More mass redundancies threatened in 2020?

As you may have seen from the Registrar & Secretary’s update about the Student Experience Programme in Staffnet, the University is embarking on another major restructuring exercise that is likely to lead to job losses in 2020:

Two areas of activity or “Themes” – Applications and Admissions, and Student Marketing and Recruitment – will be reorganised in early 2020, followed by a second and much larger cohort covering nine themes in the middle of the year. (We had been told that Digital/Blended/online/e-Learning would be in the first cohort but it appears to have been postponed till the second.)

The good news is that management appear to have learnt some lessons from the acrimonious IT Services and M2020 restructures of 2015 and 2017. Instead of not telling anybody what is going to happen until a “Section 188” notice is issued and staff are sent letters warning them that their jobs are at risk, HR and management in the affected areas have already begun holding meetings explaining their plans – i.e. three or four months ahead of implementation instead of the 34 minutes notice we were given about ITS redundancies in July 2015.

HR have also said they will consider our proposal that, instead of waiting until at-risk staff are put on the Redeployment Register, management will where possible give an indication of the skill sets that will be in demand after the restructures and make training available so that staff who anticipate they may be at risk have an opportunity to retrain and position themselves so they stand a better chance of being successfully redeployed.

Although HR tell us they do not know yet how many staff will be affected and how many jobs may go, these are definite improvements and show that our previous campaigns against job cuts – Including ballots on industrial action in 2015 and 2017 and two days of strikes by UCU members over M2020 – have paid off.

However, the bad news is that HR and the Senior Leadership Team are clearly still wedded to the gun-to-the-head, take an enhanced Voluntary Severance payment now or risk being made compulsorily redundant later, approach to managing organisational change. UCU, Unite and Unison are united in our opposition to this unnecessarily punitive approach to managing change and have reminded management that not so long ago the previous President & Vice-Chancellor of the University, Alan Gilbert, was vehemently opposed to using compulsory redundancy in this way, saying, to quote, “Such draconian measures… have no wider relevance in the strategies of a collegial community of the kind that we are committed to in Manchester.”

Sadly, our current Senior Leadership Team and HR are committed to the “draconian measures” of the corporate world rather than traditions of collegiality universities should be founded upon. This is also reflected in their lack of trust in staff and belief that without aggressive performance management too many colleagues would fail to pull their weight. While we may all have come across one or two such colleagues, we profoundly disagree with the Registrar & Secretary’s estimate (shared with us in another meeting about managing change) that such individuals account for 20% of the University’s staff!

We have also pointed out the stress and anxiety more rounds of redundancies will cause. If there are two Section 188s next year, it will mean this University will have had seven in six years, which may be a record for UK universities. (At least Manchester will be at the top of at least one league table!) We were informed of these plans on, ironically, World Mental Health Day, and requested that the University conduct a Health & Safety Executive (HSE) Organisational Stress Assessment on the grounds that such major organisational change constitutes an HSE stress “hazard”.  However, HR rubbished this suggestion on the grounds that: (a) it’s not a legal requirement, (b) they already know restructures cause stress so an assessment won’t tell us anything new, and (c) in any case we already have all the information on stress we need because the 2019 biennial Staff Survey included a Workload Stress Report.

While we acknowledge that the Workload Stress Report may satisfy legal requirements, it is not linked to a specific change such as the imminent restructure and is not, therefore, enough; indeed, we view HR’s response as mere lip service to caring about the stress and anxiety caused by the threat of mass redundancy.

In response to the above criticism, HR was keen to point out that 2019 Staff Survey indicates that 62% of staff say their job security is good and 89% say they are proud to work for the University. They did not, however, mention that the 2019 Survey also found that only 48% of staff believe change within the University is managed well (down from 54% in 2017) and that only 42% believe the President’s and SLT listen to and respond to the views of staff (down from 47% in 2017), or that these are the lowest satisfaction scores found in the surveys!

When we know more for definite we will organise meetings for members in the affected areas. In the meantime, please do all you can to persuade non-members to join the relevant trade union; the more members we have, the more management has to listen to us.

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