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Latest news on negotiations 11.08.20

We are now at a critical stage in negotiating with the University. You will recall that the statutory consultation period of 45 days expired on 31 July: but the negotiating team were able to convince the University that there was sufficient reason to continue with constructive discussions, on the basis that these would be condensed, and with the aim of reaching a point at which a proposal could be put to you, the members. The University was willing to continue for a very short period with talks if these were likely to end in an agreed position. No further meetings took place last week but so far we have had three and a half hours of intense meetings this week with a further three hours scheduled. These are fast moving. We have tabled a range of additional demands, based on your feedback. The University has now revised its ‘final’ proposal twice.

Nothing has been agreed. As a negotiating team, our duty is to hammer out the detail of any proposal from the University to understand every element of that proposal, challenging each assumption made. If we get to a position where we believe we can put a ‘jobs first’ agreement to you, and when we believe we can achieve no further concessions, we put that proposal to you. Only you, the members, can agree to it.

The basis of the University’s case is their predictions of potential shortfall in income over the coming months, based on wider national predictions on what may happen in relation to student numbers. Just to be totally clear: at no point have we accepted the University’s financial predictions or their modelling. We have challenged the underlying financial assumptions made, which has resulted in a number of changes to their projected budgets. We have challenged the predictions, too, drawing attention to other reports which counter the narrative of a decline in student attendance, such as today’s reports that the CEO of UCAS is expecting Clearing to be the biggest ever. We have also emphasised our requirement that if the University’s student numbers and financial position prove to be better than predicted in the Autumn term, then the University’s first priority must be to reverse or reduce any proposed job losses and changes to our terms and conditions and pay. We have made it crystal clear that it would not be acceptable to use any additional funds to pay banks or other lenders – including the University’s Trusts – whilst still asking staff for any sacrifice at all.

The current position is that the University is further rewriting its proposal with an aim of presenting it again tomorrow to us. Until that proposal is delivered to us in writing we cannot confirm exactly what is in it: but it sets in outline a series of measurement points, the earliest of which is at the end of October, which are designed to assess the actual position of the University versus its current forecasts, and which then lay out the next steps to be taken. The proposals will indicate which steps might be necessary as a result and those steps would be put into place if required with effect from 31 January. The measurements being used are externally verifiable – we’re not relying in any way on internal calculations which we can’t replicate. In other words, we will know how bad or good the University’s position is before we have to make any sacrifices. Meanwhile, however, it is proposed that voluntary measures can be implemented from October, including the reopening of a voluntary severance or voluntary redundancy scheme.

We have made it clear that we expect to be able to offer you, the members, the security of knowing what the position will be for the coming months. None of us can predict what will happen next with the Coronavirus. We know that the University is on an unstable financial footing even without the pandemic affecting things: but this is a different topic of conversation. The University has shown a willingness in these meetings to move to greater transparency generally and to improve its governance processes, its change processes and its decision-making processes. These are changes which we want to ensure will take place regardless of anything which may or may not happen in relation to the current negotiations.

Some members have expressed concern that a school, department, function or area of focus might be being targeted. Even at today’s meeting, the Vice-Chancellor confirmed that there is no intention to take any such action.

I’ve had a few emails which have queried my speed of response to emails from individual members. I’m sorry that I haven’t yet been able to reply to every email. I have had over a thousand emails relating to the branch since the EGM on 20 July, from about 150 different members: some have sent a number of emails. I will reply to everyone but it may take me a while longer: the negotiations themselves are taking up a lot of time and some emails have specifically asked that I reply personally rather than asking a fellow committee member to reply on my behalf. If you are one of the people waiting for a reply from me, I apologise. Please know that I do read every single email very carefully.

I’ve also received concerns from members which suggest that as staff we should be escalating the dispute at this stage. You will remember that the motion to the EGM called for me to engage in “direct negotiations [which] will take a ‘jobs first’ approach that stops or dramatically reduces the scale of redundancies of UCU members. This objective would be balanced against minimising the cuts to members pay, terms and conditions, with preventing redundancy.” I hope you feel that we’re delivering on that: and I want to emphasise that the final decision on any agreement does rest with you, the members. You will have the choice whether to accept any proposal – or to reject it and escalate a dispute accordingly.

We hope that we will be in a position later this week to give you a further update.

Sally Pellow, Branch President

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