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August 1st, 2015:

University announcement on Changes to IT Services – Setting the Record Straight

You may have seen the University’s recent announcements, in particular, that posted on StaffNet yesterday (July 30th) concerning ‘Changes to IT Services’. UMUCU considers the announcement to be seriously misleading in a number of ways, and wishes to set the record straight:

Firstly it is questionable whether it is appropriate to dress up an announcement that is essentially about job losses as a story about IT Services ‘making significant investment’. Investment implies spending more money, which is difficult to reconcile with the objective of shedding 68 staff, that is, one in three of the 219 who have been told that their jobs are at risk.

The announcement states that if the target reduction of 68 staff is not achieved through the Voluntary Severance scheme on offer then it will be achieved through a compulsory redundancy programme. It seems important to point out that a voluntary severance scheme where staff are informed that they may face compulsory redundancy under significantly inferior terms if they do not take voluntary severance by an imposed deadline, is not genuinely voluntary – it is coercive.

The announcement also states that any compulsory redundancy programme will be ‘in line with existing University policies and processes’. This is disingenuous. Until very recently the University’s explicit and established position for many years was that it would not use compulsory redundancies as part of restructuring exercises or as a way to reduce costs. It was widely understood that such measures would be counterproductive because they were inimical to collegiality, academic freedom, and the desire to be a ‘world class’ employer regarded as a highly attractive place to work. In April however, 37 staff on the redeployment register – who had previously been assured verbally and in writing that they were not at risk of redundancy – were issued with section 188 ‘at risk’ notices, effectively marking an abrupt change in direction on the part of the Senior Leadership Team.

The announcement further states that the campus Trade Unions will be consulted on both the details of the voluntary severance scheme and on compulsory redundancies, ‘should they be required’. Unfortunately none of this rings true. The University has not shown any willingness to consult or negotiate meaningfully with the Trade Unions on the 37 staff currently facing redundancy. On the contrary, at every stage the University has acted unilaterally, with UMUCU informed only post-hoc of major decisions affecting our members, and consultation meetings treated as nothing more than a formality. ‘Consultation’ implies a degree of genuine reciprocity and a willingness to engage meaningfully and in good faith, neither of which is the case here. It seems unlikely that the approach will be any different for this latest round of redundancies.

Finally the announcement states that ‘the University is committed to ensuring that this process is conducted fairly and transparently’. Unfortunately that has not been the case to date, far from it. For example, an FAQ document for staff on the redeployment register, which stated that they were not at risk of redundancy and could remain on the register until a suitable position could be found, was removed from the HR website only after 37 staff who had been on the register for more than three months were told their jobs were at risk. It was replaced with a different FAQ making no such assurance. When UMUCU pointed this out and requested a copy of the original document its existence was denied. Similarly, a document on the IT services website for staff involved in the planned ‘Transformation’, which also stated that there were no plans for redundancies or voluntary severance schemes, was removed just a week ago. These erasures and retrospective rewritings of University policy can hardly be called ‘fair and transparent’.

UMUCU remains committed to the University’s previously longstanding approach of avoiding compulsory redundancies with all of their detrimental impacts, not just upon those directly affected but upon the whole culture of the University. The Union also remains committed to engaging in a meaningful consultation process with the University in order to find more constructive ways to achieve targeted reduction of costs where necessary, and urges the University to pull back from its recent change of direction before irreparable damage is done.  

UMUCU Executive Committee