Second letter to the VC

Dear Professor Van de Noort,

Thank you for your e-mail dated 23rd September 2020, in response to my letter dated 11th September 2020. It is very disappointing that you “neither recognise nor accept your (ie my) interpretation of the University’s position or its conduct, and see no reason to ‘withdraw the S188 notice’.” Indeed, it is because neither you nor many in the senior management team have recognised or addressed these issues appropriately over the years that the university & its staff and students find ourselves in the worrying position we are in today. These failures include problems manifestly evident in relation to trusts, Malaysia, the overuse and misuse of consultancy advice, commitments to private housing providers, the UniBond issue, PAS and more. Therefore, I write again in my capacity as a trade unionist and a member of staff to highlight the key areas of concern that need urgent resolution.

The current admissions numbers (paid-up) as at the end of September 2020 (both international and domestic) are well in line with last year’s numbers. Workload, as a result, is likely to increase given that numbers actually are higher in many areas and there are now multiple modalities of learning and teaching under Covid-19 requiring the use of additional time as well as different skills and tools. Yet management is continuing with its efforts to push through unjustified cuts.

May I remind you that these cuts will mean a wage freeze even for those in grades 1 and 2, and that many staff who are on casualised or fractional contracts earning less than £18,342 will nonetheless take a pay cut of 5-15%. This includes many grade 6 casualised teaching staff for example who are on fractional or low-paid contracts. In contrast to these low salaries, 55 staff members at UoR earn over £100,000 per annum. For example, your VC annual salary is £195,000 per annum (2018-19 data). This is in addition to your annual salary of £17,503 for a commitment of five days per month in your second job with the Thames Regional Flood and Coastal Committee outside the University of Reading.  In the light of these high executive salaries, I hope you will recognise how harsh such cuts seem to those of us who have struggled with low and stagnant pay for the past decade.

Management has advanced concerns about decreased student numbers (and corresponding fee and other income) due to Covid-19 as its logic for the current round of cuts and the pay freeze. In light of the actual numbers that we see now, management therefore has no justification whatsoever for pushing ahead with a demand for pay-cuts or the pay freeze.

It is just not enough any longer to say that management are “preparing for the worst while hoping for the best”. This is empty rhetoric. The modelling has been absurd, mathematically flawed and disconnected from reality. The absence of any serious apology from management, thus far for the serious and egregious mistakes in modelling, force staff into a position where we do not feel able to offer management a blank cheque to undermine our pay, terms and conditions.

The appalling threat that we will be fired and rehired on inferior terms, should we fail to agree to this insulting proposal also continues to hang over our heads, preventing meaningful and fair consultation. It is indeed revealing that you do not acknowledge the moral and ethical vacuum in which management seem to be deploying their powers.

Alongside these cuts, and at a time when staff at the University are working extraordinarily hard to facilitate the start of term, we remain understandably concerned by the disjointed and confused response by management to workplace safety issues in relation to return to campus. We are also now confronted with yet another attack on our terms and conditions that falls outside the current consultation. Management has departed from its previously agreed opt-in approach regarding screencast and lecture capture, and listed a policy position that confers a mandatory obligation with disciplinary consequences. While there is a high level of casualisation and members of staff are aware of looming threats of redundancy, it is reprehensible and not in the spirit of good faith mutual co-operation that management appears to seek to use the materials of those who may lose their jobs in phase 2. For many of us the worry is that instead of fire and rehire there is a danger that the University can now fire / make redundant and reuse materials. This position of the University is inconsistent with the terms and conditions as they stand currently – and members must be fully and properly consulted on any changes. Instead, the University has introduced these changes over the summer through the back door using the cover of Covid. The current published documents also appear to be inconsistent with the existing University-UCU joint commentary on changes to terms and conditions 

I urge you to reconsider the position of the senior management team, and to immediately close down this sham consultation. Instead, please join us in ensuring a safe return to campus, and a healthy, compassionate and productive working environment for students and staff in pursuit of the University of Reading’s charitable objective to further education.

Yours truly,

Dr Deepa Govindarajan Driver