of the academic restructuring, can only make staff at Royal Holloway feel demotivated, stressed, and undervalued by their senior management team. At any time, this would be ill-advised; at this stage in the REF cycle, it’s utterly nonsensical.

The one bright spot is that we had nine vice-principals on the books last term – perhaps the VS scheme is designed to help us make savings there.

Help us out!

What these incidents show is that our need for caseworkers to support colleagues is only going to grow in the future. It’s the members who make the union, so if you think you can spare some time as part of this vital element of our work, please drop our branch administrator a line at Penelope.smith at rhul.ac.uk.