The Emergency Motion for a Post-Covid Settlement was passed unanimously at the QMUCU branch meeting of the 14th May 2020:
The lack of transparency and meaningful consultation in response to the Covid-19 crisis is now being followed by the imposition of 20% cuts, threatening significant job cuts and loss of valued colleagues, fuelling unsustainable workloads, cancellation of programmes and feelings of alienation and disaffection. More specifically, many casualised contracts have been cut for this academic year, without any consultation with the union or front-line teaching staff. At Queen Mary casualized contracts have been effectively cut from the top, with departments forcing staff to make a business case to the Principal for the work that many precarious and underpaid teaching staff had already been promised, putting our most precarious and under-paid workforce at risk.
This is clearly harmful to the careers of many of our dedicated casualised staff but also results in the intensification of work for all those who remain. This is exacerbated further since for next academic year, many schools feel under pressure to implement expanded class sizes, and cuts to modules and programmes, before we have been able to consult as schools and faculties. Queen Mary expects staff to return to work imminently, but this approach is not only putting the health and security of colleagues at risk, it threatens the long-term stability of our institution since a panicked reaction to present events fails to take account what will follow the end of the crisis.
This 6-12 month period will be the most difficult the university and sector has faced, yet 2021-22 will likely see a huge rise in student numbers due to demographic change and the return of many students who will interrupt their studies or have postponed their first year. Losing the expertise of many precarious colleagues who know modules currently suspended will leave departments weaker and slower to respond to the uptake in the following year; and after passing of the crisis. While government has not agreed a substantial bailout now, it is too early to simply accept this opinion will not be overhauled as the situation of the sector becomes impossible to ignore. It is also not clear what the national position will be regarding bailouts, lowering unemployment rates, and the government and OfS response to the NUS ‘Student Safety Net’ campaign call for students right to re-take this year for free in 2020-21.
We must not diminish Queen Mary to such an extent in the short term that we cannot function effectively just one year later. We call on senior management not to buckle at the first sign of trouble. No pre-emptive action; no short-term thinking. We need an approach that is premised on utilising Queen Mary’s sector level lobbying and influence to demand funding and a New Deal for Higher Education. We need a plan that is designed with full and meaningful consultation with campus unions and all staff; a proper assessment of the period that faces us ahead not 6-12 months, but 24 months and later; the re-establishment of proper employer/trade union relations; and a shared set of demands for how Queen Mary will work in the future, as set out in the demands below.
For Queen Mary to:
- Prioritise and take appropriate measures to protect the health and jobs of all staff as we face both short and mid-term consequences of Covid-19, by complying with the World Health Organisation’s recommendations.
- Provide to staff groups all financial data necessary for meaningful consultation and bargaining purposes:
- high level summaries and updates;
- scenario plans;
- and all information sent to OfS.
- Engage meaningfully with campus unions and staff groups, with regards to all planning for summer and new academic year
- Safeguard jobs as a matter of priority by drawing, where necessary, on reserves, loans, salary savings (as above) and cuts to non-essential budgets
- Subject Queen Mary’s 2030 strategy to new consultation given the current financial position of Queen Mary and the sector, with a view to a New Deal for Higher Education. The pandemic must not become an opportunity to accelerate Queen Mary’s 2030 strategy.
- Suspend all major capital projects until there is a return to financial stability.
- Announce that the Chancellor and senior management team, and all those earning over £100k will take a pay cut. No member of Queen Mary staff should be paid more than the Prime Minister during times of crisis.
- Meet with campus unions to draw up a plan for steering us through the Covid-19 Crisis, which has protecting jobs as its core principle and must engage in genuine and ongoing consultation with the unions regarding all proposals for change within the institution as a result of the Covid- 19 crisis.
- Focus efforts on national lobbying for bailout and long-term New Deal for Higher Education.
- Consider appropriate solidarity actions by senior staff, for example a voluntary solidarity levy ring fenced for continued employment of casualised staff members (dependent on senior management implementing actions listed above).
- Help create joint campus coronavirus action groups (of staff representing all grades working collectively with students) to devise institution-specific ‘Corona Charters’ to protect working conditions and health and safety, support student campaigns for ‘no detriment’, and press for democratic governance arrangements.
- Help to set up a professor’s forum
- UCU members, supported by Union, should resist covering additional work that was previously assigned to hourly-paid or fixed-term contract staff who are now being targeted for redundancy due to the Covid-19 crisis. Such increased workloads raise significant concerns related to health and safety, equalities, contractual terms, and student complaints.
- The branch committee will support members of staff facing increases and/or significant changes to workloads by circulating written guidance about how to respond, by pursuing these concerns with university management, and by campaigning to defend hourly-paid and fixed-term staff.
- UCU members, supported by the branch, must use every aspect of UK employment law, including laws related to redundancy, unfair dismissal and less favourable treatment of staff on fixed-term contracts, in order to defend the interests of other members. The branch committee will raise these concerns with the employer at appropriate forums.