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Proposed changes to the redeployment policy and compulsory redundancies

Proposed changes to redeployment register and compulsory redundancy policy

As you may have seen from the announcement posted on Staffnet on Wednesday 29th (http://www.staffnet.manchester.ac.uk/news/display/?id=14390), the university is seeking to make drastic changes to the redeployment register which would mean that core-funded staff on it for longer than three months would be given a choice between voluntary severance and compulsory redundancy.

If accepted, these new practice will affect not only those staff who are currently on the redeployment register, but also those who go on to it following future restructuring exercises – of which there are a number underway at present, including in the Student Systems Office, central Student Admissions and Administration, RBESS and IT Services, Humanities eLearning, the Undergraduate and Postgraduate Offices in MBS, Pastoral Care in the University Residences, the Careers Services, the Library, and the whole of the Faculty of Life Sciences, which will also in all likelihood affect large parts of FMHS. Not all of these restructurings will necessarily lead to redundancies (for example, parts of eLearning associated with Distance Learning are expected to expand) but it is undeniable that the Senior Management are seeking “efficiency gains”.

Please note, these proposed changes do not apply to staff to whom the ‘Contracts of Employment Policy’ currently applies, including those who are employed on fixed term contracts or in posts underpinned by finite external funding.

Officers of the three campus trade unions – Unite, Unison and UCU – have grave concerns over these proposals on three main counts:

  1. The forty or so individuals immediately affected, who have received letters from HR saying they are at risk of redundancy, are suffering a great deal of stress. Many of these staff went onto the register voluntarily on the understanding that doing so incurred no risk of being made compulsorily redundant and would not have chosen to do so if they had known otherwise.It is grossly unfair of the University to attempt to change their circumstances retrospectively and without prior collective negotiation with the campus trade unions.
  2. More generally, we believe it is premature to send at-risk letters and to open consultations with individual members of staff before collective consultation with the three campus trade unions under Section 188 of the Trade Unions and Labour Representation Act has properly begun.If the University wishes to negotiate a new procedure for dealing with potential redundancies, we believe the proper, accepted negotiating process must be adhered to first, and be concluded, before any members of staff are placed at risk of redundancy.
  3. For some time the campus trade unions and senior management have been involved in an on-going review of the Statutes and Ordinances, which includes the University’s policies governing the redeployment register and redundancy. The last communication we had regarding the University/Trade Unions’ Joint Negotiation Group was over the Christmas/New Year break, with no communications at all from the University about these matters since then. In particular, we have had no reply to the email Roger Walden sent to Karen Heaton and Andrew Mullen on January 23rd in reply to Karen’s letter of December 19th, which specifically addressed Redeployment Policy. We are concerned that senior management are now attempting to subvert the accepted process for negotiating changes to Statutes and Ordinances and seeking instead to impose changes in policy and procedures. In particular, we are concerned that senior management is seeking to make it easier to make staff compulsorily redundant – first staff on the redeployment register, next staff affected by major restructurings, then any staff.

Given the above, the campus trade unions are calling for a moratorium on all redundanciesof core-funded staff pending a reopening of discussions of the Joint Negotiating Group regarding changes to the Statutes and Ordinances and agreement on any new policy and procedures regarding the redeployment register and compulsory redundancy.

University finances and claimed reasons for changes

Although there is no reference to the University’s finances in theat-risk letters being sent to staff on the redeployment register, the briefing posted on Staffnet states that these steps are being taken to enable the University to create “financial headroom” at a time of increasing pressure on the University’s finances. This point that was reiterated by Dame Nancy Rothwell at Senate on April 29, where she also reported that the redeployment registeris costing the University around £2 million per year. However, we believe this misrepresents both the cost of the redeployment register and the severity of the financial problems facing the University, and are worried that such claims are being made to disguise the real intentions of senior management.

Firstly, it is quite untrue to suggest that those on the redeployment register are not working and that their salaries therefore represent a net loss to the University. All those we know of who have received at-risk letters(the University has not as yet provided all names and details) are working and contributing to the University, though not in permanent positions, and this work would have to be done by someone else – often at greater cost – if they were not doing it. In many respects, the redeployment register represents a pool of talent and skills that the University draws upon very effectively to carry out short term projects and assignments; without it, the University would have to advertise and appoint temporary staff or engage consultants, who would charge more but do the work less well because they are unfamiliar with the University. The claim that the redeployment register represent a £2 million hole in the University’s “bottom line” is therefore an exaggeration. Secondly, we do not dispute that the University faces financial challenges, but these should not be exaggerated in order to force through either fundamental changes in pay and conditions for staff or the policies and procedures by which the University is governed. As shown by its annual Financial Statements and the cover story in last week’s THE, the University of Manchester’s finances are in much better state than those of many other UK universities: its operating surpluses were £38 million and £45 million in 2012-13 and 2013-14 respectively, roughly 5% of total income, despite having to service the £300 million bond it issued in 2013; this puts the University in a stronger position than, for example, King’s College London, Cambridge, Exeter and Reading, all of who ran deficits in 2013/14. Many private companies today would love to be in such a healthy position: ten customers (students) queuing to buy every item (degree place) it has to sell and surpluses/profits of 5% of turnover. (http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/features/university-financial-health-check-2015/2019896.article)

Finally, the University has managed to successfully negotiate earlier financial challenges – some of them (for example, cuts to HE spending during the years of Margaret Thatcher’s government and the merger of UMIST and VUM) much more severe than the present circumstances – without resorting to compulsory redundancies, and that the current actions of the University represent a huge departure from the collegial practices and public service values the University has abided by for many, often troublesome, decades. We recall in particular that Alan Gilbert specifically pledged to achieve the £30 million savings (over £40 million in today’s money) required following the merger of UMIST and VUM without compulsory redundancies, telling us in his 2004 Foundation Day Lecture and subsequent open meetings with staff that he was opposed to compulsory redundancies because collegiality is central to our desire to be a world class university and adoption of such a policy would deter high calibre people from coming to work here. We and our members, and no doubt other staff in the University who are not trade union members, would like to know why the current Senior Management Team is choosing to depart so radically from the principles and values of your predecessors, many of whom faced even greater challenges.

But if reductions in the number of staff are necessary

Even if we accept that the University must reduce its staff costs (despite their being, at round 50% of total costs, lower than the HE sector average), the reductions should be spread across all levels of the University. Cuts should not be targeted at those who are most vulnerable,whether they are on the redeployment register or on short-term contracts as researchers or TAs, or at those who are paid least, including those paid below a Living Wage work for UMC Ltd in the University’s retail and food outlets or for out-sourced companies as cleaners etc. In particular, we note that the University’s Financial Statements show that the number of staff earning over £100,000 per annum went up a staggering 33% in 2013-14, from 81 to 108 people, where 108 represents almost exactly 1% of the workforce. Rough estimation suggests that these additional 27 highly-paid members of staff are costing the University around £3.5 million per annum, i.e. considerably more than the redeployment register. (See pages 30/31 in: http://documents.manchester.ac.uk/DocuInfo.aspx?DocID=23164.)

Will Spinks, the Registrar and Secretary, told General Assembly last semester that the above increase in high earners was the result of Project Diamond. The campus trade unions have no objection to the University investing in this way in the high calibre staff needed to take it forwards in the 21st century.However, many staff (whether members of unions or not) also believe the University management is top heavy, which creates inefficiencies as senior, highly paid managersand academics in leadership roles tend to introduce one unnecessary, time-consuming, top-down policy initiative after another –wastefully tying up resources and time of research, teaching and student-facing admin staff – in order to justify their salaries. Therefore, if the University must seek staff cuts, they should aim to create efficiencies at all levels. There is a well-known tendency for staff cuts in large institutions to hit the lowest and weakest most, while higher echelons are mysteriously protected. If that appears to be happening here, the campus trade unions will oppose it.

Moreover, othermeans of reducing costs should be explored fully before the University resorts to compulsory redundancies. These include the kind of Early Retirement and Voluntary Severance (ERVS) schemes used in previous periods of crisis, or rescheduling some of the campus master plan’s building projects. The University has managed to successfully negotiate earlier financial challenges – some of them (for example, cuts to HE spending during the years of Margaret Thatcher’s government and the merger of UMIST and VUM) much more severe than the present circumstances – without resorting to a policy of compulsory redundancies. If management do go down the route of compulsory redundancies, it will be unfair and unnecessary.Dame Nancy Rothwell told Senate on April 29 that the Board of Governors is opposed to ERVS schemes, because they are not “strategic”, and that senior management had great difficulty persuading the Board to agree to the last ERVS scheme and did not think it would be possible to persuade it to accept another. However, this is no excuse for not trying to persuade the Board and going down the compulsory redundancy route without first exploring other, less divisive options.

Resume talks on Statutes and Ordinances and Avoidance of Redundancy proposals

For all the above reasons, the campus trade unions see a focus on savings on the redeployment register as being unwarranted and counter-productive and a change in policy in favour of compulsory redundancy as inimical to the collegial practices and values the University has abided by for many, often troublesome, decades. If the current senior management appear to be changing tack on these practices and values, which are fundamental to the ethos of the University, we will see similarities with the national situation – where a Conservative led coalition government has used an economic crisis for ideological purposes,protecting the 1% while imposing austerity on the rest – and call upon our members to oppose it vigorously.

However, we would genuinely prefer to talk. As well as calling for a moratorium on the at-risk letters and threats of redundancy already sent to core-funded staff on the redeployment register, the campus trade unions are calling for senior management to resume consultation over the Statutes and Ordinances. This is the proper way to introduce major changes to university policies regarding the redeployment register and compulsory redundancy and, if management agrees to resume these talks, we will bring forward proposals for a new Avoidance of Redundancy agreement to be introduced into the Statutes and Ordinances, similar to policies negotiated with a number of other universities, to protect all staff at the University, including those currently dealt with under the ‘Contracts of Employment Policy’, against the threat of compulsory redundancy.

What you can do

While we recognise that on occasion the redeployment register does not work as well as it should, we believe that for many people and the University overall it serves a very useful purpose. It enables valuable employees, who might otherwise be lost to the University, to move from job to job;it reducesexternal recruitmentcosts; and it acts as a pool of skilled staff with knowledge of University systems available for important but temporary project work. It also acts as a safety valve, so that when working relationships break down – or even become too intimate – as inevitably happens from time to time in a large organisation, the respective parties (none of whom are particularly at fault) can be separated to everyone’s mutual satisfaction.

We believe the proposed changes, which mean anyone placed on it for more than three months will be at risk of redundancy, will irrevocably harm the functioning of the redeployment register. It will be seen as a stop-gap to redundancy, a way station to unemployment, something to be avoided at all costs, the kiss of death. As at other universities, people will do anything to avoid going on to it, and all the above benefits, to individual employees and the University overall, will be lost.

This is what we believe is likely to happen if we allow senior management to push through these unnecessary and unfair changes. However, we need more evidence. Therefore, please let us know your experiences of the redeployment register, whether positive or negative, as a manager, as someone who has been on the register or has knowledge of others who have been on it. In particular, we would like to know your views concerning any or all of the following questions:

  • Does the redeployment register as it currently operates help sort out short-term employment problems, or allow them to fester?
  • Does management provide adequate support to people on the register to enable them to find an alternative role in the university, or do they treat it as a dumping ground and expect individuals to find a new position by themselves?
  • Do people on the redeployment register do valuable work for the university that would have had to be done by someone else, for example by undertaking short-term projects that make proper use of their skills and knowledge, or are they unproductive members of staff who might just as well be on gardening leave?
  • Would implementation of the proposed changes, whereby anyone on the redeployment register for more than three months would be told to choose between voluntary severance and compulsory redundancy, change your perception of the redeployment register and make you more or less likely to agree to go on to it if there were any other option, however unpalatable?
  • Taken overall, would the proposals regarding the redeployment register and compulsory redundancy policy enhance or undermine the benefits to the university and individual staff provided by the redeployment register as it currently operates?

All contributions will be anonymised before presenting them as evidence to management.

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