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Holiday Consultation and Industrial Action

Monday 23 May 2022

Richmond upon Thames College (RuTC) are hugely disappointed to see strike action go ahead at this time, when students across the country have already experienced a large amount of disruption due to the pandemic.

The College needs to have a new calendar in place for the new academic year to ensure that there is more time for teachers to have INSET days outside the teaching timetable to develop their practice, meet as teams and focus on the individual needs of the students and plan and organise their work. RuTC is currently a significant outlier within the FE sector, with the current very high levels of annual leave entitlement preventing us from being able to allocate specific non-teaching days for staff training, development, collaboration and support for students.

The dispute with University and Colleges Union (UCU) has arisen over the proposal to reduce the current 64 days per year of annual leave (including Bank Holidays and efficiency days) to a level in line with other Further Education (FE) colleges. The consultation and negotiation period (further extended by the College) has come to a close and the proposal is a net loss of 8 days of annual leave with full financial compensation, which equates to teaching staff having a total of 56 days of leave (including Bank Holidays and an increased number of efficiency days).

The College informed UCU on 22nd February 2022 that there would be proposals to change the terms and conditions of the teaching staff contract to see if agreement could be reached and individuals could voluntarily move to the revised contract. It was agreed that we would move to formal consultation on 8th March 2022. The 45-day formal consultation period was due to end on 22nd April 2022 and the College extended the timeline by a further 18 days until 10th May 2022 in the hope of reaching collective agreement. Consultation came to an end on that day when the UCU response made it clear that negotiations could go no further.

The College has demonstrated a consistent and genuine desire to negotiate on the overall package of benefits including pay and levels of annual leave and has confirmed the offer of 100% financial compensation (consolidated) for the net reduction in annual leave. This offer financially compensates and recognises the work that teaching staff regularly carry out during holiday times. In addition, it enables staff to take time back on designated non-teaching days in recognition of additional work carried out during term time.

UCU represent fewer than 50% of the College’s teaching staff, the ballot was not unanimously in favour of strike action and the College have been made aware that many of our teachers are equally disappointed in the union’s decision to strike. There have been no dismissal letters sent to date, as the College is in discussions with individual members of teaching staff, of whom a significant number are accepting the new contract terms on a voluntary basis.

The College notes the concerns raised by UCU around the tabling of the final option to dismiss and re-engage but is resolute that this is a ‘worst case scenario’ only to be pursued in the event that it is unable to reach an agreed compromise position with the unions. This is a standard element of the contract re-negotiation process, where, in the event that no agreement can be reached, the old contract is terminated and the same staff are re-engaged on the new contract. The College remained committed to reaching a collective agreement without having to implement the process set out in the Section 188 notice and it remained the College’s strong and stated preference to reach a negotiated position that would avoid the necessity of implementing this process. The new terms and conditions will then be in line with other Colleges in our sector.

It is disappointing that UCU representatives from the very start of the consultation chose to focus their attention so heavily on this element of the process, at the expense of engaging in meaningful negotiation, as we believe that this dispute could have been resolved without this disruption to our students’ learning and support experience during this extremely important formal examination and assessment period.

The College will be doing everything we can to minimise disruption to our students’ ongoing teaching, learning and assessment. The impact of strike action is likely to vary for different students, depending on the Union membership within different programmes; some students may notice little disruption, others may experience more. We are investigating a range of options to enable any lost learning to be recovered, wherever possible. The strike action will not impact on the operation of formal exams that will be taking place at RuTC during the week of the strike.

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