Joint TU Response to Voluntary Options

The joint Trade Unions, UCU, Unison and Unite, disagree with senior management’s approach to responding to the Covid-19 crisis. Queen Mary senior management has failed to consult meaningfully and sincerely about the voluntary redundancy scheme, just as it failed to consult on the redundancy of hundreds of staff on fixed term and hourly paid contracts.

The joint Trade Unions, UCU, Unison and Unite therefore reject the voluntary redundancy scheme.

Management must meaningfully and sincerely consult with unions to agree how we collectively respond to any potential temporary revenue shortfall. This requires, inter alia, openness about university and school finances, student recruitment numbers, financial modelling, the financial arrangements with banks and bond holders and, importantly, careful consideration of the equalities impact of any discussion. In order to be heard, staff should not have to resort to negotiation by press release (as forced on the students’ union) or formal dispute procedures.

In keeping with Queen Mary’s values of fairness and progressiveness, if there is a genuine need for significant cost savings, then the starting point must be to ensure that cuts fall first on those who are paid the most. If there are to be voluntary redundancies, and the case for this has not yet been made, then senior management team should lead by example. We therefore ask that the Voluntary Options to be put ‘on hold’ with immediate effect and to ask for a commitment from the university to enter into meaningful consultation. No consultation leads to poor decisions.

As a matter of principle redundancy schemes, whether labelled as ‘hiring freezes’ or ‘severance’ schemes must be negotiated if they are to be effective and fair. More careful scrutiny leads to a damning indictment of this scheme and those who proposed it. The scheme is testimony to the essential nature of genuine consultation, and the consequences of avoiding it. The scheme is unattractive, implemented in a rushed and panicked manner, and runs contrary to the principles of Queen Mary.

Management’s failure has created a poor scheme:

  • Its rushed nature and panicked timing intimidate colleagues into accepting an unproven restructuring agenda which will leave increased workloads and uncertain employment and progression options in our shared futures.
  • Senior management failed to undertake an EDI assessment, once again proving their disregard for issues of gender and race. Senior management has clearly learned nothing from their woeful response to the killing of George Floyd and issues of structural racism in our institution.
  • Senior management’s myopic fixation on the short-term usurps medium-term concerns with the quality of teaching, research, administration and support. This is making a bad situation worse and is a failure of strategic thinking and shoddy operational practice.
  • The scheme compares poorly with other institutions. The University of Manchester’s scheme is both more generous and open to staff for more than double the time offered to QMUL employees. Haste makes for poor decisions, long serving, loyal staff who have worked hard to keep QMUL working during lockdown should not have their hand forced in this way.
  • Poor guidance from senior management means that the redundancy scheme potentially eliminates posts at the university that could have been filled by someone else (whether the post remains is unclear in the guidance thus far received from management). This could have serious unforeseen implications for workloads and casualisation in the future.
  • Senior management’s woefully inadequate redundancy register, and complete failure to develop any workforce planning, and retraining opportunities underlies this failure to consider the needs of a resilient and capable organisation.
  • Senior management’s voluntary redundancy scheme breaches core Queen Mary values of equity, fairness, aiding social mobility. The scheme, alongside the ongoing failure to renew fixed-term contracts, pushes the disruption of the virus onto the lower paid staff at QMUL. If cuts are needed, any initial sacrifices should be made by those more likely to be able to afford it.
  • Members of the bloated senior executive team should volunteer for ‘severance’ first, on the same terms as everyone else. If QMUL cannot sustain a year-long reduction in student numbers for a year, after its hard-working frontline staff have generated more than £100m in operating cash surplus in the last three years, then there is a serious management problem.
  • Senior management should look at the University of Manchester for further inspiration. Vice Chancellor Dame Nancy Rothwell and all members of the Senior Leadership Team will be taking a voluntary 20% pay cut. The principal of King’s College London has agreed a 30% pay cut for six months with Vice Principals taking a 15% reduction in salary. Similar measures are in place in Edinburgh, Bristol, York, Nottingham and Cardiff.
  • The most recent Freedom of Information request by UCU in October 2017 showed that in total emolument 119 members of staff at QMUL earned between £100,001 – £200,000, nine between £200,001 – £300,000, with one earning over £300,001, providing significant scope for equitable cost saving without bullying less well paid staff into unemployment.

The Senior Executive Team refused to take up the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme for staff who could not work from home and those employed by the Student Union, unlike other universities. This deprived the University of a substantial amount of income and went against the objective of the scheme which was to preserve jobs. Subsequently, the directorate in which most of this staff group work, Estates and Facilities, are informing colleagues that they need to make cost savings of 20% across the board and will be ‘redesigning the department, which could potentially lead to redundancies’. Worse, senior management failed to explain to students and staff the rationale for not taking up the furlough scheme, once again demonstrating their indifference to, and lack of respect for, those who actually make QMUL a university.

As is clear with senior management’s panicked voluntary redundancy scheme, and with the concurrent outsourcing of Occupational Health, senior management continually prove they are incapable of nurturing a unique Queen Mary. They are washing their hands of the health and welfare of staff by outsourcing occupational health to an outside contractor. With the unconsulted and un-negotiated redundancy of our precariously employed colleagues, they have cut teaching staff when our most vulnerable students will most need their support.

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