On 22 March 2019 the three campus trade unions (Unite, UNISON and UCU) held an open meeting for all staff. The level of attendance was unprecedented, with standing room only in the lecture theatre.
The issues raised included:
- The lack of detailed data to justify the espoused need for saving £15M,
- The dubious use of uncertainties such as Brexit and the Augar review in order to justify this knee-jerk reaction,
- The terminology used which designates staff as a cost and not as an asset,
- A rush forward to implement changes with no apparent plan or appropriate process (e.g. equality analysis),
- The threatening of course closures without due process, and
- The serious implications for staff well-being, including stress and workload concerns as a result of staff reductions.
At this meeting, there was a call from the floor for an all-staff vote of no confidence, to be facilitated by the trade unions. Unite, UNISON and UCU agreed that this action could be considered by the trade unions. USSU informed staff that they are holding a referendum for students in a vote of no confidence in the VC, senior management team and governing bodies in May.
Based on the indicative figures presented to the unions in April, it is clear that over 80% of the £15m savings target that University of Surrey has set itself could be achieved as a result of the recruitment freeze and approved EVS applications. The unions raised questions as to ‘Phase 2’ and what it will encompass, but were not presented with a clear direction for the ongoing ‘Continuous Improvement Programme’.
As a result, in order to protect staff, the three campus trade unions subsequently wrote to Professor Lu requesting that the University rule out compulsory redundancies of staff until at least 31 July 2020, to allow time for a period of reflection and to alleviate the spectre of job insecurity.
This reassurance has not been provided. In the reply, Professor Lu wrote only that: ‘The outcome of our recent Enhanced Voluntary Severance scheme, together with other measures we have taken, means that in all likelihood we will not be looking at wide-ranging compulsory redundancies across the University as part of the Continuous Improvement Programme…….I cannot categorically rule out the need for local action involving redundancies in some areas’.
Further outsourcing of University services also remains a concern for staff and formal requests have not produced categorical assurances: Professor Lu has stated ‘I do not envisage any significant changes here in the foreseeable future’.
Therefore we invite you to participate in this all-staff vote of no confidence.
Please note your participation will be kept completely anonymous from the University (payroll numbers are requested to verify that staff members have only voted once).
This vote will close at 12pm on Friday 17 May 2019.
Please share the voting link with other staff members so that they also get their say: https://yoursay.ucu.org.uk/s3/surreynoconfidence
Thank you for your email. I am acutely aware of the challenging situation we are working through at the University, the impact it has had on staff.
I naturally wish to bring clarity and certainty to all of our staff as quickly as I can. The outcome of our recent Enhanced Voluntary Severance scheme, together with other measures we have taken, means that in all likelihood we will not be looking at wide-ranging compulsory redundancies across the University as part of the Continuous Improvement Programme.
Given the ongoing challenges we face with Augar and Brexit, I cannot categorically rule out the need for local action involving redundancies in some areas, but I would see these as operating business as usual, rather than a wider change programme. Any such action would be supported through voluntary severance packages and other means.
I will continue to communicate with staff, both personally and through the Continuous Improvement Programme team, and with you and your Union colleagues about the next steps. We have town hall meetings planned for next week, and we will be engaging staff further to help them shape the steps in the programme, and I am confident this will help provide reassurance on the nature and progress of the programme.
To date we have appreciated the positive and proactive nature of the discussions between the University and colleagues from UCU and other trade unions. I very much hope you will continue to work with us in a positive way that would stabilise the sentiments of staff and let staff get on with the tasks at hand, as we go forward.
Professor G.Q. Max Lu AO DL FAA FTSE
President and Vice-Chancellor
Formal Communication from the Vice-Chancellor with UNISON Branch Chair:
Regarding outsourcing, the University currently outsources a number of functions and activities where this is deemed to be in the interests of the University and our various stakeholders, but this represents a small proportion of our activities, and I do not envisage any significant changes here in the foreseeable future. We value and recognise the qualities of our staff and the loyalty that in-house staff bring to our operations.
Staff at the University of Surrey continue to work under extremely stressful conditions at a concerning time. The spectre of job insecurity and the prospect of increasing workloads are ever present.
Trust in the Senior Management is clearly at breaking point.
Whilst we appreciate the extension of the EVS protection period to 31 December 2019, we are concerned that, despite our continuing requests, compulsory redundancies are not ruled out .
Therefore, we request that you rule out compulsory redundancies of staff until at least 31st July 2020 to allow time for a period of reflection and to take the stress off our staff.
If this assurance cannot be provided by 12pm on Friday 3rd May, we will take action by facilitating an all-staff vote of no confidence.
I look forward to a positive response.
UCU Regional Official
Prof Michael Kearney – Provost and Executive VP
Paul Stephenson – Vice President HR
Neil Jones – UNISON
Gary Strudwick – UNITE
Alison Cottell – UCU
Ade Phillips – Regional Support Official
Dear Professor Lu
We are formally communicating with you ahead of your Town Hall Meeting on Friday 5th April as we welcome your move towards direct engagement with University of Surrey staff members.
Based on the indicative figures presented to the unions earlier this week, it is clear that over 80% of the £15m savings target that University of Surrey has set itself could potentially be achieved as a result of the recruitment freeze and approved EVS applications.
Notwithstanding that a business case has not been presented for the necessity of such savings, we believe that to restore confidence, it is important that the University now focuses on non-staff cost savings.
As a consequence, we request that staff are reassured at the Town Hall meeting on Friday that no compulsory redundancies are currently planned or intended in the second stage of the Continuous Improvement Programme.
We sincerely hope that restoring confidence is now your primary objective and priority.
Surrey UCU Committee
First of all, the Lecture Theatre was *packed*, with over 250 attendees.
1. There was a brief introduction to the three campus trade unions: UCU, UNISON and Unite.
2. An update was provided on current concerns:
– The lack of detailed data to justify the need for saving £15M
– The dubious use of uncertainties such as Brexit and the Augar review in order to justify knee-jerk reactions
– The terminology used which designates staff as a cost and not as an asset
– The lack of guidance for line managers during the EVS Scheme
– A rush forward to implement changes with no apparent plan
3. An update was then provided on current restructuring processes and the lack of information and appropriate consultation provided to individual departments. It was noted that the University of Surrey’s mode of moving forward at this point is causing a very real, and very serious, welfare issue to staff. A member of the Welfare Team kindly invited any distressed member of staff to get in contact if they wish to talk through current events.
4. The USSU President gave a presentation on the current position of the Students Union. It was stated that four years on from the last time the University declared 200 job losses, student satisfaction has decreased, organisational cash has doubled, and Executive pay has risen. There is a clear lack of planning behind the current announcement of cuts.
The USSU have formally endorsed our UCU letter to the VC.
USSU are also intending to hold a referendum for students in a Vote of No Confidence in the VC, Senior Management Team and governing bodies.
5. There was much discussion from the floor, some of which was heated, some content was upsetting, and we thank all those that spoke for their willingness to share their views. Staff spoke from right across the University. Concerns raised include:
– The hard sell directed at certain persons and certain departments, pressurising staff into EVS
– The fixation of the University to prioritise vanity projects over staff
– The threatening of course closures without due process
– Anger from students as to a lack of transparency in governance
– The hypocrisy of the University espousing the five core values, whilst simultaneously treating staff with disrespect
There was a call from the floor as to an all-staff Vote of No Confidence, facilitated by the trade unions. Unite, UNISON and UCU agreed that this action could be considered by the trade unions.
A message from the Vice Chancellor 28th February 2019
UCU members and the wider University community are extremely concerned at the content of your message to staff. Job security, workload and increased precarity are three of many areas highlighted at our very well attended meeting held on the 4th March.
The presenting reasons provided for the programme of cuts of ‘reduced income due to Brexit and an ever more competitive student recruitment environment, significantly increasing pension costs and a national review of tuition fee levels’ are far too vague to convince staff they are necessary. We expect a much more data driven and evidence based economic, technical and organisational case to justify such swingeing cuts. For this reason we expect full and meaningful consultation with the trade unions and a transparent examination of the employer business case over the coming period. An early meeting with Michael Kearney and Anne Poulson is therefore necessary.
However, the main purpose of this letter, notwithstanding our view that the business case for cuts has not been made , is to seek some early assurances so that staff do not have the spectre of uncertainty hanging over them. Firstly, you raise the issue of the potential for ‘compulsory redundancies’. We therefore request that you provide a categorical assurance that no member of staff that UCU has bargaining rights for will be made compulsory redundant this calendar year.
Secondly, we request that no member of staff currently on a fixed term or hourly paid contract will suffer a detriment this calendar year as a result of the programme of cuts proposed.
Thirdly, we recognise that an EVS scheme has to fully incentivise applicants in order to reduce the risk of compulsory redundancies. As this is our paramount goal we ask that you keep the EVS application process open until at least the end of this academic year. This would allow those considering this option the time to make financial decisions which could involve checking pension data, considering reducing hours on a permanent or temporary basis, unpaid sabbatical etc. A three week period is not long enough for such life changing decisions nor to get the feedback required on the various options.
Finally, a 6 month period, after which an employee can be made compulsory redundant without an unsuccessful application for EVS being honoured, is far too short. We request that this period should be extended to a year after application for EVS.
I look forward to a positive and speedy response from yourself.
Regional Official HE & FE South East Region
Surrey UCU opposes any move of the University of Surrey towards Compulsory Redundancies, because there is a lack of financial transparency and argument based on data.
1) action a letter to the University from UCU formally requesting that
– the University rules out future Compulsory Redundancies as part of its Continuous Improvement programme Stage 2
– the University recognises the vital contribution made by staff who have been employed on fixed-term or hourly-paid contracts, and provides reassurance that those on such contracts shall continue to participate at the University as valued employees, and be protected from any change in policy relating to recruitment.
2) formally request that the University corrects its recent public press statements which misrepresent the University’s financial position and which have negatively impacted on the University’s reputation
3) work closely with other campus unions by
– organising a joint open meeting
– drafting and printing a campaign leaflet outlining campus union positions
– opening dialogue with USSU
4) formally request changes to the terms of the current EVS scheme in the form of
– an extension to the three week open application period
– an extension from 6 months to 12 months for which members will be covered by the EVS terms
Staff at the University of Surrey were told on Monday to prepare for a shortfall between income and expenditure of at least £15m per year for the next few years. The message from their vice-chancellor Max Lu said the university had implemented tighter controls on all staff recruitment and would shortly be announcing details of a voluntary severance package. The Independent reported that Lu, one of the best-paid vice-chancellors in the country, spent £1,600 of university money relocating his pet dog.
Refusing to rule out compulsory redundancies, a university spokesman told Surrey Live the university would reduce staff “through a recruitment freeze and an enhanced voluntary severance scheme. While we can never rule out the possibility of compulsory redundancies, we will seek to avoid these wherever possible.”
UCU members at the university are holding an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss the situation and how to respond. A UCU spokesperson said that it was vital the university avoided any knee-jerk cuts and worked with the union to explore all options.