Reject, Reject, Reject

This week we emailed our members recommending a vote to REJECT UCEA’s latest offer on pay and conditions. UCEA (Universities and Colleges Employers Association) negotiates pay and conditions with the unions. On our side, UCU negotiates jointly for workers with the EIS, GMB, UNISON and Unite unions. We promised you some context, to remind you what the UCU claim included and to reflect on what we have lost as workers in Higher Education over recent years. Despite all the claims of hardship by our employers, home fees are £9275 per student, hugely increased from the £3000 that prevailed in 2011. During that period, despite the tripling of fees and increased student numbers, our pay has hardly increased at all while our pensions and working conditions have been decimated. Everything went into shiny new buildings and increased Senior Management staffing and pay.

Continue reading “Reject, Reject, Reject”

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

Working Wounded: More Demands and Less Resource

Staff across the Higher Education sector have been asked to do more with less, even before the impact of COVID-19. We are often reminded that recruitment of students is increasingly competitive; that fees haven’t increased with inflation (although they tripled in 2012 and then rose with inflation until 2017); and, less often, the context of consecutive government funding cuts might emerge as the real cause of our financial difficulties. It is true that the pool of 18 year olds declined up until 2019, but it is now increasing again. While demands and workloads continue to increase, pay rises and promotions are in jeopardy, and budget cuts and recruitment freezes threaten to become the norm.

This brief summary is reminiscent of one definition of stress as a situation that overwhelms our resources.* The antidote to feelings of isolation and overwhelm is safety, connection to others, the ability to emotionally self-regulate through regaining a sense of mastery, and a wider perspective. Conversely, the austerity narrative, which tries to justify cuts to public spending, is founded on the notion of individualism: the illusion that we are worker robots who labour and consume without the need for community, a sense of collective identity, belonging, meaning or purpose. To the extent that we have all internalised the story used to justify this economic model, we are susceptible to self-blame, and/or criticise others, for our inevitable responses to being overworked.

Job demands, control and change are all central aspects of the Health and Safety Executive’s stress management tool. We asked the College’s new Health and Safety Director to work with us some months ago to use this tool to relieve the stress our colleagues endure at RHUL. 

The impact of the current crisis on the mental health of academic colleagues is explored in an article published by the Chronicle for Higher Education. The article argues that the sane response to turbulence of this magnitude is not increased productivity. The author maintains that establishing safety and security are necessary before the mental shift needed to continue to work can occur. If you would like to join a group to look at the opportunities to work together for the best interests, health and well-being of all of us as part of the Workloads and Stress Working Group, please do get in touch via the branch e-mail (rhulucu2018 at

Posted on behalf of the RHUL-UCU Workloads and Stress Working Group.

* Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn explores the development of our understanding of stress since the term was first coined, and points to ways to manage it, in Full Catastrophe Living

What Is A Reasonable Workload For All Staff?

This post contains the text of the RHUL UCU Reasonable Workload Fact Sheet produced for all staff, to ensure that it is easily available to all. The factsheet is available for download from the link above. 

Maximum Working Hours

A full-time contract at RHUL is based upon a 35-hour week. If you are not full-time try to adapt these guidelines on a pro rata basis.

You would expect to work for 260 days in a year (this number was arrived at in legal cases deciding the appropriate rate of salary deductions that a university employer may make if staff go on strike) and contractually to work seven hours a day. This provides a maximum number of hours (before holidays, which are discussed below) of 1820. On a standard full-time contract, these hours cover your preparation, teaching, marking and feedback, research, scholarship administration, meetings, training, pastoral care.

Thanks to EU law, which has yet to be repealed, workers whose shift is six hours or more are entitled to a 20 minute uninterrupted break within that shift; there should be 11 hours between the finish and start of your working day; and 48 hours is the legal maximum (unless people sign an opt out). The increased use of screens means it is important to take regular screen break. UK Display Screen Equipment Regulations recommend at least five minutes every hour is taken away from a screen.

Usual Working Patterns

The College was suggesting to staff that there were four solutions to the challenge of social distancing on campus. These were:

  1. The use of temporary teaching, office and meeting spaces, such as porta-cabins;
  2.  Teaching on Saturdays;
  3. Teaching until 7pm at night
  4. Adding additional week(s) to the timetable.

In response to each of these:

  1. Porta-cabins may be acceptable if they allow for disabled access and allow users to control temperature adequately (they are often hot in summer and cold in winter). Adequate entry and egress of socially distanced users must also be assured;
  2. Our employment contracts state that Saturday working is exceptional, by mutual agreement and may attract overtime payments or time off in lieu.
  3. Historically RHUL core hours have been 9-5, though many of us have allowed custom and practice to extend this to 6pm. The Athena Swan accreditation recommends core hours of 10-4 to maximise retention of staff with child care duties. No staff should be expected to stay teaching until 7pm and then travel home. Extending the working day affects those with
    caring responsibilities and those who are disabled.
  4. Adding extra weeks may seem like a low-cost option to the College but it may have significant equalities and absence consequences. For example, extending the number of teaching weeks is likely to affect those with caring responsibilities (as their usual cover arrangements may not be available) and those who are disabled may not be able to work intensively for the additional weeks It will also impact on staff members’ research and scholarship commitments, breaching custom and practice.


Staff on academic contracts have 41 days of different sorts of leave a year: 27 days of annual leave, 8 bank holidays, 6 days of College closure. In 2020 all staff were granted an additional closure day to reflect the efforts made by colleagues in the early days of this crisis. Those who had prior work
commitments on that date were advised to take another day off.

If we deduct the number of days’ leave in 2019/20 we find staff with a full-time contract were due to work for 218 days, meaning there were 1526 hours available for work (as opposed to the 260 days and 1820 hours before allowing for leave). On a standard full-time contract, these hours cover your
preparation, teaching, marking and feedback, research, scholarship administration, meetings, training, pastoral care.

It is important to take holidays, to spend time with friends and family and to recharge after demanding work. One can returned energised inspired and with higher productivity. But if your summer will be spent undertaking unexpected volumes and types of work to prepare for next year then you may be unable to use all of your entitlement. Your holiday is valuable – it is part of your remuneration, so don’t feel you must sacrifice it. You are entitled to carry forward 8 days of holiday if you have been unable to take this leave during the year. If you have more leave than this accrued
please talk to your line manager now.

Staff may not be expected to exceed this weekly hours’ capacity, and staff should not be expected to drop their annual leave. Continue reading “What Is A Reasonable Workload For All Staff?”

Helping UCU Members Navigate Their Workloads in 2020

The COVID-19 crisis represents a huge challenge for RHUL, a challenge for which the Senior Management Team (SMT) have developed a response. The response is based upon revising our degree programmes at speed, so that the College can offer on-line learning with face-to-face elements if and when these are “feasible”. This feasibility is very unclear, not just because of the nature of a pandemic; it is unclear because the SMT are not sharing the details of their proposals with staff.

Cancelling sabbatical leave generates greater teaching capacity but not enough to compensate for the number of fixed-term, visiting and hourly paid staff who are imminently leaving this institution. Precarious staff, on whatever type of contract, make a huge contribution to the student experience and our research portfolio. They are often young and committed staff, and are disproportionately Black and female. This shows inconsistency between the SMT’s pronouncements about the Black Lives Matter movement and statements about our history as a women’s university. In 2015 McKinsey published a report which demonstrated that diversity and performance were positively correlated in organisations across the globe. Retaining our casuals is the right thing to do and will benefit organisational performance. The College has made no statement about losing these staff. They have also not communicated with these staff; many have told UCU they are isolated and frightened for their future.

So, for 2020 we are reconfiguring our programmes to a College template; the template requires a huge amount of staff involvement to “lead students through their journey,” and the VP for Education tells us they may well have higher contact time than previously. This work on redesign, this incorporation of technology, this extra amount of contact time, all needs a huge amount of staff resource. As our valued casual colleagues are let go, this resource is going to come from permanent staff. This demands far more time than is covered by squeezing research hours and cancelling 90 sabbaticals.

UCU surveys regularly report that education workers work the longest hours of any industry. As far back as 2011/12 the Labour Force Survey found education workers in the UK took the highest number of days off work due to stress-related illness. UCU surveys have consistently shown that university workers’ working hours included roughly two days’ unpaid overtime a week (UCU website, 11/6/2020). In 2016 85% respondents from RHUL reported that their workload had increased over the last three years. Reducing workloads was one of the issues underpinning the Four Fights claim and industrial dispute of 2020, a dispute which is unresolved. The proposals of the SMT implicitly demand that permanent staff increase their hours.

Whilst Professional Services staff may not have the competing demands of teaching and research to contend with, unmanageable workloads are nevertheless common. Many Professional Services staff will be expected to support the proposed changes to teaching, which will inevitably cause heavier workloads. It is also common that when members of staff leave Professional Services they are not replaced; this happened even before COVID-19, as it is assumed that workloads will be ‘absorbed.’ In practice, this means that colleagues who are already overstretched are left to try to cover work which isn’t in their remit or job description, and for which they were given no official handover.

Staff have demonstrated how ready and willing they are to work longer and harder at times of need, but this effort cannot be sustained over an indefinite period and it MUST be voluntary effort. It will have a particularly damaging effect on staff with other commitments, for example those caring for relatives, and it may be particularly bad for junior staff developing their research profile. RHUL-UCU is available to discuss this response with the SMT. But so far we have merely received information, and we have not been invited to discussions and/or negotiations.

Following a request from members at the open meeting of 10th June 2020, the UCU branch at Royal Holloway has put together some basic information for members should they find themselves discussing workload with their line managers and colleagues. The first thing to consider is whether you have a copy of your contract. The fact sheet for members is based upon a standard academic contract at RHUL (as shown on the College intranet in June 2020). There is also a section included for Professional Service Staff. You may also want to share this information with your students, who are often dismayed to hear how long and how hard university workers toil for what are (usually) modest salaries.

You can download the RHUL UCU Reasonable Workload Fact Sheet here. Every member will receive this fact sheet by email.

Why Are We Highlighting Occupational Stress?

Many of the concerns we are raising reflect our concerns about existing levels of occupational stress borne by university workers. We believe these proposals will seriously exacerbate occupational stress. Stress at work is a serious issue throughout the UK. Work-related stress has been the subject of a great deal of research and activity by the Health and Safety Executive, the non-governmental body which provides advice on safety at work, inspects workplaces and monitors occupational accidents and ill health.

Work-related stress can be measured by asking questions about the following aspects of a job: control, demands, role, relationships, support and change. When members of staff become stressed or more stressed they should discuss this with their line manager. If this is not possible or does not lead to a change in their circumstances at work, then the stress can manifest in the form of a deterioration of their physical or mental health. Physical symptoms might include stomach problems, headaches, raised blood pressure, fatigue or insomnia; mental health symptoms could include depression, anxiety or irritability. The College has a policy of taking mental health problems as seriously as physical health conditions, so do not be embarrassed to tell your line manager you are stressed.

The proposals that have been shared by the SMT suggest staff will experience significant change, less control, a heavier load, no additional support, broken relationships as colleagues leave, and a change in role for those who must pause their research.

Senior management plans do not account for stress-related leave.

Staff who need to take time off due to stress will often ask their GP to focus on physical ailments rather than stress, as stigma remains attached to mental health ailments including stress. If we observe a rise in occupational sick leave, then the work of absent staff will fall to those staff still at work. This will increase workloads further.

Posted on behalf of members of the RHUL-UCU Branch Committee