Our “Right of Reply” to the Principal

Dear all,

Please see below our reply to Principal Professor Bailey’s communication about UCU strike action. QMUL initially agreed and then refused (after seeing the content) our “right of reply”:

Subject: RE: Message from the Principal: Industrial action Dated:  08/11/2019

 Right of Reply

Dear Principal, QMSET, QM staff and students,

Thank you for the right to reply to the email from Professor Bailey (below), that was sent to all QM staff on 8th November, and similarly all students.  This email appears to reflect the template published by UCEA, rather than a specific QM approach.  Nonetheless, we welcome Prof Bailey’s recognition that union members do not take industrial action unless driven to it by despair of achieving change any other way.

Elsewhere, the email is extremely misleading.

Most employees of QM were not eligible to vote, so presenting numbers in this way verges on deliberate obfuscation.  Of those who voted, 80% supported industrial action.  This should not be swept under the table as university leaders are attempting to do.

Our disputes relate to a number of issues which affect staff more broadly:

  • The continuing attempts to dismantle our pension scheme – USS – by increasing contributions unnecessarily and in contravention of the views of top pension experts appointed by both UCU and the employers.
  • Pay: in London where inflation is higher than the rest of the country, the value of our salaries has fallen by between a fifth and a quarter in the last 10 years while senior pay continues to rise rapidly. Even the employers admit to a 17% fall in real wages nationally!   In the past year, inflation was around 2% while pension contributions rose by a further 1.6%.  This means a loss of 3.6% while employers offered only 1.8%.  The attempt to muddy waters by including the increments that some members of staff receive for other reasons or by emphasising the attempts to mitigate the pay of the very low-paid is disingenuous and knowingly so.
  • Gender pay gap. Why should women take home less than men?  While it is good that the Principal recognises that pay inequalities for women and BAME staff cannot be justified, QM has not taken concrete steps to address the problems raised with them over a number of years. Task and finish groups are an inadequate response to such fundamental, structural issues.
  • Again, we are pleased that the Principal recognises that workloads are rising for all staff and that this has an impact on the wellbeing of all staff.  He does not appear to be taking any measures to cut them.
  • The figures presented in the Principal’s email appear to miss out the majority of staff on casual contracts at QM and so present a very partial view of what is happening. We are very concerned on the insecurity generated by the unnecessary use of such contracts and the effect on staff workloads and student experiences at QM.

These issues affect almost all staff and students in one way or another.  The overwhelming majority of those who voted for industrial action are therefore taking action on behalf of everyone.

Yet this strike and the action short of a strike that will follow can still be averted.  As a member of UCEA (the employers’ association) the Principal could seek to persuade them to return to the table.  He could be arguing for better pay and conditions, and better pensions, for all QM staff. Students (and the NUS) appreciate that a disillusioned staff cannot deliver high quality teaching, especially if they are continually being asked to deliver more.

QMUCU calls on Professor Bailey to retract this email, and support QM staff the sake of QM as an institution, for the sake of all staff and, most of all, for the sake of our students.

 

 

Dear colleagues,

Last week, I wrote to you all to confirm the outcome of the UCU members’ ballots in relation to pay and pensions. At Queen Mary, 367 of our 4,500 colleagues voted in favour of industrial action.

The UCU has now informed us that eight days of strike action will take place, from 25 to 29 November and from 2 to 4 December. They also informed us that action short of a strike will start on 25 November and end no later than 29 April 2020.

While we respect trade union members’ right to take part in industrial action, I regret that we face local industrial action here at Queen Mary and the possible negative impact that this will have on everyone at our University.

We understand the strength of feeling on this issue, and how important a good pension scheme is to staff, as part of an overall package of benefits, which is why we have invested a huge amount of energy and commitment in trying to meet the demands of both UCU and the Pension Regulator. This has included maintaining the current pension benefits and increasing from 18% to 20.1% the contribution the University pays for each member of staff in the USS. The Pension Regulator has made it clear that the current position of USS is at the limit of acceptability. As a condition of the current settlement, our University has been placed under financial measures imposed by USS to support the covenant of the pension scheme. These measures, alongside the increased pension contributions, create a lot of uncertainty regarding our future financial position.

We are all committed to providing an excellent student experience. We will need to work together to minimise the impact of the industrial action upon our students and upon the majority of staff who are not participating in the action. Senior leaders from across schools and institutes will meet next week to discuss this.

We will keep you updated throughout this period. Information will be added as it is becomes available on this page on Connected. If you have any comments or concerns, please contact your Head of School or Director, or email me at principal@qmul.ac.uk.

Best wishes,

Colin
Colin Bailey
President and Principal

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