The university responds to QMUCU collective grievance

The QMUCU Branch Committee has received a response from QMUL HR department to the collective grievance submitted in August. The response is disappointing, because the university claims that no equalities or hiring policies have been breached.

QMUCU will be consulting with the UCU regional office to get advice on how to proceed. We firmly believe that QMUL has not fulfilled its obligations in front of staff or the campus unions.

You can read the responses we received to the individual issues raised in the grievance letter below (written in Italic).


Issues raised:

1. To consult adequately with QMUCU about the planned redundancies

The University and College Union (UCU) represents over 120,000 academics, lecturers, trainers, instructors, researchers, managers, administrators, computer staff, librarians and postgraduates in universities, colleges, prisons, adult education and training organisations across the UK. Queen Mary

UCU is the recognised Trade Union for most of the affected staff facing non-renewal and/or redundancy at Queen Mary but we have not been consulted about these changes.

Response: In 2020, the University has not made any voluntary or compulsory redundancies which require collective consultation with the trade unions as set out under Section 188 of TULRCA 1992.  There was lengthy correspondence between Dalia Dasgupta, Interim Head of HR, and Deborah Driscoll, UCU Regional Support Official, during July 2020 regarding this point and full responses were given by the University at that time.  The University is committed to engaging with the UCU should we be required to formally collectively consult over redundancies in order to meet our obligations under Section 188 of TULRCA 1992. This includes completing the HR1 form and sharing this with you in advance.

2. To carry out redundancies in a fair and consistent manner

Management have not ensured that the non-renewal of fixed-term contracts/the redundancies of fixed-term employees are ‘fair’ and that staff are being treated consistently across the institution.

Some staff are getting redundancy or expiry notices, others are not. Some members of staff have not received anything regarding their contracts expiring on 31st August, while others have.

Response: We have a number of policy documents which deal with the ending of fixed term contracts and set out a fair process.

In summary, our policies require that the manager meets with the employee in advance of their contract ending to discuss with them whether the contract will be renewed and explaining the reasons why it isn’t being renewed if applicable. In parallel, the HR Administrator will send the employee a letter advising them that their contract is coming to an end, referring them to the various policy documents, advising them that the manager will meet with them and also sending them the link to QM’s vacancies list. 

The letter is generated from a monthly report from our HR system, ResourceLink. If, for any reason, the letter isn’t sent by the HR Administrator, managers should still be aware that an employee’s fixed term contract is coming to an end and should seek advice on the process or follow the process if they are unclear on what is required.

In response to the concern you have raised that some staff have not received a letter, we are exploring the robustness of our processes and will implement any improvements accordingly. We recognise that due to the extraordinary circumstances created by Covid-19, some decisions on whether fixed term contracts will be extended have been delayed until such time as we had a clearer view of anticipated student numbers. We ask that if any member of staff has any concerns in respect of their contract coming to an end, that they contact HR directly.

In broader terms, we are already in the process of creating an “End of Fixed Term Contract” data dashboard to make the process easier to manage. Our HR Administrators will use the dashboard to contact managers four months before the end of a fixed term contract to request an update of their intentions. Three months before the end of the fixed term contract, the member of staff will be sent a letter advising them of the end of the contract and other relevant information. We anticipate that this update will help make our end of contract process more robust. Our ability to develop this data dashboard has been made possible due to improvements in our reporting systems and our continued progress to improving the quality of data that we receive and process. 

3. To allocate work to fixed term and hourly paid staff in the next academic year in a fair, timely and consistent manner

TA/TF work is now being allocated to permanent members of staff but the process is inconsistent and therefore potentially unfair. Guidelines for allocation of work to TAs/TFs were distributed in early July. Different Schools appear to be managing the process in completely different ways that may well all work within the guidelines but may still turn out to be unfair and inconsistent. A failure to ensure consistency and fairness across campus can lead to claims for unfair dismissal. The current process for reissuing contracts appears to be operating on an ‘ad hoc’ basis which lacks transparency. Without knowing who is on the panel or what basis the decisions are being made, the process cannot be shown to be consistent and fair. In addition the timetable is not sufficient. There is no clear timetable that offers fixed-term/hourly paid staff at least some degree of security going into the new academic year.

Response: We are not aware of any inconsistencies that have arisen and you have not been clear where these may be arising. 

Our policy and procedure which deals with the ending of fixed term contracts sets out the procedure to be followed. We ask that if any member of staff is unhappy with the procedure followed in respect of the ending of their fixed term contract, that they contact HR directly.

The guidance for managers on contracts for Teaching Associates and Teaching Fellows in 2020–21 describes the process through which employment contracts for Teaching Associates and Teaching Fellows (TA/TFs) will be assigned in 2020–21.

All new or renewal contracts and contractual amendments (such as increases in hours, additional hours, salary supplements etc.) which have the potential to increase costs need to follow a defined process which is applied across the University: http://hr.qmul.ac.uk/temporary-remote-working/policies-procedures-and-guidance-during-remote-working/interim-recruitment-and-selection-arrangements/

Together, these three documented approaches ensure consistency of practice across Queen Mary.  Contracts or amendments are being approved on a weekly basis by a panel of colleagues from the Senior Executive Team and chaired by the Principal. Once approved, the line manager will be informed in order that the contract can be raised on iGrasp and generated by HR.

4. To make adequate attempts to provide alternative employment for staff eligible for redeployment elsewhere at Queen Mary or in other parts of the University of London

Management and HR have not adequately notified fixed-term employees of any available positions which they are suitably qualified to do. Employers are obliged to seek to identify whether there is any alternative work available within the company which the employee could reasonably be offered.

If suitable alternative work is available, and if this work is not offered to the employee prior to the expiry of the fixed-term contract, then this could render the employee’s dismissal unfair even if the statutory dismissal and disciplinary procedures have been followed.

Response: Queen Mary takes our legal obligations seriously and redeployment is also covered in our policy and procedure which deals with the ending of fixed term contracts. The HR Department will inform the member of staff about employment opportunities available on an institution-wide level.  They will be informed about the vacancies on the HR web-site.  In addition, it is expected that the Grantholder or Supervisor would explore any possible job opportunities within the relevant area of work or within the department before the fixed term contract review meeting (referenced in the response to point 2). 

While all efforts will be made to redeploy staff on the expiry of their fixed term contract, it must be recognised that at present, the University is approving only a limited number of vacancies for recruitment and so it may be the case that fewer suitable alternative opportunities are available at the current time. 

5. To notify fixed term and hourly paid staff facing redundancy of their eligibility to participate in the Voluntary Severance Scheme in a timely manner

Despite a joint TU response rejecting the VSS scheme, https://qmucu.org/2020/07/09/jointresponse-to-voluntary-options/ the scheme was published on staff pages. The guidance did not mention that part-time and fixed term staff facing redundancy at the end of August were also eligible to apply except for a few staff in the School of English and Drama who were informed just before the deadline for application. This lack of fairness and consistency meant potentially eligible staff were unable to apply for redundancy under the VSS scheme and are now being made redundant on or before August 31 on different and less favourable terms. Even if staff were aware they were eligible they would not have been able to make an informed decision because they did not yet know they were being made redundant. Many staff are only just now receiving their redundancy notices but the deadline to apply for VSS has passed so the opportunity for an enhanced redundancy payment is not available to these staff. This is clearly unfair and inconsistent treatment of fixed term and hourly paid staff in comparison with their permanent colleagues.

Response: The Voluntary Options for Staff scheme was launched at the end of June 2020 and was referred to in the Principal’s all staff e-mail of 29th June 2020.  In addition, School Managers / Heads of Administration, Heads of Departments and Heads of School were asked to cascade the information locally.  The Voluntary Severance section of the scheme specifically states “All University employees who are employed on permanent or fixed term Contracts of Employment and are paid from core University funds (i.e. not those on externally-funded research grants or contracts).”  As such, the communication was explicit that fixed term employees were eligible to apply. There is no reason to believe that part-time staff would believe they were not eligible to apply as they are employees.  However, if employees were in any doubt as to their eligibility to apply they could contact the dedicated e-mail address HRInfo@qmul.ac.uk which was being monitored daily.  The process was therefore not unfair or inconsistent in relation to fixed-term or part-time staff. 

For the avoidance of doubt, the scheme offered was a voluntary severance scheme (individuals could elect to apply) and not voluntary redundancy (where posts had been identified by the University). 

6. To include eligible Fixed Term and hourly paid staff on the Government Furlough Scheme

QMUCU has repeatedly asked HR and management to extend contracts for fixed term contract work that was paused or delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic and to place eligible staff on Furlough.

Unfortunately senior management refused these requests. The refusal to apply for Furlough for eligible staff has led to unfair redundancies for fixed term staff.

Response: The Principal advised in his all staff communication on 21st May 2020, that the University was not accessing the government Job Retention Scheme (Furlough) and this was also discussed at a number of Covid-19 JCF meetings. We confirmed that the reason for this was that Queen Mary accessing the scheme would not be in keeping with the spirit of the scheme as the University is a predominantly publicly funded institution.  The University continued to pay employees as normal during the pandemic as set out in the HR guidance on the intranet. The majority of employees at Queen Mary continued working during the period of lockdown. There is no evidence that not placing staff on Furlough has had any correlation to fixed term contracts ending.

7. To ensure that the work of staff being made redundant who are on hourly-paid and fixed term contracts is not continuing elsewhere without just cause

QMUCU recognises that it is unlawful for someone to be made redundant if their work continues.

We believe that some staff are being made redundant while their work is continuing because this work is now being given to other members of staff. We require evidence that this is not the case.

Response: In line with our Strategy, Queen Mary has been working towards offering a more coherent curriculum with a more streamlined portfolio of modules from 2020–21. This work will continue, treating the offering of programmes and modules in 2020–21 as a baseline. This more focused offering will enable our academics to collaborate increasingly on teaching activities, developing and sharing practice together for the benefit of their students, while delivering modules and programmes in a more resilient and sustainable manner. We will also make significant progress next year towards our aim of embedding new pedagogical approaches and technological advances. The Coronavirus pandemic has further confirmed the importance of our blended approach to learning, both to support students in continuing with their education as required by the Office for Students, and to support our aim of enabling students from all over the world to access a Queen Mary education.

We need to adapt the balance and range of skills in our workforce in line with our Strategy, as well as taking account of anticipated student numbers. Our education at every level will be led and, as far as possible, delivered by, teams of world-class academics. We will continue to enhance our vocational education with focused contributions from experts from outside the University who are mentored by our own academics, as well as by matching students carefully with trained alumni mentors. We will equip our academics to embed new pedagogical approaches and technological advances consistent with a world-class education, and in doing so help them to meet even more effectively the needs of our diverse learners.

This shift in our approach may result in certain areas of work ceasing or diminishing. This may therefore include a reduction in the number of staff required to carry out a particular activity. Further, more streamlined staffing structures may be identified which require fewer members of staff to carry out areas of work. Both these situations can amount to a redundancy situation under s.139 Employment Rights Act 1996.

8. To carry out an adequate Equalities Impact Assessment on redundancies and non-renewal of contracts – as a consequence of cost cutting measures including the recruitment freeze

QMUCU is aware that people with protected characteristics are disproportionately represented among staff who are employed on a fixed term and/or hourly paid basis. It is essential therefore that an institution-wide EIA is carried out to assess the impact on Equalities on Queen Mary as a result of any decision to end or not renew fixed term and hourly paid part time contracts. QMUCU has identified potential equality impacts on the nonrenewal of part-time hourly paid contracts and ending of fixed term contracts. This will be evidenced through the implementation of the outcomes we are seeking.

Response: Queen Mary has a legal obligation to fulfill the requirement of equalities and anti-discrimination legislation and Equalities Impact Assessments (EIAs) are a tool for measuring how far we are meeting these obligations.  EIAs are completed to allow us to understand the effects of Queen Mary’s policies, procedures and outcomes on its staff and students from different equalities groups, to report on the findings and to mitigate any adverse impacts.  In the case of TATF teaching allocation, the diversity of teaching requirement across the Schools will be reflected in their local workforce planning. In order to ensure that EIAs were reflective, and could be adequately acted upon, local EIAs were completed/will be completed for each School. It is unclear how completing one at institution level will be of benefit as we would then have to drill down to School/Department level to identify and resolve specific issues. It is worth noting that the EIAs were supported by the same HR Strategic Partner for all Schools within each Faculty. This ensured consistency and an overview of the entire Faculty.

9. To consider the impact on Health and Safety of staff as a result of senior management decisions related to redundancies and non-renewal of contracts

QMUCU is concerned that the non-renewal of part-time hourly paid contracts and the ending of fixed term contracts will lead to – and in many cases has already led to – increased workloads for remaining staff. The transfer of work to remaining staff calls into question the reason given for the ending of these contracts; work has not ‘ceased’ and cannot therefore be legally said to no longer exist. QMUCU contends that if this work remains extant, then current contracts should be continued or extended. Queen Mary UCU have made senior management aware of health and safety impacts on staff where fixed term contracts are ending and part time hourly paid contracts are not being renewed, nevertheless, these concerns have not been addressed.

Response: As set out in our response to point 8, Queen Mary has been working towards offering a more coherent curriculum with a more streamlined portfolio of modules from 2020–21.  A more focused offering will enable our academics to collaborate increasingly on teaching activities, developing and sharing practice together for the benefit of their students, while delivering modules and programmes in a more resilient and sustainable manner. The streamlined portfolio, more focussed offering and opportunities for collaboration, together with the anticipated reduction in student recruitment is expected to positively impact the overall management of workload. Our existing workload planning tools ensure that work is allocated in an equitable and manageable way. 

We do appreciate that workloads have potentially increased in recent months due to issues that have arisen as a result of the pandemic, for example need for a rapid shift to online teaching. However, we do not expect this increase to continue in the long term. Nevertheless, the situation will continue to be monitored.

10. Inappropriate use of Agency staff and outsourcing to cover staff shortages

The use of agency staff to cover staff shortages is unfair and inconsistent when not addressed in the same context of the non-renewal of contracts of loyal staff who are now facing redundancy and/or the loss of employment as a result of these decisions. We therefore request an enquiry into why agency staff are necessary at the same time as significant job losses are being enacted.

Response: We are not aware of situations on campus where agency staff are being employed but where this work would be suitable for QM employees facing potential redundancy. Where recruitment of agency workers is necessary, this also needs to be approved by the central panel as described under point 3 above.

Outcomes sought:

Joint Negotiating Committee – Real and Meaningful Engagement

QMUCU has requested a review of the 2016 Assimilation Agreement and the overall treatment of Fixed Term and Hourly Paid Staff since 2017. We believe this is long overdue and there is now an urgent need for a formal Joint Negotiating Committee to resolve these issues.

An initial meeting has been arranged with Jessica Jacobs and Ben Bland on 17th September 2020 to discuss the assimilation process for TATFs, to agree the terms of reference and membership of the sub-committee going forward.

Fixed term full time contracts

QMUCU is seeking a full analysis of data giving the financial – or other – reasons for the non-renewal of all fixed term contracts and arrangements made for the transfer of the work that is no longer being carried out, to other staff.

Further to the meeting on 24th August 2020, it was agreed UCU colleagues would check the various data received in recent weeks and advise us if any information remained outstanding. To date, no further enquires have been received. 

Fixed Term Part-time hourly paid contracts

As above we request a full analysis of data citing reasons for non-renewal of all fixed term/part time hourly paid contracts.

Further to the meeting on 24th August 2020, it was agreed UCU colleagues would check the various data received in recent weeks and advise us if any information remained outstanding. To date, no further enquires have been received. 

Equality Impact Assessment

We request an institutional equality impact assessment addressing all protected characteristics, in particular, the impact on women and Black, Asian and People of Colour (BAPoC) staff, and women and BAPoC staff as a proportion of total staff, of the non-renewal of all fixed term contracts. This report should include meaningful actions taken by Queen Mary to protect and improve job security and opportunities for staff with protected characteristics, including women and BAPoC staff.

As set out under point 8 above, EIAs have been completed at School level to ensure meaningful information is being gathered and it is unclear how completing one at institution level will be of benefit as we would then have to drill down to School/Department level to identify and resolve specific issues.

Workload planning

We request a workload planning audit in each instance of the ending of either fixed term or parttime hourly paid contracts detailing how the work is ending or continuing.

This is a very wide ranging request so, as it stands, it would unfortunately be impossible for us to deliver this level of detail without investing significant resource time. It would be helpful if you could provide further information on the reason for the request and the outputs you are hoping to receive, so that we can assess what might be possible here. Of course this information will be provided to each employee as part of the procedure which deals with the end of contracts.

Health and Safety

Local stress risk assessments to be carried out where changes are made to remaining staff workloads as a result of the ending of fixed term contracts.

We will ensure a process is in place to reiterate to managers that stress risk assessments are available and should be completed to support employees who are demonstrating signs of stress or who advise their managers that they are experiencing unacceptable levels of stress. As part of a programme of work on staff wellbeing, we will issue further communications to all staff signposting to the University information on Wellbeing and Stress Management.

Redeployment

An overhaul of the current system of redeployment, which, to ensure fairness and consistency, will include regular monitoring of the redeployment procedure to ensure its effectiveness. We will set up a process to review our approach to redeployment and will include UCU colleagues in this.  This will include a possible systems solution.One possibility we have already identified is to use the new End of Fixed term Contract Dashboard (referenced in issue 2 on page 3) to create a “redeployment pool” of those whose contracts are ending in within a future reference period. Redeployees could then be sent weekly updates of all internal vacancies relevant to their job grade. Redeployees would then be welcome to put themselves forward for any roles they felt they were suitable for. In addition, we can provide additional career support for those who are seeking alternative employment, such as interview skills and CV writing workshops.

Please can the UCU nominate a representative to be included in the review and provide their name to Lorna Adair by 25 September 2020.  

Use of Agency Staff

We request a report outlining who is responsible for the decisions to employ agency staff and a plan going forward to coordinate outsourcing with HR staff dealing with redundancies.

Where the recruitment of agency workers is necessary, this needs to be approved by the central panel as described under point 3, the approval process for which is on the intranet under interim recruitment arrangements. Section 4.1 of the Recruitment Selection Policy also states: Recruitment agencies should only be used in exceptional cases, supported by a robust business case, authorised via the recruitment system, to justify the significant increases in recruitment costs.

Two years secure employment for all casualised university workers as a just response to the Covid-19 crisis

QMUCU passed a motion in support of the #CoronaContract campaign for two years secure employment for all staff on ‘casualised’ fixed term and hourly paid contracts, on May 1. The call was subsequently endorsed by UCU’s HEC (coronacontract.org).

In response to uncertainties caused by the coronavirus pandemic, restrictions to all contracts and contractual amendments (such as increases in hours, additional hours, salary supplements etc.) which have the potential to increase costs has been implemented. Only those contracts or amendments deemed to be business critical will be approved. It is therefore not possible to agree to this suggestion as a pan-University approach.  However managers are presenting business cases for business critical contracts and amendments to contracts which are being approved on a weekly basis.

We note the point that you made verbally at our meeting that you acknowledged that it would be unlikely that Queen Mary would grant this request for the reasons cited above. You highlighted that offering two years secure employment would be a sign of commitment from Queen Mary that it values our staff. You suggested that Queen Mary needs to communicate strongly that we are looking to secure employment for all staff and that fixed term staff will not treated any differently from permanent staff. You suggested that institutional messaging recognising that fixed term staff matter would be a positive approach. We will explore how we can further strengthen our recruitment processes to ensure that fixed term contracts are only used where this is really necessary.

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