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Strike 2021 – VC’s Statement

UCU response to the VC’s statement on forthcoming strike action.

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The statement posted by Graham Baldwin on the intranet on Friday is reproduced below, with UCU’s responses in bold.

 

VC: ‘We have previously updated you on our restructure programme and the essential changes required to ensure our future financial stability. Over the last few years, our people costs had been rising and unfortunately those cost increases exceeded the growth in our income. This placed the University at a level of annual deficit which, if left unchecked, would have had very serious implications for our future’.

 

UCU:  The ‘unsustainable’ rise in staffing costs is a consequence of the failure of Management oversight and control of costs over many years, something which Management themselves have admitted.  Management has also admitted that is does not have a sound method for actually measuring the overall costs for particular courses or subject areas.  It is wrong that staff should have to pay for that incompetence with their jobs. The University is in sound financial health – with cash reserves of £100 million – and is planning to spend £50 million on new buildings this year alone. This cannot justify enforced loss of livelihoods.

 

VC: ‘Our priority has therefore been to restore our people costs to a sustainable level. The ambition was and remains to achieve these significant savings through voluntary means if possible. We have made considerable progress towards this as 253 colleagues have opted to move on from UCLan through voluntary redundancy arrangements and a further 17 have taken up more flexible working arrangements through the new partial voluntary redundancy scheme. These schemes, together with the redeployment process, have been huge contributors towards our future sustainability and again I would like to thank all those who have supported colleagues throughout this process which is now coming to an end. We have worked closely with the trade unions and with those colleagues affected, to ensure they have the support that they need’.

 

UCU: Management has not been proactive in redeploying the skills experience and expertise of ‘at risk’ staff to address areas where there is a shortage of labour in the institution. Whilst many ‘at risk’ colleagues have demonstrated flexibility in this respect, including agreeing changes to their roles, this has not been matched by Management who are in the best position to facilitate proper redeployment that addresses the needs of the University whist safeguarding jobs.    

 

VC: ‘Our improving financial position has made it possible to maintain the student experience throughout the pandemic. For students we have purchased thousands of new laptops and dongles, refunded accommodation fees and supported students through the Hardship Fund. Unlike many other universities, none of our colleagues have been furloughed and we have been able to retain everyone on full pay, regardless of whether or not they are able do their job remotely. We have also been able to increase our staffing numbers in areas of student growth, which are so important to our longer-term success, and of course wherever possible we have redeployed colleagues into these new roles to continue their UCLan careers’.

 

UCU: Throughout the pandemic UCU has worked to keep staff and students at the University safe. UCU members have worked tirelessly for the past year, making the shift to online delivery or delivering practical skills face-to-face as safely as possible. Academic staff have worked far beyond their agreed workloads to ensure that students progress and graduate. It is unacceptable that any of them should, as a ‘reward’ for their efforts, be threatened with compulsory redundancy.     

 

VC: ‘The progress we have made in voluntary redundancy and redeployment has taken us a very long way towards achieving our savings targets, and these efforts continue. There are six roles in the Faculty of Culture and Creative Industries that remain at risk and the reason these roles are at risk is because particular subject areas have seen a sustained decline in student numbers over recent years, so we do not have sufficient students to maintain the current staffing levels. The number of applications received to date in those areas show that the issue will only be compounded if we do not complete the process of reducing our staffing costs’.

 

UCU: The reason the VC gives is, by Management’s own admission, not applicable to all staff at risk. Where it is ostensibly applicable, the fact is that student numbers do go up and down, but these course teams have been selected in a narrow-minded fashion that ignores their contributions to other courses and all the work they do for their Schools and the wider University. A responsible, competent Management identifies these fluctuations and addresses them through improved marketing, course mergers or by innovating to design new programmes. An irresponsible Management allows a trend to go unchecked and then wrings its hands and forces people out of work.

 

VC: ‘We are very disappointed that UCU has chosen to schedule six days of strike action beginning in less than two weeks, while we are still in the midst of our work to mitigate the impact on the colleagues affected. We will, however, continue to explore every opportunity to achieve the required cost savings through voluntary means. Individual discussions with affected colleagues are progressing and we are very confident that the number of at risk colleagues will reduce even further over the coming days’.

 

Despite the claim to be exploring alternatives to voluntary redundancy, Management want to press ahead with selection for compulsory redundancy as we speak. It is UCU that continues to press Management to lift the threat of compulsory redundancy and negotiate solutions that work both for the University and for those members still at risk. UCU has always – and will always be – ready to discuss with Management the challenges facing the University – it is in our members’ interests that we do so. But it is now in Management’s hands to step back from the brink and avoid a dispute which will have consequences for industrial relations for a long time to come.     

 

For a view of the dispute from the perspective of a dedicated UCU rep who has been supporting colleagues at risk, see the following personal reflection from Tara Styles-Lightowlers:

 

‘On Friday the VC provided an update on the UCU strike ballot and action. I would just like to fill in some of the glaring gaps. Most importantly, the omission of the very real people in the ‘people costs’ that the VC makes reference to.

Since we first learned of the members at risk of redundancy in CCI, I have lost many nights sleep or found myself sobbing into my pillow in the early hours of the morning. My own post is not at risk, but I have seen first-hand the very real distress that the VC’s message glosses over with its focus on ‘people costs’ and ‘savings targets’. I have sat at the other end of a computer screen, watching members struggle and cry, terrified and confused, not knowing what to do: worrying about mortgages, children, a possible end to their careers… all on top of the added stresses caused by the pandemic and lockdown. Even in those cases where the savings have been made via redeployment, this has involved difficult decisions being made by members, at a time when they are already working so hard to counter the problems that have been posed by Covid. These seemingly voluntary decisions have been made by members terrified of losing their jobs. I cannot stand by and watch this dehumanisation of people, seeing them reduced to mere commodities in this cost-saving exercise despite the years of hard work and dedication they have given to UCLan. The refusal to remove the threat of compulsory redundancy is not, due to financial necessity, it is a political decision. This is why I wipe away the tears and continue to stand in solidarity with the at risk members and continue to fight any threat to the livelihoods of our members.’

 

Stand with Tara. Support your colleagues at risk. Support the strike action. 

 

UCU Branch Committee

 

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