Protecting HE Jobs from the impact of Covid-19

We encourage all members to read the new UCU document ‘Protecting jobs in HE from the impact of Covid-19‘ (intended to be read in conjunction with a recent report on ‘Impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on university finances‘ published for UCU by London Economics).

As a branch we need to be ready to defend members’ jobs, and to deal with management proposals for addressing the impact of the current crisis, particularly if that includes staff redundancies, including those on fixed term or other ‘casual’ contracts, or any other reductions in staff costs.

As the report says, ‘we should not let employers use the crisis to make job cuts or target our most vulnerable members‘.

Now more than ever is the time to have conversations with colleagues in your department or team about joining the union, and for members to get more involved in Kingston UCU branch activity.

Wellbeing working from home and casualisation

Here’s a couple of articles members might be interested in:

On wellbeing working from home and why online working can be more tiring and stressful, see ‘The reason Zoom calls drain your energy‘ from BBC Worklife.

On casualisation and Covid-19 being used to target staff on casual and short-term contracts see ‘Covid-19 shows up UK universities’ shameful employment practices‘ by Stefan Collini for the Guardian.

At the recent KU UCU Branch meeting a #CoronaContract motion was passed to call on Kingston University support and protect the jobs of all staff on casual contracts and PhD students.

And the branch committee continues to urge all members to conduct a workstation assessment in view of health and safety considerations under working from home conditions.

Kingston UCU Covid-19 update (from JNCC meeting March 24)

On Tuesday 24th March UCU representatives, along with our partner unions, met formally with KU senior management at a Joint Negotiating and Consultative Committee (JNCC) meeting to discuss actions and reactions to the current national Covid-19 emergency.

In the interim between scheduling and the meeting taking place, the situation had moved rapidly nationally and some of the concerns had already been addressed either by KU themselves or by government instruction.

Some of the key areas of concern for our members were:

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Covid-19 Open Letter from Kingston academic staff in support of non-academic colleagues

6.30pm 19 March 2020, the following Open Letter to the Vice Chancellor was sent from the Kingston UCU Branch Committee on behalf of academic staff from across the university, expressing their concern for non-academic colleagues in light to the Covid-19 pandemic. It is still open for signatories (KU academic staff only please).

‘To: Kingston University Vice-Chancellor Steven Spier

18 March 2020

We welcome the suspension of face-to-face teaching this week, as well as the decision to shut KSA workshops, as recognition of the unprecedented scale of the global Covid-19 pandemic and the responsibility Kingston University shares in minimising the spread of the virus through reducing the number of people on campus and enabling working from home.

However, as academic members of staff we are very concerned about the situation of our colleagues in administrative, technical, security, facilities management, cleaning, catering, and library roles who may be currently required to work ‘as usual’ on campus until Sunday 22nd March, with a phased reduction then ‘considered’ only where ‘operationally this can be achieved’.

We strongly believe that there can be no ‘as usual’ approach in this context and asking non-academic staff to continue to work on campus (where stocks of hand sanitiser and wipes are running low and staff are having to bring in their own supplies) constitutes an unacceptable risk for both for staff and the students who may continue to use the library and other face-to-face services. Across the country, universities are closing their buildings to the public to ensure the safety of students, staff and the local community, and we ask you to show similar leadership.

Kingston University has a legal responsibility for the welfare and safety of all staff and students, and should not require staff to place their health at risk in the course of their employment. Section 7 of the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, places a duty on every employee to take reasonable care both for their own health and safety and that of other people who may be affected by their acts or omissions at work.  Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 empowers any employee to remove themselves from circumstances of danger.

We ask that the University suspend library services immediately, directing students to online resources instead. We ask that laboratories are shut down in a safe manner with due consideration to all hazards.We ask that clear communication is provided to all staff confirming that suspending work on campus and/or working from home is acceptable and encouraged.

Furthermore, we ask that any staff who decide to stay at home in an effort to safeguard their health and the health of those around them will not be penalised through deductions to pay, or face any threat of disciplinary action for taking actions which they deem responsible and appropriate during a public health crisis. We ask that the University guarantee the income and job security of all workers who are out-sourced and / or on zero-hours contracts, such as Elior catering staff. We ask that the university openly publish these commitments.

We expect these issues to be addressed and action taken promptly.

Signed,

Kingston UCU Branch Committee, and Kingston academic staff’

Kingston UCU continues to request an emergency Joint Negotiating and Consultative Committee (JNCC) meeting between senior management, HR, ourselves and the other recognised trade unions.

 

KU UCU’s response to KSA Stage 1 dispute hearing outcome

In January we wrote to senior management over a recorded failure to agree, in accordance with the Collective Disputes Procedure and entered into a Stage 1 dispute with the University over its handling of the potential job losses in KSA, among other issues.

A formal Stage 1 meeting was held on 18th February, chaired by Dean of the Faculty of Science, Engineering & Computing / Pro Vice-Chancellor David Mackintosh. We received a letter stating the outcome of the meeting from David Mackintosh, which members can read here: Management Letter Outcome_Stage_1_210220

As far as the University is concerned, this dispute is now closed and we are unable to progress to Stage 2 of this process. However, we have serious issues with the way in which this process was handled. We dispute the university’s own judgement of the outcome of the Stage 1 (Resolution meeting) as set out in the letter.

We maintain that Kingston UCU branch has NOT been involved in any meaningful consultation or negotiation about the extent of the debt in KSA, its origins, the impact on remaining overworked staff, the future shape of KSA currently being determined by a Portfolio Review or the timing or potential for any future job losses.

You can read our full response to the outcome letter, here formulated by the Kingston UCU branch at the branch meeting on the 18th February: Response to dispute 6 March_. We believe:

  • the meeting was not impartial (the chair was partial)
  • HR should not have been providing the management response
  • there has been a failure to negotiate
  • there has been a failure to consult
  • there has been a failure to provide information
  • there are holes in the management case (as noted in our timeline documentation)
  • current management timelines related to KSA jobs reveal a continued lack of negotiation and consultation with recognised trade unions

Increasingly, it’s our opinion that, regrettably, management uses their notion of “consultation and negotiation” as a tick-box exercise to give legitimacy to decisions already made in the absence of informed input and scrutiny from the experts on the ground – hardworking academic staff. Whilst UCU values its relationship with KU management and our HR colleagues and the opportunity to negotiate and consult on behalf of our members, we are no longer prepared for that relationship to be abused in the plainly unsatisfactory manner outlined above.

 

UCU dispute and KSA – Update

We have been notified of the recent email regarding the UCU dispute sent to staff in KSA and FBSS.

We (Kingston University UCU) completely and irrevocably disagree with the content of the message, in particular the following statement which is untrue and, we believe, designed to mislead.

‘The process for the voluntary severance scheme, which launched in June 2019, included several discussions with our unions, both informally and at our regular Joint Negotiation and Consultation Committee meetings (JNCC), where our trade unions including UCU provided helpful feedback which contributed to the design of the final scheme’.

The facts are:

Monday 17th June 2019  – UCU invited to informal ‘catch up’ with HR.

Tuesday 18th June, 1pm  – At ‘informal catch up’ UCU were told of an imminent announcement regarding KSA, and the planned staff meeting for CHS & ArCC staff the following day. No details of the announcement were divulged at this meeting. UCU requested that representatives be invited to the meeting on Wed 19th June.

Wednesday 19th June – UCU attended the CHS & ArCC staff meeting  and it was at this meeting that UCU, along with affected staff, first received information about the opening of the Voluntary Severance (VS)/ Voluntary Exit (VEP) scheme and the need for £1.5M cuts in the form of staff reductions.

At NO time prior to this were UCU involved in consultation or negotiation about the KSA situation nor did we make any contribution to the VS/ VEP scheme planning. Subsequent to the 19th June meeting, UCU requested an extension to the deadline dates specified at the launch; this request was granted.

We will update members with a fuller response soon.

Kingston UCU now in formal dispute with the university over lack of negotiation and consultation on KSA redundancies

On 29th January 2020, following a Joint Negotiating and Consultative Committee (JNCC) meeting at which a failure to agree was recorded, Kingston UCU branch wrote to senior management in accordance with the Collective Disputes Procedure.

It is the branch’s view that there has been no consultation or negotiation about the need to make £1.5m worth of staff savings in the School of ArCC and Department of CHS nor about the decision to instigate a voluntary severance scheme to effect those savings in part.  Instead our members have been asked to blindly accept the amount of cuts and the need for voluntary redundancies.  It is therefore clear that Kingston University has already made a strategic decision that has subsequently led to redundancies and that any following proposal for a 45-day consultation period is meaningless.

Given Kingston University’s complete failure to engage with the usual information, consultation and negotiation structures relating to these changes, UCU have no option but to reasonably conclude that those processes would be futile in this instance. Therefore the formal disputes procedure has been invoked.

If you want to contribute to this process and/or have evidence to input please contact us. Please come to the branch meeting on Tuesday 25th February or Wednesday 26th February to discuss this and other urgent matters facing our branch.

KSA Dean’s response to the Open Letter

Back in December, we submitted an open letter to the Dean of KSA, Mandy Ure, expressing our concerns about the portfolio review process currently underway in KSA (you can see the letter here). We received a (fairly) unsatisfactory response from the Dean:
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The response is somewhat disingenuous in terms of the Kingston UCU position, which is (and always has been) that we are against any redundancies but if these are unavoidable then our preference is for individually negotiated voluntary severances rather than compulsory redundancies.

As usual, KU management are consulting after making decisions when UCU should be involved in the decision-making processes to seek to mitigate job losses. There seems to be a clear and fixed intention already to make redundancies and a decision about how to make at least some of those redundancies seems to have been made. Voluntary redundancies are still redundancy dismissals in that an employer cannot decide on how many applications for voluntary redundancy to accept until it has decided upon where and how many redundancy dismissals may take effect. There is also an obligation to consult about ways to mitigate the effect of any dismissals and UCU have not been involved in this prior to the issuing of any VS notices. Given that there has been a portfolio review in KSA for a number of months now to which UCU has not been invited, we feel that it is very likely that the university is in breach of our Facilities Agreement with them. This is a very serious issue.