The guild picket line with "Our response to the VC's comments" overlaid
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Our response to the VC’s comments on our strike

The VC’s view of our dispute

In August and September HR maintained that “negotiations were over” and our Vice Chancellor, Adam Tickell, was doing his best to pretend the dispute wasn’t happening at all. 

Professor Tickell has since broken a long silence on our action, first during a visit to our pickets last Tuesday and then during the VC’s open forum. 

The VC’s comments on our action

Professor Tickell was supported in visiting our picket lines by several senior managers, including the head of HR. Their main message? They felt the pay deal was great and they didn’t understand why we were striking. 

We quickly pointed out groups of staff who have lost out and many more who are worried about the terms and conditions changes. We also illustrated that the pay offer has already fallen behind the rate of the real living wage, proving that it is not good enough. All of this, with the added bypass of unions makes for a pay offer that falls far short of a “great deal.”

Professor Tickell responded to this by:

  • Repeating the very highest possible pay rise anyone could receive: (by being a very new member of staff, on band 300 and not receiving any additions to pay) as if it applied to everyone.
  • Ignoring the fact that most of this rise has been wiped out by inflation: in the past two years alone, without taking into account the amount lost to inflation in the years before this.
  • Downplaying the situation of anyone who is losing out: by saying it’s a “local issue” and ignoring the fact that anyone who wants the new rates of pay needs to consent to contractual changes, that could have implications for them in future
  • Implying that other support staff unions are in favour of the proposals: which is not the case. While they are not striking, neither UNITE or GMB have accepted the University’s offer (and as we’ve written before, the University hasn’t actually made it possible for any union to accept the offer even if we wanted to – )

Discussions with University

The other important points we want to address are the VC’s claims about the discussions we’ve had with the University in recent weeks. Negotiators have been talking with HR to try and find a solution to the dispute. 

At HR’s insistence, these discussions have been strictly off the record and confidential. We never like doing this because negotiators can’t actually agree to anything in these circumstances. We are a democratic union. By our inclination, philosophy and UNISON rules, we can only resolve things when members have their say. 

In agreeing to confidential talks, we wanted to explore every possible avenue for trying to find a resolution. Given this was the only way HR would agree to talk to us, we went ahead, while always insisting on taking information back to members in order to reach any decisions.

Despite this confidentiality rule, the VC went into detail about the talks in conversation on the picket lines with a large group of our members. He then claimed that we have been “very, very difficult to work with” in an open forum attended by staff from across the University. 

Given this, and the high value we place in transparency, we would like to detail what happened in our talks before the strike days:

  • In these discussions our priority was getting the best possible offer that we could put to members before they made a final decision on when the strike days should be, and to confirm if they should go ahead. The only power the committee had at this point in time was to pause action temporarily, because members had voted for more strike action to take place in November, and the committee cannot overrule a decision made by members.
  • When HR made the offer it didn’t deal with key aspects of the dispute. This actually wasn’t the main problem though – as we said the committee could only ever pause action temporarily. HR insisted that we call off the entire dispute and the legal claim, and said the offer had to stay confidential unless we’d agree to do this
  • We of course said no to this, but asked if we could still present the offer to members. We also suggested that if they made improvements to the offer, it might get a more positive hearing from us. HR gave a flat no, they did not agree for the offer to be made public. If we’d published it regardless then we might have lost the chance of any improvements being made to it. 

This was why in our last meeting we just recommended that members confirm the strikes should go ahead as planned – they gave us no option but to do otherwise. 

We aren’t sure whether the VC was just unaware of HR’s insistence that it stay confidential, or if this was a tactic on their part to suggest we have kept secrets. Either scenario, along with a refusal to listen to concerns from staff, is symptomatic of poor communication and leadership.

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