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May 12th, 2015:

Message to members. UPDATE: Compulsory Redundancies and Redeployment

Dear Colleagues,

For the first time in its history the University is planning to introduce measures that will make compulsory redundancy easier. The proposed changes mean that the job of anyone (whether they are on a permanent or short-term contract) who goes on to the Redeployment Register – for example, following one of the many restructurings currently underway – will be at risk.

The University is doing this on the pretext of: (a) dealing with a financial crisis; and (b) “aligning”, on the grounds of fairness, the university’s Redeployment Policy for staff on permanent contracts with the current practice for staff on short-term contracts. Furthermore, the Senior Management Team is seeking to impose these changes without first negotiating them with the campus Trade Unions – UCU, UNISON and UNITE – in accordance with long-standing agreements with the University.

In a meeting on Thursday last week with HR and subsequent letter to Dame Nancy Rothwell, Prof. Colin Bailey, the Deputy President, and Will Spinks, the Registrar and Secretary, the officers of UCU, UNISON and UNITE have set out our concerns about the proposed changes and the manner in which they have been introduced. In particular we object to:

1. The subversion of the agreed structures for negotiating changes to the terms and conditions of employment of University staff

Up to the end of last year the unions and management were engaged in constructive negotiations about proposed changes to the university’s Statutes and Ordinances and related policies – including Redeployment policy, which is explicitly mentioned in the Terms of Reference for these negotiations. In these negotiations, the Senior Management Team suggested changes similar to those they are now attempting to impose, and UCU raised our objections. However, we have not had a reply to the last communication sent to the HR Director on January 23rd and no further meetings of the University/Trade Unions’ Joint Negotiating Group have been called. All three campus Trade Unions have made it clear that the current proposals are a matter for negotiation, not consultation, conducted according to agreed procedures within the Joint Negotiating Group, not imposed unilaterally by the University.

2. The economic rationale put forward by management as justification for their proposed changes

The university’s annual Financial Statements and the cover story in last week’s THE show that its finances are in a 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. Moreover, the University has managed to successfully negotiate worse financial challenges in the past without resorting to compulsory redundancies; for example, Nancy Rothwell’s predecessor, Alan Gilbert, was opposed to compulsory redundancies and achieved £30 million in savings (over £40 million in today’s money, i.e. double the current £20 million shortfall) through an Early Retirement/Voluntary Severance (ERVS) scheme.

We do not dispute that the University faces financial challenges, but these should not be exaggerated in order to unilaterally impose fundamental changes in either pay and conditions for staff or the policies and procedures by which the University is governed. We do not object to using Voluntary Severance schemes, for those on the Redeployment Register or anyone else, to achieve “efficiency” gains, but we do object to the claim that, just because people on short-term contract are regularly made redundant, it is only “fair” to treat staff on permanent contract in the same way. This is a spurious, race-to-the-bottom definition of fairness.

UCU’s concerns about the proposals and the manner in which they have been introduced are set out in more detail here.

We are sorry to say that we have not received a reply from Nancy Rothwell, Colin Bailey or Will Spinks to our letter; nor does it look like we will receive one. Instead, we received today a proxy response from Karen Heaton (HR Director), which fails to adequately address either of the points above.

We will do our best to keep all members, especially those who have received a letter telling them their job is at risk, informed as this situation progresses.

Regards

UMUCU Executive Committee