Ballot of UCU members at Solent University – Ballot opens on Monday, 15 February 2021

Background to UCU dispute with Solent University
UCU and Unison received notification on the 2 November 2020 regarding the University’s intention to put 18.5% of staff at risk of redundancy (219 posts), with plans to make 109 staff redundant (9.2%) in Phase One (2 November 2020 to 26 February 2021). The University has also indicated that there will be a Phase Two (April to July 2021) although the number of posts to be made redundant and at-risk had not been specified.

UCU sent notification of a trade dispute to Solent University on 25 November 2020 on grounds of the proposed redundancies, the failure of Solent University to disclose information and meaningfully consult with UCU, and the failure of Solent University to remove the threat of compulsory redundancy as part of those proposals.

Please see below for a link to the UCU trade dispute letter:
UCU trade dispute letter – 25 November 2020

Solent UCU launched a consultative ballot of UCU members between 26 November and 2 December 2020. The ballot result on a turnout of 78% – overwhelmingly supported ASOS (92%) and strike action (71%).

UCU Ballot for Strike Action and Action Short of Strike Action.
In early January 2021, UCU commenced a ballot of our members at Solent University on strike action and action short of strike action. This ballot closed on at noon on Wednesday 20 January 2021. The response to the question you were balloted on is as follows:

Are you prepared to take industrial action consisting of strike action?
Votes cast in the ballot as a % of individuals who were entitled to vote: 57.6%

Number voting YES: 107 (72.8%)
Number voting NO: 40 (27.2%)
Number of papers found to be invalid: 4

Are you prepared to take industrial action consisting of action short of strike action?
Votes cast in the ballot as a % of individuals who were entitled to vote: 57.6%

Number voting YES: 142 (94%)
Number voting NO: 9 (6%)
Number of papers found to be invalid: 0

It should be noted that this is the highest turnout ever in a ballot for industrial action at Solent University, and a huge increase since our last ballot in October 2019.  This is the first time since the introduction of the Trade Union Act 2016 that Solent University UCU has managed to exceed the barrier of 50% turnout in the ballot that is now required by law.

Negotiations with Solent University
Following on from the ballot of UCU members, Solent University entered into negotiations with UCU to resolve the trade dispute.  It should be noted that in the context of the ballot result, your negotiators managed to make more progress in negotiations in two weeks, than in the previous two months.

Solent UCU members should be clear that the proposed settlement offer is as a direct response to members making clear that they are prepared to take strike action and action short of strike action.

Proposed Settlement with Solent University
Full details of the ‘Proposed Agreement to Suspend the Trade Dispute between UCU and Solent University’ can be found here.

Full details of the joint statement signed by Professor Karen Stanton, Vice-Chancellor and Dr Mark Farwell, Chair, Southampton Solent UCU can be found here. This statement highlights some key features of the proposed agreement:

Solent UCU believes that we have fully achieved the objectives set out in the trade dispute, with the key exception of our first objective to obtain, a written commitment from Solent University senior management that there will be no compulsory redundancies as part of the current proposals.’

We were not able to obtain this commitment.  The best position achievable in negotiations is as is set out in clause 2, which includes the text:

Solent University reserves the right to progress the small number of cases currently outstanding, which could result in compulsory redundancy dismissals if alternative individual arrangements cannot be agreed (and therefore the final position in relation to those individuals remains unknown as at the date of this agreement). UCU maintains its opposition to all compulsory redundancies.

UCU will continue to support these members, and the proposed agreement would not impact on any individual’s employment rights.

Most importantly, Solent University has agreed not to proceed to a second phase of pay cost reductions within this academic year 20/21.  The University has given a written commitment as follows:

Solent will not make any new compulsory redundancies or commence statutory redundancy consultations (including section 188 notifications) in the period between the date of this agreement and 1 February 2022.

Solent UCU negotiators have noted the clear message from members in Branch meetings about the lack of trust and confidence in Solent University management.  That is why the proposed agreement is presented to members as a suspension, and not an end to the dispute.  To be clear, Solent UCU expects Solent University to honour all terms of this agreement, but this agreement also includes a dispute resolution mechanism and maintains UCU’s mandate for strike action and action short of strike action.  If all of the agreed actions are completed, Solent UCU will formally withdraw the trade dispute on 20 July 2021 (the date the ballot mandate for action expires under the terms of the Trade Union Act 2016).

Solent University has also agreed to enter into timed negotiations to complete a ‘Redundancy Avoidance Agreement.’  This will include reviews of the severance, redeployment policies and pay protection policies.  This will also incorporate agreed provisions for disclosure of information to recognised trade unions in any future restructure or redundancy situation, including financial information, to address concerns arising from the start of the consultation in October 2020.

Solent UCU obtained meaningful undertakings from Solent University that it will continue to fully comply with collective agreements reached with UCU, including on Academic Career Pathways, Academic Workload Planning and the local Framework Agreement.  We have also agreed further ongoing joint work with Solent University to address the concerns of UCU members at Solent University on pay inequality, job insecurity, rising workloads and concerns about pay devaluation through grade drift.  This will include agreement of oversight mechanisms, to ensure that the experience of staff in practice matches the letter and spirit of the collective agreements between UCU and Solent University.

The proposed agreement also includes provision that extends the pay protection arrangements for a small group of staff who have been redeployed in phase 1 for a period of 12 months.  This will consist of full pay protection (i.e. at the grade prior to restructure) for 12 months. Solent University and UCU will also review these roles within 12 months (please see clause 5).  Solent UCU’s objective in this review will be to ensure that no Solent UCU member is downgraded due to the restructure process.

Consequences of Solent UCU members’ votes
If Solent UCU members vote to accept this proposed ‘Agreement to Suspend the Trade Dispute between UCU and Solent University’ – UCU will enter into the agreement with Solent University.  We will be expecting Solent University to take forward all agreed actions, under the agreed timetable, and we have a dispute mechanism should any issues arise.  UCU maintains our mandate from the ballot for strike action and action short of strike action.  If all of the agreed actions are completed, Solent UCU will formally withdraw the trade dispute on 20 July 2021.

If Solent UCU members vote to reject the proposed ‘Agreement to Suspend the Trade Dispute between UCU and Solent University’ – UCU will not enter into the agreement.  Solent University would therefore not be under any obligation to continue with the agreed action.  Solent UCU would seek authorisation from UCU’s elected National Officers to call out Solent UCU members to strike action and/or action short of strike action.

Voting Information
Solent UCU Branch Negotiators believe that the final proposal from Solent University is the best that can be achieved through negotiations in the present circumstances.

We urge you to use your vote in this ballot, and please encourage other UCU members to participate in this vote.

SUPPORT YOUR UNION • USE YOUR VOTE •

The ballot will close at 4pm on Friday 19 February 2021.

QUESTION:
Do you accept or reject the proposed Agreement to Suspend the Trade Dispute between UCU and Solent University?

A:            Accept

B:            Reject

END

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