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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:

https://reading.web.ucu.org.uk/files/2020/08/200813-University-of-Reading-CG-final-proposal-13Aug20.pdf

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

https://reading.web.ucu.org.uk/files/2020/08/200813-MoU-University-of-Reading-UCU-Staff-Forum.pdf

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 https://reading.web.ucu.org.uk/ 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.

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