Statement on RUCU Branch Democracy

On Monday 20th July Reading UCU held an Emergency General Meeting (EGM) where a motion entitled ‘A Jobs First approach for Reading UCU’ was debated and passed by members.

Both the EGM and the motion sought to determine Reading UCU’s response to the University of Reading’s decision to issue a ‘section 188 letter’ on 16th June 2020. This letter outlined a number of proposals for consultation, including the threat to fire and rehire all staff at the university on worse terms and conditions. It also threatened to make 500 FTE redundancies if a collective agreement was not reached with UCU to agree a series of cuts to pay, terms and conditions.

On the surface the ‘Jobs First’ motion appeared to be protecting members’ interests by adopting an approach ‘that stops or dramatically reduces the scale of redundancies of UCU members’. However, the organisation and conduct of the EGM, as well as the content of the ‘Jobs First’ motion, were marked by serious infringements of both local branch rules and democratic process.

The result of this has been to shut down democratic debate in the branch and silence dissenting viewpoints. Most concerningly, the ‘Jobs First Approach’ has been communicated to members as if the only two options available for negotiation were to concede cuts to pay, terms and conditions or face redundancies. This is a false choice, which has silenced democratic discussion about the questionable financial modelling on which the proposed cuts to pay, terms and conditions are based.

Staff must be protected by a union which upholds democratic standards and shares information with members transparently. As members of Reading UCU we therefore raise the following concerns with the aim of addressing the current democratic deficit in the branch:

  1. The agenda for the EGM had not been reviewed by the branch committee. This contravenes the local branch rule that states “the committee will determine the agenda and prepare recommendations as to the order in which the business is to be conducted” (Appendix 1, point 1). This was also raised as a point of order in the EGM, which was ignored. 
  2. The agenda and motion were sent at 16:51 on Friday 17/07/20 by the Branch Secretary. No deadline was set for submitting motions, yet two motions submitted on the morning of Monday 20/07/20 (‘Alternative Negotiating Strategy’ and ‘Branch Democracy’) were classified as “late”. These two motions were neither circulated to membership for debate nor posted in the chat on Microsoft Teams during the meeting.
  3. Minutes of the AGM on 30/06/20 were only circulated one hour before the EGM and the point of order regarding corrections to the minutes was not acknowledged when the minutes were agreed by the meeting.
  4. A meeting protocol for the EGM was sent by email only one hour and a half prior to the start of the EGM, causing confusion for some participants when voting.
  5. The meeting invitation on Microsoft Teams breached union membership privacy requirements. The meeting was openly visible in Outlook calendars of members whose permission settings allow colleagues to read or manage their calendars. These colleagues could include a member’s line manager and/or non-union member colleagues.  
  6. The ‘Jobs First’ motion “mandates the local Branch President to select a Branch negotiating team to represent UCU members in any consultation and negotiation meetings with senior management”. This contravenes local branch rule 7.4: “Where there is one Branch/LA in the institution, the committee shall elect (from among its own members) a Negotiating Committee to conduct negotiations”.
  7. This issue was raised as a point of order during the EGM, in accordance with local rules (Appendix 1, point 9). This was ignored and no points of order were taken throughout the meeting, in contravention of branch rules.
  8. On 21/07/20, the Branch President unilaterally removed two members of the branch negotiating team without consulting the branch committee. This not only broke local branch rules but resulted in the removal of the only BAME member of staff from the negotiating team.
  9. The ‘Jobs First’ motion mandated the Branch President to design and implement a programme of consultation with members to identify members’ priorities in respect to the threats to their livelihoods. Point 2e specifically states that the design and implementation of this programme “will not be subject to further review”, meaning that neither branch committee nor union members would have any say in the programme design. On Tuesday 28/07/20 a survey was circulated to all RUCU members, which closed at 5pm on Friday 31/07/20. The majority of committee members had not seen nor were consulted in the creation of this survey. (See Statement of Issues with UCU Survey).
  10. The ‘Jobs First’ motion mandated the Branch President to seek to move to “direct negotiations” with senior management, which will take a ‘Jobs First’ approach to reduce redundancies and minimise the cuts to pay, terms and conditions. Serious questions have been raised about the university’s financial modelling, which over-estimates the deficit by circa £50million. (See Explanatory Letter to All Staff). Despite repeated requests by members of branch committee to share this analysis with all RUCU members, the Branch President instead moved to “consult” with members without providing them with the information required to make an informed decision on whether cuts to pay, terms and conditions are really necessary.

In response to these serious infringements of UCU democratic process, we call for:

  • The immediate circulation of the two motions (‘Alternative Negotiating Strategy’ and ‘Branch Democracy’) to all RUCU members, alongside the ‘Explanatory Letter to All Staff’, which details the flaws in the university’s financial modelling.
  • The reinstatement of the two recently removed members of the negotiating team to ensure that the UCU negotiating team better represents all staff and the diversity of the workforce.
  • The review of any consultation of RUCU members by Branch Committee and membership.
  • Regular meetings between negotiators and RUCU members in which negotiators report on the progress of negotiations and members can inform this. Information and key documents should be provided to members ahead of these meetings.
  • Extension of the consultation until student numbers are known.