UCU open letter to Gerry Kelleher
Your letter of 28th January regarding the UCU ballot for industrial action is inaccurate and misleading in a number of respects.
Along with the other unions recognised at UCLan, UCU has negotiated and fought for a range of agreements over a number of years, and these agreements have helped to make UCLan a successful and thriving university. It is the current cost containment exercise and not the response of UCU that is the destabilising factor in this situation. UCU now has documentary proof that the brief given to deans in drawing up their cost containment proposals was to plan as if agreements with the unions did not exist. Deans were instructed to:
“Think radically about what this structure would look like, without, for example, the current constraints enforced by national agreements and our current grading structures/role profiles” (22.11.12)
You refer to the resulting School proposals, issued at the end of October, as “final proposals”. Are you aware that in their consultations with UCU, representatives of UCLan senior management have consistently failed to clarify the status of these proposals, presenting them, by turns, as mere proposals - to be amended or modified in the light of discussions with unions and school staff, and as final proposals - sufficient to serve as a basis for declaring staff to be legally “at risk of redundancy”? Your letter is the first clear statement UCU have received that the proposals issued in October were indeed final proposals. In the three months that have elapsed since the proposals were issued we have repeatedly sought clarification on their status, in part from a concern that, if they were mere proposals, discussions on them in schools should not take place with the threat of compulsory redundancies hanging over colleagues’ heads. After three months of anxiety and uncertainty, which senior management inconsistency has done nothing to alleviate, it is by no means premature to ballot our members for industrial action.
You state that the proposed new “job descriptions” are not, in effect, proposed new role profiles. This strains credulity when members of senior management have repeatedly referred to them as such (for example the former Deputy Vice Chancellor repeatedly refers to them as “role profiles” in an email of August 2013). The terminology of “job descriptions” seems to have been introduced as a stratagem when it became clear that the introduction of new role profiles that are inconsistent with nationally and locally agreed role profiles would be opposed by UCU.
You claim that “we do not intend to implement the proposed revised job descriptions as part of this cost containment exercise.” Could you explain then why senior managers have repeatedly referred to their planned introduction as “phase 2” of the cost containment process?
You also claim that “there is no evidence of any breaches of the Framework Agreement”. This is simply untrue. UCU produced a very detailed response to management in October 2013 identifying the various important respects in which the proposed new role profiles contravene local and national agreements on academic roles. We have given management ample opportunity to respond to our concerns, but they have clearly been unwilling to address the fundamental points of disagreement.
Your letter also claims that there is no evidence of any breaches of the Framework Agreement with respect to the planned use of ALs. This is inconsistent with the declared intention of senior management not to abide by the stipulation of the local Framework Agreement that only work of an intrinsically fixed-term nature should be done by ALs. The same agreement limits AL numbers to 15% of staff in any one faculty. Management have signalled that they intend to ignore this cap, on the ingenious basis that since the Framework Agreement refers to the faculty-based structure that was in place at the time the agreement was drafted, the cap can now simply be ignored. For obvious reasons UCU dispute this. You claim that there are no plans to replace SLs with ALs. Why, then, have UCU repeatedly been told that it will not be possible to finalise figures for new AL posts, until it is known how many of the existing academic staff have been dismissed? This can mean only one thing: the new staff will be doing at least some of the work of the staff they have replaced.
You express the hope that “the majority of the changes required will be achieved through voluntary redundancy”. Staff who find themselves in “at risk” pools will be under a lot of pressure to take voluntary redundancy, and we anticipate that many of the planned redundancies will not be achievable by genuinely voluntary means. We remain totally opposed to any plans that promise to place our members in such a position and to all associated threats of compulsory redundancy levelled at them. A university that had a serious and sincere commitment to avoiding redundancy would be actively exploring opportunities for redeployment of staff deemed to be at risk. To date, UCLan senior management has stubbornly resisted our request to actively and systematically explore redeployment options.
We must take you at your word when you say that you are committed to a successful and thriving university that delivers the best possible experience for students. Please take us at our word when we say that we are also committed to this. The difference between us is that we have day-to-day contact with students and we know from direct experience what it takes to deliver an excellent student experience. Partly on this basis, we are gravely concerned that the current process, which is geared to mutilating, unbalancing and downgrading the university’s academic staffing base, as well as to ignoring national and local agreements and forcing through compulsory redundancies, will fatally undermine our joint goal.
UCLan UCU Branch Commitee