Union meeting with SLT about impact of Covid-19 – transparency, inclusivity, accountability and collegiality needed

The UMUCU, Unison and Unite senior officers met with the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) on Monday and discussed furloughing and the message the President and V-C, Nancy Rothwell, sent to staff last week. We reiterated our concerns about both the tone of the President’s email and the SLT’s general approach to the Covid-19, which seeks to frame the discussion purely in terms of reducing costs. In particular, we pressed the SLT to:
protect the jobs, pay and health and safety of staff rather than rushing to make up any income shortfall immediately;
adopt a transparent and inclusive approach, sharing its models and underlying data and consulting the campus trades unions and staff generally rather than imposing change by edict from on high.
The above, we argued, are necessary if staff are to understand, accept and have trust in SLT proposals , and are therefore necessary if the University is to continue to deliver on its core goals in teaching, research and social responsibility.

We raised a number of specific issues and questions about furloughing and the financial implications of Covid-19 – see below for details.

The University has applied to HMRC for funding to furlough around 1550 staff under the government’s Job Retention Scheme, and informed those staff accordingly. We are pressing management to furlough fixed-term contract staff beyond the end of their contract but it is not clear what HMRC will agree to since, although the Scheme’s rules suggest most HE staff are not eligible because they are publicly funded, neither the rules nor who is and who is not funded publicly in a university are clear. Furloughing will initially be for three weeks periods and it may be possible to rotate staff in some teams. The trade unions have asked for a breakdown of furloughed staff by role and grade so we can better understand what the University is doing. If you are concerned you are not being treated fairly please get in touch with the UMUCU office: ucu@manchester.ac.uk.

Financial implications of Covid-19
Nancy Rothwell’s message last Thursday warning that the University faces the possibility of losing 25% of its total income next academic year received a good deal of media coverage: e.g. Times Higher Education, Mancunion, The Guardian, Manchester Evening News, University Business, Research Professional News.

As you will have seen, her message reported the impact of between 50 and 80% reductions in international student numbers and a 20% reduction in Home/EU students, but focused on the 80% scenario and consequent £270 million, 25% loss in total income. We pointed out that, while we fully recognise the seriousness of the current emergency, the London Economics report commissioned by UCU on the impact of the pandemic on student numbers and HE finances is not nearly so pessimistic because it estimates Home first year student enrollments will decline by 16% and EU/non-EU first year enrollments by 47%, whereas the University’s £270 million estimate is based on reductions of 20% and 80% respectively. This means the London Economics estimate of the average income reduction facing universities like Manchester is £37m, i.e. one seventh the size of Manchester’s £270 estimate. As we told them on Monday, this risks creating the impression that the SLT chose a worst-case scenario in order to soften up staff for job cuts.

The SLT is considering a range of possible measures to mitigate a possible drop in student numbers and income in September. These include non-pay costs like travel and building projects and pay costs such as deferring increments for promotions (but not the promotions themselves), a shorter working week, an ERVS package (on less generous terms than the current scheme), unpaid holidays, and more widespread voluntary pay cuts by senior staff emulating the 20% already accepted by the SLT. We and the other unions made it clear we do not accept that cuts are necessary and that our priority is the protection of jobs and salaries, especially of lower paid, early career and precarious staff, and more generally the wholesale reform of post-16 education funding.

Openness, transparency, accountability and collegiality
We urged the SLT to share their modelling of both the financial impact of falls in student recruitment and retention next year and the various measure they are considering to mitigate them, so that the trade unions and staff generally can better understand and have more trust in the latter. We are pleased to report that they agreed to this as it means the campus trade unions and staff generally, especially those with expertise in financial modelling and crisis management, can help in planning a way out of the crisis that – instead of focusing solely on short-term financial imperatives – is consistent with the University’s core values and long-term aims as a community of students, scholars and researchers and those who support them, i.e. genuine collegiality rather than a business enterprise model of HE.

If you have not already done so, please complete our Health & Safety effect of working at home SURVEY, whose results will help inform our negotiations with the SLT.

USS/Four Fights industrial action and ASOS end this Thursday
The six month mandate for strikes and Action Short of a Strike (ASOS) ends on April 30th so please make sure you turn of any email auto-replies saying you are working to contract etc. It is unlikely but if you do not there is a risk that you might be charged with taking industrial action illegally.

Finally, a reminder of some dates for your diary:

UMUCU Coffee Break: 12.30-1.15pm, Wednesday 29th April
Drop in session to share issues, discuss wider strategies in a more informal way than regular branch meetings. https://zoom.us/j/91401639854. Meeting ID: 914 0163 9854, Password: 721158

Teach-out: 12-1pm, Friday 1st May
UMUCU’s recent recruit, award winning journalist and now Prof. Gary Younge will lead a session on ‘The NHS, Windrush and why migrants have always been key workers’. https://zoom.us/j/94654306467. Meeting ID: 946 5430 6467 Password: 055810

Branch Meeting: 12.30-1.15pm, Wednesday 6th May
Includes latest on crisis, and responding to attacks on our language tutors. Please make every effort to attend. https://zoom.us/j/93357291604. Meeting ID: 933 5729 1604 Password: 935497

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