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September, 2020:

Reading UCU: Ballot Enclosure

Background to ballot of UCU members at University of Reading

The University of Reading issued a Section 188 notice of redundancy to staff on 16 June 2020. This triggered the statutory period of meaningful consultation about potential redundancy dismissals which ended on 31 July 2020. The University of Reading had set forth notice to either dismiss or re-engage staff on reduced terms and conditions and/or to make 500FTE staff redundant from the University, or making large scale cuts to the pay, terms and conditions of University of Reading staff.

At a very well attended Reading UCU Branch EGM which met on 20 July 2020, members passed the Branch policy, “A Jobs first approach for Reading UCU.” This mandated the Reading UCU Branch President as follows:

To move to direct negotiations in order to protect members against those threats. These direct negotiations 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.

At the end of the statutory period of consultation, the University agreed to extend that consultation for a further two weeks. The University also agreed to enter into direct negotiations with UCU, in addition to a consultation process involving UCU and the Staff Forum. This extension was on the basis that both management and Reading UCU believed that the University’s proposal could be refined to a degree which could be put to members of Reading UCU for their consideration. That proposal was issued on 14 August 2020.

The ‘Consultation Group – final proposal’ and ‘Memorandum of Understanding’

The ‘Consultation Group – final proposal’ can be found here:

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) can be found here:

Reading UCU strongly encourages all members to read the full proposed agreements before making a decision on your vote. Further information can also be found on the Reading UCU Blog at and the University of Reading has also made information available through the University of Reading consultation group website.

Your Reading UCU Branch Negotiators believe that they have secured as many concessions as the University is likely to make, and that this proposal is ready for your decision.

In particular, Reading UCU negotiators believe removing the threat of hundreds of forced redundancies represents significant progress over the University’s position at the beginning of the consultation.

In broad terms, the proposal involves a pay freeze for three years and a tiered pay reduction for one year to take effect from February 2021 if the University’s losses, as a result of COVID-19, are so high that they cannot be covered by reserves. Importantly, it eliminates the University’s previous threat to cover the costs of COVID-19 by making staff compulsorily redundant and makes any cuts contingent on the actual position of the University, once student numbers have been confirmed.

There are some critical points which your Branch Negotiators are asking you to bear in mind before voting:

The University of Reading proposal is intended to remedy losses which it has calculated may be incurred in the event of a drop in incoming student fee income as a result of COVID-19. But as the Vice Chancellor confirmed in his talk on 9 September 2020, the student numbers are currently expected to be better than had been feared.

If members accept the proposal, and the University’s losses which can be attributed to the pandemic turn out to be significantly less than the £104M modelled by the University, then the pay cuts and/or pay freeze will be reduced in scale, and other cuts to budgets will also be relaxed.

However, the other elements of the proposal, including the voluntary measures such as the Voluntary Redundancy scheme, will still be implemented. If the University of Reading exceeds its projected outputs, then the pay cuts, pay freeze and other measures will be reduced or even removed.

This proposal relates to the immediate impact of COVID-19 and not to any other issues that may be facing the University. The Vice Chancellor has stated the intention of the University, in Phase 2 of its Post-COVID-19 Restructuring Programme, to set out a pattern for the future for the University which will allow the University to weather any vicissitudes, ensure security for staff and build towards the future. The University of Reading has not categorically ruled out the possibility of redundancies as a result of Phase 2 although it has also stated that there are currently no redundancies planned. Negotiations on Phase 2 have not commenced and will be separate from these Phase 1 COVID-19 negotiations.

The ‘Consultation Group – final proposal’ and ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ are agreements that, should UCU members approve UCU entering into these agreements, will involve a considerable amount of further work. These further actions, and the agreed timetable for these actions are set out in the ‘Memorandum of Understanding.’ Branch negotiators would like to particularly highlight the interim review in November 2020, and no cuts to pay terms and conditions can be implemented until Reading UCU has completed this first joint review.

Reading UCU Branch Negotiators acknowledge and would like to highlight to members that some details of the proposal have yet to be finalised: for example, the fine tuning of the adjustments to pay to differing groups of staff, the impact on those on maternity leave and, the terms and conditions of the voluntary redundancy scheme.

Reading UCU members should understand that only the forecasted worst case scenario would result in the actions and measures set out in the ‘Consultation Group – final proposal.’ So the question to you as a member is whether you are willing to agree to the proposal on the understanding that it is based on being implemented if losses – as a result of COVID-19 – being as bad as have been predicted. If the proposal is accepted by members, then the nuancing of the proposals will commence, but the proposed cuts and savings measures cannot exceed the measures as stated in the Consultation Group – final proposal.

The University of Reading has stated that it anticipates making a loss in the coming financial year. The details of this have been widely discussed. The proposal ensures that Reading UCU will be given a greater oversight of the decision making processes of the University and will be in a position to raise concerns at a much earlier stage – before the University commits to action that could impact on the security of employment of UCU members.

We recognise that many UCU members have raised concerns about some of the projections and financial information that have been put forward by University of Reading, for example the consultation paper of 16 June 2020. Some of these concerns are well founded, and UCU has sought to test the assumptions made by the University, rather than simply to accept the claims of the necessity of proposed cuts at face value. If the proposals are supported by UCU members, this puts Reading UCU in a position to have considerably greater scrutiny and oversight of the Finances of University of Reading. The University has also agreed with UCU to implement a programme of governance reform involving UCU and other stakeholders, such as looking at the role of Senate.

Consequences of Reading UCU members’ votes

If a majority of UCU members employed at University of Reading vote to ACCEPT the proposed ‘Consultation Group – final proposal’ and ‘Memorandum of Understanding,’ Reading UCU will enter into a collective agreement with University of Reading, which would authorise any changes to the terms and conditions of all staff on grades 6 to 9+ at University of Reading. This would also empower Reading UCU Branch Representatives to take forward the other actions specified in the agreement and timetable in the Memorandum of Understanding.

UCU requested clarification from University of Reading about what actions it would take if a majority of UCU members employed at University of Reading vote to REJECT the proposed ‘Consultation Group – final proposal and ‘Memorandum of Understanding.’ The University of Reading has provided the following statement:

“The University is very grateful for the intensive efforts made by UCU and Staff Forum colleagues to reach this difficult but necessary agreement.

We are hopeful that local UCU members will recognise this and vote positively in the current ballot. We have been asked what will happen if there is a “no” vote. In the first instance, the absence of a positive ballot outcome will make it more difficult for the University to progress those elements of the agreement relating to greater involvement with key University business.

Furthermore the University’s financial position requires this level of intervention, and if there is no collective agreement the University will have no choice but to proceed to seek individual agreement from colleagues (as is required in any case for all colleagues on Grades 1-5).”

Reading UCU does not endorse the statement from University of Reading about the possible consequences of members voting to reject the agreement. University of Reading, having completed the consultation at 31 July 2020, would not necessarily have to undertake further consultations to enact cuts, and would not be obligated to involve UCU in the oversight measures agreed as part of the ‘Consultation Group – final proposal’ and ‘Memorandum of Understanding.’

If Reading UCU members reject the proposed agreement and memorandum of understanding, there is no established alternative policy determined by the Branch Committee or a Branch general meeting. Reading UCU members will be able to determine the next steps for the Branch, through the democratic structures of Reading UCU.

Recommendation and Vote

Reading UCU Branch Negotiators are unable to recommend this email to members, as the University of Reading ‘Consultation Group – final proposal’ and ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ would result in a temporary reduction in the pay, terms and conditions for UCU members employed by the University of Reading.

Reading UCU Branch Negotiators believe that the final proposal from University of Reading is the best that can be achieved through negotiations in the present circumstances. It is important that the proposal is also read with the ‘Memorandum of Understanding.’

We note the key differences between the University of Reading final proposals, and those tabled by the University at the commencement of the consultation process. Examples include that there are no planned redundancies resulting from COVID-19, the oversight processes that should ensure that no cuts are made based on projections, and that there are arrangements for restoring any temporary cuts to pay and conditions.

We urge you to use your vote in this ballot, and please encourage other UCU members to participate in this vote.

Branch President: FAQs

Why is the branch not making a recommendation on how to vote?
The University’s proposal is to amend the terms and conditions of employees in a way which will mean that these are a reduction in your benefits. As a union, we cannot make a formal recommendation that you accept this. What we can do is tell you what the alternatives are, and we can confirm that we believe we cannot get a better deal through.

The student numbers were wrong at the outset
Yes, the very first projections put out by the University were wrongly calculated. Negotiators were able to force the University to abandon these projections since it was clear they were problematic. After a “light touch” review, more detailed calculations came to a similar figure, of just over £100m over the next three years: this was because in the light touch review, a further loss calculation was added in, which related to the USS payments. The negotiators stripped that figure from the University’s calculations in reaching the current proposal, as USS has nothing to do with COVID.

The University has additional resources to draw on

Yes, but not a lot. The current proposal involves the University drawing on £46m from the reserves of its Trusts before recovering COIVD-related losses from staff. It has already drawn down heavily on these Trusts and if it were to take more, would risk not being able to cover some worst-case scenarios like another lockdown.

The University could borrow money
From what the University has been willing to disclose, the current terms of borrowing with banks are such that those banks will not lend more, nor will they accept a further lender coming into the picture. If you’ve got a mortgage, and you want to borrow more, your original lender will have an opinion about that and your conditions of borrowing will have been clearly laid out. The University is in the same position. Its lenders will not allow further borrowing. Government lending is not currently an alternative: the conditions are difficult if not impossible to meet and it could leave government with a stronger hold on what we teach and how we teach it.

The University wants to make people redundant anyway
Quite possibly. But that would be in a separate stage of their restructuring process which we have not yet started to negotiate on. This ballot is in relation to the impact of COVID-19 on the finances of the University, and not in relation to ongoing financial difficulties. We have worked hard to separate these: we are not allowing the University to use COVID-19 as a cover for a wider restructure.

Student numbers are not as bad as predicted so why are we still voting?
The current proposals include concessions by the University, for example on governance, which were a priority for many members regardless of student numbers. If student numbers end up being as good as they look now, these victories for members may well be costless for them. However, we don’t know the numbers yet. We know how many people have enrolled, and how many are starting: but we don’t know (yet) how many are paying fees – and what those fees are. Obviously, international students pay more than UK/EU students: so two Home undergraduates might bring in the same income to the University as one international student. Lots of international students wait, every year, to enrol: until we have those bums on seats and their cash in the bank, we don’t know what we’ve got. This is why the point for any implementation of pay cuts is in the new year, when we know what the situation really is.

What are the terms of the voluntary severance/voluntary redundancy agreement?
We don’t know yet. We will only start to negotiate on this once we have a mandate to do so: ie if the ballot is accepted. If the ballot is rejected, it’s unlikely that there will be any option for voluntary severance.
When will the pay cuts come into effect?
This will depend on two factors: the outcome of the ballot, and the outcome of the start of term and student attendance. If the ballot is agreed, then processes will begin at which the student numbers will be assessed against predictions. By ‘student numbers’ this means, in effect, student fee income: a second lockdown or strong second wave might result in a high number of withdrawals before fees have been charged, and so it is that income which is being assessed. If student fee income is better than expected, and the ballot has been agreed, then it may be that no pay cuts come into effect at all. If student fee income is reduced, and the ballot has been agreed, then the negotiation team will agree timings of pay cuts and amounts of pay cuts with management on the basis of these proposals. They will not come into place before the February pay packet. If however the ballot is rejected then the University will decide when and if pay cuts will take place, and the worst case scenario is that they will take the absence of agreement to implement their original threat of dismissal and re-employment on a different contract. This will allow them to select the pay cuts they choose.

My contract says I’m on 6 months’ notice, so they can’t change it
Sorry, but they can. There are several ways in which this can be done, but the easiest way – from an employer’s perspective – is to dismiss and re-employ.

What will happen if we reject the proposal?

The University will decide what it wants to do, and the branch will have to decide collectively how to respond. Depending on the severity of the drop in student income, the University has the option of commencing the process of negotiation with each and every member of staff individually; or dismissing and re-employing under a new contract; or implementing redundancies. As the University would have discharged its duty to consult meaningfully it would not be obliged to recommence consultation. From a Union perspective, our option would then be to lodge a dispute with the University which would force them back to the negotiating table: to achieve this we would need a second formal ballot which would take up to three weeks. If the dispute was then unresolved, an option would be to have a further legal ballot for industrial action. We can’t refuse to work, or take other industrial action, without a formal legal mandate or else we could simply be dismissed.

The University will have to keep negotiating with us if we insist.
This is a misconception. The University has discharged its obligations under the Employment Act to consult meaningfully with staff. It is under no obligation to negotiate further, and has consistently stated that it would not do so unless there was a clear agreement to be found.

How does this affect staff who are not in the union?
Reading UCU represents all staff, collectively, who are in grades 6 to 9. This means that an agreement with Reading UCU can be applied to all staff who are in those grades, regardless of whether they are members of the union. Staff in grades 1 to 5 have no union representation and therefore the University is obliged to negotiate individually with those staff, but have made use of the Staff Forum to disseminate their plans. Staff who are in grades 1 to 5 who have joined Reading UCU can be represented by us but will still have to agree to the changes of terms and conditions as a separate agreement.

The negotiating team it was not representative of all members

No negotiating team is perfectly representative of our nearly 900 members. We differ in a whole range of ways, and no small group will capture all of them. The negotiating team was appointed after the EGM in July, and depended on being able to meet two criteria, availability and willingness to accept overwhelming endorsement by members of a ‘jobs first’ strategy at that EGM. Much of the committee opposed and continues to oppose that strategy and so were ruled out, and other committee members who accepted it were not available because of other commitments. As a result, the negotiating team was made up of the President and Treasurer, along with the Regional Officer. This meant there were no current academic staff on the negotiating team, although the Treasurer was a research-active academic before redeployment when his Department was closed. The negotiations though were not about any specifically academic issues, but about issues affecting all staff at all levels: and the purpose of any negotiating team is to reflect the issues raised by all members regardless of role, gender, type of contract, level of disability, hours worked, stage of career, age or length of contract.

The negotiating team was wrongly appointed
Branch Rule 7.4, at, states that the negotiating team in any negotiation should be elected by the Committee. This didn’t happen when negotiations started in the previous UCU year, ie before the AGM at which there was a change of Committee and the formal election of a new President. As was then customary, the then President selected negotiators. At the most recent EGM, you, the members, were asked to approve the delegation of that authority to the new President: this was directly linked to the strategy which the majority of members wanted the negotiating team to pursue.

Template letters for individual members with COVID-19 safety concerns – branch guidance

UCU has released further guidance to branches concerning negotiations and consultation with employers to ensure Covid-19 risk assessments are reviewed urgently and to ensure appropriate preventative and protective measures are in place. UCU’s position remains that the majority of teaching should be online unless risk assessments demonstrate that adequate control measures are in place to ensure face-to-face teaching can be undertaken with a low risk of Covid-19 transmission. In any event it is our view that a mix of face-to-face and remote delivery will be necessary as a minimum control measure.

In addition to the guidance on collective approaches to address Covid-19 health and safety concerns, we realise that individual members may also have particular concerns about the safety of a return to on site work and face-to-face teaching in light of their particular individual circumstances. We have also produced a series of template letters for use by members who reasonably believe that a request or demand that they return to on site working would place them in serious danger from Covid-19, in order to raise their concerns directly with their manager.

The letters are drafted for use by members in different circumstances; the relevant template will need to be tailored to the circumstances of an individual member and branches may need to support members to assist them in completing their letter.

There are two sets of templates – one for members working in higher education and one for members working in further education. For each sector there are nine template letters for use by members in the following categories:

-an employee who is clinically vulnerable or extremely vulnerable;
-an employee from a BAME background
-an employee with anxiety/depression related condition
-an older employee
-a pregnant woman employee from a BAME background
-a pregnant woman from a white background
-an employee with no particular relevant characteristics
-an employee with no particular relevant characteristics but with vulnerable household member(s)
-disabled staff at increased risk.

Each letter covers issues relevant to the circumstances/characteristics of the employee and includes reference to the employer risk assessment (or lack of one) to raise concerns with the member’s manager.

To be most effective the letters should include reference to the employer’s risk assessment, to highlight deficiencies in that and the reasons why the member considers it to be unsafe to return to onsite working in the current circumstances, until deficiencies have been removed and adequate control measures implemented

Members may not have seen the employer risk assessment and this element of their letter is likely to be the one that they will need assistance with. The key point for branch reps who are supporting members with drafting a letter is to encourage the member to identify specific factors that concern them in terms of risks to their safety, and to link these to elements of the risk assessment (e.g. If an employer’s risk assessment specifies that in-person interaction in enclosed indoor spaces should be limited, and yet a member is being told that their timetable involves hours of face-to-face teaching in rooms without ventilation or social distancing measures, then these elements should be highlighted in the letter).

When completed, member’s letters should be sent to their line manager, copied to their local branch for information.

Please log into the UCU website to download the template letters here: