Branch negotiators’ commentary on the proposal for a Time Limited pay reduction

Date: 4 June 2020

CONTEXT

The negotiators received the proposal for a Time-limited Full-Time Equivalent and pay reduction for staff employed on grade 7 and above on 4th June 2020, 15 minutes prior to the negotiating meeting scheduled for that date. The proposal was published simultaneously on the staff portal. As a result of UCU representations, a further note was published to staff on 10th June, advising that the proposal might evolve further before negotiations concluded on 22nd June at midday.

A number of issues with the proposal were raised by the UCU negotiators at the negotiating meeting on 11th June. These and other concerns are summarised in the commentary below.

FRACTIONALISATION

The document proposes to link the time-limited pay reduction to a proportionate reduction in FTE: in other words and for example, a staff member on RU9/43 would receive a 9% reduction in FTE alongside their 9% pay reduction, should they agree to the latter. We believe this aspect of the proposal is a result of discussions during negotiations and suggestions from UCU about possible fractional reductions.

Unfortunately, management’s proposal here does not correspond with what we suggested, which was to offer staff the option to reduce FTE instead of taking a pay reduction, and by units of a day or half a day (0.2 or 0.1 FTE) rather than smaller or more fine-grained fractions. We believe that this might be a more attractive option to some staff: it would better enable staff to protect their non-Roehampton time and to use it more productively (for example, to seek other work or fulfil caring responsibilities). The proposal for a fractional reduction proportionate to the pay reduction seems unworkable as it stands, because it reduces working time by less manageable fractions. This will also be problematic to administer for those in charge of distributing workload.

We are also concerned about confidentiality issues that might arise, as HoDs and line managers are charged with reducing staff workloads by the percentages indicated. Managers will therefore know who has accepted the pay cut and who has not: this could expose individuals to unfair pressure or bullying, especially in the case of future redundancies.  UCU’s proposal would keep this information more private.

What is more, the “essential activities” that should be prioritised in revised workloads remain ill-defined: it is not clear, for example, how all lecturers’ contractual responsibility to deliver research figures in this picture.

It is clear that management does not intend teaching to be cut which means that they will merely fiddle the books.  Without a cut in workload across the board any apparent ‘fractionalisation’ would merely be a paper exercise with research, scholarly activity and professional practice cut to allow a full teaching and admin load.

Taking a reduction in FTE in return for a pay cut would contravene UCU’s favoured approach (adopted in a branch meeting on 3 June) for the pay cut, if necessary, to be treated as deferred pay (or even a loan) on which conditions would be placed.

PAY REDUCTION TIME FRAME

The proposal articulates a vague aspiration, but no firm commitment, to a 12-month time limit on the pay/FTE reductions in contrast to the 12-month time limit on senior management pay reductions. Our view is that, without such commitment, these are open-ended rather than time-limited reductions. The negotiators are also concerned that projected budgets for 2021-2 and 2023-4 do not show a restoration of this pay cut either.

We also believe that the timeframe for review is problematic, both reviews coming late (December and May) relative to clear information on student numbers and thus maintaining the pay reduction longer than might be necessary. The two measures identified as important to ending the pay reductions (the University having reached a break- even position and not breaching its bank covenants) are not related to student numbers, yet management claims that the proposal is driven by fears of poor recruitment.  Both measures are easy to manipulate in order to show continuing problems and thereby a need for maintaining staff pay at the reduced rate. It is also unclear how the Unions, or staff more generally, will be able to check independently whether or not the measures have been met.  Given management’s response to UCU’s proposal to sell a house worth £2m in order to reduce the scale of any proposed pay cuts, we have no confidence that reviews will, in fact, lead to an early end to pay cuts, however successful recruitment may be.

PERCENTAGE PAY REDUCTIONS FOR DIFFERENT CATEGORIES OF STAFF

The proposed percentage pay/FTE reductions are listed in a table on p.10 of the proposal. No rationale is given for why these percentage reductions have been proposed for the different grades. There seems to be a significant jump, for example, between 5.5% (for staff on RU07) and 8% (for staff on RU08), or 9.25% (for staff on RU10/49) and 11% (for senior staff on RS03/1), but no explanation as to why.

GMB and UCU have proposed that any approach to pay reductions should be much more progressive. There could, for example, be higher percentage pay reductions for top earners. We also believe that it is disingenuous to claim that reductions for PTH salaries can be as high as 15%, when only the Vice-Chancellor is proposing to take a reduction at that rate. The table on p.10 is itself misleading, because PTH salary reductions are hidden at the bottom rather than the top of the hierarchy.

Although we do not as yet accept the need to reduce staff pay (see negotiators Financial Report), UCU has suggested a workable model of deferred payments rather than pay reductions, in line with the members’ motion passed at the meeting on 3rd June. We are yet to receive a response from management to this proposal.

INCENTIVES

This section has been deemed offensive by many members.  The “incentives” listed here are already in place (flexible working), savings that are negligible for some staff (commuting costs) contractual rights (incremental progression) or measures made necessary by the pandemic.  To think that members should be grateful for these as some kind of quid pro quo for suffering a massive pay cut shows contempt for staff. We are angry that these are being touted as “incentives” when they offer no serious recognition of the sacrifice that the pay reduction entails.

As indicated above (see FRACTIONALISATION), we do not believe that the proposed model of fractional reduction proportionate to pay reduction is workable for staff or managers.

The conditions appended to the deferred payments proposal, presented to management on 4th June, offered some suggestions for ways to offer staff a say in their futures and in the future of the University which might persuade them to accept deferred payment of their salaries. We are disappointed that none of these seems to have been considered seriously.

TIMEFRAME FOR NEGOTIATIONS AND INDIVIDUAL STAFF DECISIONS

Our first meeting with management representatives took place on 7th May. However, negotiations  began only at the point where this proposal was published (5th June). We object to the rushed timeframe for negotiations, even with the extension to 22nd June (in effect, 18th which is when we have our last meeting with management). This leaves little time to discuss the proposal and our counter-proposals in detail, and little time for either UCU or GMB to consult properly with members. This demonstrates a degree of bad faith on the part of management about the importance and value of the negotiations.

The time-frame for individual staff decision-making (as set out on p.4 of the proposal) is also unreasonably short. Staff need longer to consider the potentially very significant implications of a pay/FTE reduction for the coming period, before coming to a decision. Given that management’s aim is to start reducing pay in August, it is not clear why decisions would need to be made as early as 29nd June.

COMMENTS ON NEGOTIATIONS WITH UCU/GMB

This draft proposal was published alongside a joint statement agreed prior to the proposal’s development, at an earlier stage in our meetings. UCU did not agree that its text could be linked to the proposal in this way, and the change of context undermines trust and risks misleading staff.

Although the proposal highlights a number of suggestions made by UCU and GMB, there is little evidence of serious engagement with those ideas, other than the agreement to put the Putney house owned by the University on the market. In particular, we have received no formal or detailed response as yet to the alternative proposal contained in the motion passed by UCU at the branch meeting on 3rd June. As regards other issues, see comments under FRACTIONALISATION and PERCENTAGE PAY REDUCTIONS above.

Indeed, UCU’s recommendation that the University sell the property in Putney to reduce the need for pay cuts is indicative of management’s attitude.  Initially surprised, they refused to consider it when it was first raised.  Later, they resisted on the grounds that giving notice to the four tenants would be unfair, to which the unions responded that it was even more unfair to ask for pay cuts that might mean that their own staff could no longer afford their rent or mortgages.  Finally, they have consented to put it on the market but insist that the monies raised (nearly half the sum they are looking for) will not – as negotiators had suggested – be employed to reduce the pay cuts but be held in the reserves.

EQUALITY IMPACT ASSESSMENT

The Equality Impact Assessment published alongside the proposal is a statistical exercise, not an impact assessment. It is wholly inadequate to address the potential impact on groups of staff with protected characteristics. There is no evidence that staff groups with protected characteristics have been consulted on the impact of these proposals. Nor is there any indication of awareness of potential impacts (on, for example, BAME staff or staff with caring responsibilities).

FURTHER CONCERNS:

  1. Although management’s proposal states that the impact on pensions will be minimal, this is not entirely accurate, especially for certain groups.  It highlights the apparent disregard for the impact of their plans demonstrated throughout the negotiations.
  2. It is not clear that all externally-funded posts would be excluded from the proposed pay cuts
  3. It is not clear from this proposal that individual members of staff may refuse to accept a pay cut.
  4. The idea that individual members of staff may claim hardship if they explain all their circumstances is offensive. No-one should have to claim exceptional circumstances or reveal their personal arrangements in order to receive their full salary.
  5. Management has consistently refused to provide details of non-staff savings. We believe that more could be saved although we acknowledge that the year might be fairly uncomfortable.  Nonetheless, it would be better than pay cuts.  UCU notes that management cite concern for ‘student experience’ but not for what staff will have to undergo if this goes through.
  6. The projected loss of income next year is £17m, not £30m as they claim. The £30m is an exaggerated sum of three years’ losses.  UCU remains to be convinced that these forecasts are accurate.
  7. The emphasis on loss of students appears designed to panic staff into agreeing with a number of dubious measures, including recording of lectures and dual teaching methods (online and in person) which either increase workloads yet further and / or involve infringements of staff rights such as intellectual property and performance. The lecture capture policy has not been agreed with the Union and so breaks the recognition agreement that the University signed with us.