With a new academic year well under way, is there a new start for employment relations at City? Well, there were signs of promise in February 2014 when a new joint recognition agreement was signed-off between City University and the three trade unions. That agreement laid out the basis for communication between management and unions, and the mechanisms for addressing problems and negotiating and consulting on resolutions. Regrettably that promise has not yet materialised. With hindsight, things were already deteriorating back in February when the agreement was concluded, but there is no doubt that since then things have got worse.
Some of you may ask why this should matter. Well, the unions are the only collective voice for staff at the University that does not depend upon the patronage of management – we anticipate that University managers might respond to this with the argument that they communicate perfectly well directly with their staff, yet a cursory reference to the results of the last staff survey would fundamentally challenge that argument. The TUs work through established procedures to raise staff concerns and to negotiate good employment policies and practices, to ensure that the University is a reasonable place to work; that terms and conditions are fair, reasonable and consistent with other HEIs; that policies are clear and that they are implemented in an even-handed and impartial manner for all staff and by all managers, regardless of where they are in the organisation.
In short the TUs exist to hold university management to account on behalf of the staff; to ensure fairness in the workplace and to champion the concerns and conditions of university staff. In good times all of the above can be achieved through reasonable communication between TU and management; sadly, because of management refusal to engage with your representative unions on a reasonable basis, times are currently not good at City. Since February management and HR have been less and less willing to engage with the unions at any level. There has been no meeting of the JCNB (Joint Consultation and Negotiation Board – the main formal forum for discussion between management and unions) since July, and several meetings prior to that failed to progress any matters of substance.
Members of academic staff will recall the refusal of management to negotiate over academic role profiles, academic promotion, and performance metrics; professional support staff will recall the unsatisfactory outcomes of PSR1, the absence of any meaningful consultation over PSR2, and the refusal of management to consult with the unions over the outsourcing of cleaning staff.
Despite the context of such a breakdown of discussion at a collective level, your trade union reps have been busier than ever providing support and advice to individual members faced with increasingly difficult working environments with greater numbers of work related stress and grievance complaints, and performance/disciplinary cases. This marked increase in individual casework, together with a worryingly uneven application of University procedures, including in some instances conscious disregard of procedural requirements, is, we believe, further evidence of an urgent need for a real improvement in employment relations at the University.
We believe that the breakdown in employment relations has gone so far and become so bad that we have been trying for several months now to involve ACAS in order to seek improvements. Management had been refusing to convene a JCNB meeting until after a meeting with ACAS and it was beginning to feel as though the unions’ attempts to engage meaningfully with University management were being deliberately rebuffed. A meeting with City management and ACAS has now been agreed for 7th November, and union representatives will be meeting with the vice chancellor three days earlier.
We sincerely hope that these meeting will signal a halt in the decline in employment relations at the University and the beginning of an improvement; because the longer things continue as they are, the longer staff concerns will be ignored, the longer policies will be implemented inconsistently, and the harder it will be to return City University to a place where staff and their views are taken seriously and treated with professional respect by University senior management.
Your trade union reps believe that a debate is needed now on the future of employment relations at the University.