Annual Leave – disappointing intransigence from management

Kingston UCU branch have been pushing for an enhanced carry over of annual leave days in light of the Covid-19 crisis, as has been implemented in several other universities. We have requested it be possible this year to carry over up to 15 days (the usual 5, plus 10 additional days).

We are also aware of experiences in several Schools and Departments of staff being pressurised to use up all their annual leave even if they didn’t want to, and that, instead of being approved by line mangers, the usual up to 5 days rollover would have be signed off by Deans. This has meant serious disparities and muddled communications across the university.

Our request for additional carry over has been rebutted by senior management, but in doing so they have stated that: ‘We have an existing, agreed leave policy that allows considerable flexibility.  You have referenced “the usual” five day carry over and there is flexibility for more days leave than this to be carried-over subject to approval by the relevant Dean/Director of Professional Services.’

We therefore encourage staff to request the carry over that they need, making their case according to their circumstances, and to report back to us when and where this is denied.

Below you can read in full the email message from our Vice-Chair Rosie McNiece to the JNCC (Joint Negotiating and Consultatative Committee) members (11.06.2020):

Dear JNCC Colleagues,

KU UCU now request an urgent and immediate response to the issue of extending rollover of annual leave.

Since our meeting on Tuesday the situation regarding taking of Annual leave has progressed and we are receiving more updates from members raising serious concerns about disparity in the process across the university. Only yesterday some colleagues were told they must book annual leave by Monday 15th June or lose it. The lack of clarity and miscommunications regarding this issue are causing undue stress and anxiety to our members.  

KU UCU believe that in line with government guidance, the university’s business and the ability of staff to take annual leave has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic and that staff have the right to carry up to 4 weeks annual leave to be used within two years. However, we do recognise that this would have implications for university business moving forward and, more importantly, we recognise the need for staff to use annual leave, particularly at this time when some respite from work related fatigue and stress is essential to health and wellbeing.

Therefore KU UCU request that a compromise situation be agreed. We propose that staff be allowed to carry over up to 15 days annual leave (usual 5 plus additional 10 days ) at the end of the current leave year on 31st July 2020, without seeking special permission from their Dean. We would agree that this leave should be used within a limited time period of 24 months or otherwise forfeited.

We believe that this would be well received by a staff body that have worked over and above usual expectations to support students and the university during these most unprecedented times. We also acknowledge that management have identified areas of the university where this might not be possible, as discussed at JNCC on Tuesday, and that those staff will be approached directly. On our part, we will continue to encourage our members to take any remaining annual leave and to use carried over annual leave within the timescales.

Finally, we note with grateful appreciation the announcement of additional closure days over the Christmas period in recognition of staff contributions as announced in the VC’s statement yesterday.

And here is the response from Interim Head of HR Peter Mitchell (12.06.2020):

Dear Rosie,

Thank you for your email, the contents of which are noted, and in particular the positive reaction to the University’s decision to reward all staff for their hard work with additional days of leave over the Winter Break.

I am also pleased that you have acknowledged the importance of ensuring that staff take leave during these unprecedented times in order to protect their mental health and wellbeing and that as a branch you will encourage your members to take their leave, as other UCU branches across the sector are also doing.  As a responsible employer, the University will continue to encourage staff to take leave for these reasons.

In respect of your proposal that we introduce a blanket policy allowing staff to carry-over up to 15 days leave per year and across the next 24 months (in accordance with Government guidelines), I am afraid that the University will not be able to agree to this.

The reasons for this are:

  • Each leave year, UCU members receive an entitlement of 35 days plus 8 bank holidays (43 days in total).  In addition to this, we have just announced that we will provide a further 4 days leave over the Winter Break, which gives a total of 47 days (or nearly 9.5 weeks of paid leave) even allowing for no carry-over of leave at all.  Adding in an additional 15 days of leave would give a total of 62 days (nearly 12.5 weeks) leave for the coming year.  With busy work schedules, we don’t believe that this is reasonable or sustainable as we transition back to on-campus working in support of our students;
  • We have an existing, agreed leave policy that allows considerable flexibility.  You have referenced “the usual” five day carry over and there is flexibility for more days leave than this to be carried-over subject to approval by the relevant Dean/Director of Professional Services.
  • Not all of our staff receive this amount of leave.  In particular, our support staff below Grade 8 receive 25-30 days of leave dependent upon length of service, so a blanket policy of 15 days of carry-over would mean that they might not take even the statutory minimum amount of leave (20 days) proscribed under the Working Time Regulations, making it practically impossible for them to avail themselves of a full 15 day carry-over;
  • The Government guidelines make it quite clear the intention of the temporary legislation put  in place is to protect both employees in situations where they are genuinely unable to take their statutory leave due to the coronavirus situation from losing that leave and the employers who might otherwise be liable under the Working Time Regulations for not ensuring that the statutory minimum leave is taken.  We believe our policy allows for this protection already and see no reason to change it;
  • Finally, I would draw your attention to the ACAS guidelines related to this, which again make it clear that it is important for staff to take their leave for their own mental health and wellbeing.  These guidelines also make it clear that existing arrangements for carry-over, where they are in place, are unaffected by the new regulations, whilst emphasising the importance of flexibility.

For all of these reasons, given the amount of leave that staff already receive, the inevitable operational and fairness issues that would be caused by a blanket policy of 15 days of carry-over and the need to ensure that leave is taken for wellbeing reasons, we believe that management oversight and scrutiny of leave being planned, booked and taken is both necessary and reasonable. 

Whilst we do of course recognise the difficulty that some staff will have in taking all of their leave, the flexibility contained within our existing arrangements covers all of these issues and we are not proposing to change the policy.

Instead we will continue to encourage managers to be flexible where they can and staff to take leave where they can in order to balance workloads.

1 thought on “Annual Leave – disappointing intransigence from management

  1. Unfortunately this just reinforces the fact that Kingston University management are disconnected from the coal face. I am taking leave but having to still do work at home to meet deadlines imposed by the University. This is unreasonable and is a good way to create an unhappy workforce. This does nothing for the mental health of staff but in fact works in a very negative way. Some sort of compromise would have shown an acknowledgment of the difficulties staff are facing.

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