Your Union Says ‘Buyer Beware…’
Colleagues will be aware that the university management are currently offering staff the opportunity to apply for a so-called “voluntary severance scheme” which will run until December this year.
As the accredited representatives of staff interests, the three campus unions see it as our responsibility to point out serious weaknesses in the proposed scheme.
The unions are aware that there will be staff for whom the chance to apply to the severance scheme will be of interest, or even welcome, and we have no wish to discourage such applicants. However we think it only right to point out some crucial limitations and uncertainties in the scheme, so that those considering applying to it can make an informed choice.
We are not confident that the scheme will be operated in such a way as to recognise both staff and management interests, let alone to protect the former if they should clash with the latter.
We welcome requests for advice and support from those who may be considering applying to the scheme.
If you are considering the scheme, please take a moment to read what follows. The detail in the small print is all-important.
Although initially hostile to the idea of working with the campus unions to create a scheme which is in staff as well as management interests, management eventually held a discussion with union representatives at which we argued a number of issues. Most important were the following:-
- the need to set out a full business case which not only identified the need for savings but also demonstrated that saving on staff rather than other areas of expenditure was in the best interests of the university; the management did not provide such a case but asserted  that it was looking at non-staff savings as well as a severance scheme and  that the existence of a severance scheme would help both management and staff in departments looking to “restructure” themselves (of which there were likely to be several);
- the need to assess the equality and stress impact of the restructuring and severance processes not only on staff who might apply to the scheme, but also on those who would have to deal with the outcomes of those processes;
- the need for any severance scheme to be fair and transparent, and to avoid situations where Heads of Department pressured staff to apply for it; the unions proposed that a staff representative sit on the panel set up to consider applications for the severance scheme, solely to check that procedures were equitable, fair, and transparent;
- the need for an appeals procedure, or at least a commitment to provide a full written explanation when an application to the scheme is refused
The management agreed to take union concerns into consideration and offered us the chance to amend the draft document outlining the severance scheme. The unions duly submitted an amended draft, to which we received neither responses nor comments. Instead we were simply forwarded the document which management has now issued to staff.
We draw members’ attention to the following:-
- Members should note the mismatch between the claim that the scheme is “voluntary” and the emphasis throughout the document on the role of Heads of Department, and on that of the panel which will make decisions on applications to the scheme. Their complete unaccountability and that of the Deans in their implementation of the scheme make the name “voluntary” very misleading.
- As a result of union pressure the management have included a statement of principle about equity and fairness in section 3 and some limited recognition of the stress involved for all staff [section 4.2.2], but make NO commitment to equality impact or stress assessments: this makes the statement of principle rather empty, and is a violation of the university commitment to use EIAs and any legal obligations they have under health and safety legislation to use stress avoidance measures.
- Not only is there no appeal procedure, but management makes no commitment to provide any kind of proper written explanation for turning down an application; if the key issue for management is whether there is a business case to support any particular application for severance, then they should be able to provide unsuccessful applicants with appropriately evidenced reasons for refusing their application which reference the criteria used in determining whether or not there is such a case; perhaps staff whose applications are refused should use FOI requests to see the HoD and HR parts of the application form.
- It is perhaps unsurprising (if disappointing) that our management have refused to have a staff equality and transparency watchdog on the panel, as the unions suggested they should do; however it seems quite offensively and unnecessarily dismissive to make no reference at all to involving the unions, or to advising staff to consult their unions for guidance, as the unions suggested in section 9.
The unions are very disappointed that after all their efforts at constructive discussion and detailed amendment of the scheme proposed by management, so little substantive consideration has been given to their reasonable concerns.
Since the scheme is being introduced in conjunction with plans for departmental restructuring, which will necessarily involve stresses and clashes for many staff, it is highly regrettable that management has not prioritised its duty of care to staff, let alone proactively supported transparency and fairness.
Bob Hide & Richard Armitage, UNITE
Kathryn Woodruff, UNISON
Geoffrey Wall & Joanna De Groot, UCU