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Richmond upon Thames College Continues to Seek Agreement with UCU on Holiday Arrangements

Wednesday 8 June 2022

Richmond upon Thames College needs to reduce the annual leave entitlement of teaching staff in order to improve the quality of the student experience by ensuring 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. This is not a cost cutting exercise but one which in fact will compensate staff fully for the reduction in annual leave and thereby increase their salary during a time of cost-of-living rises.

The College has continued to meet with UCU colleagues to seek agreement and to reach a compromise on new annual leave and pay arrangements since they declared the ongoing industrial action on the afternoon of Friday 27th May 2022. It has become apparent that agreement cannot be reached on the proposal to reduce the current 64 days per year of annual leave to a total of 56 days of leave fully compensated, which is in line with other FE Colleges, by the beginning of the new academic year. There will be full financial compensation given to cover the net loss of eight days. This will be consolidated into a new salary scale for teaching staff.

UCU continue to propose that the College withdraws the Section 188 notice and have introduced additional conditions to the agreement which are unacceptable to the College leadership team and so agreement cannot be reached. It is not possible to remove the Section 188 as the consultation process is now over. To do so would negate the entire collective consultation process to date and present legal difficulties. However, the College management did agree on 27th May 2022 to remove the option of dismissal and re-engagement if assurances could be given that an agreement had been reached. It is extremely disappointing that the UCU position presented to the College at that point showed no movement at all from the position presented throughout the consultation period, despite further considerable movement on the part of the College signalling a clear desire and intention to continue meaningful negotiation. However, it was very clear that UCU representatives at regional level would not give us the assurances that we needed to improve the quality of the student experience by ensuring that there is more time for teachers to have Inset days to develop their practice. Rather than entering meaningful negotiation, UCU representatives presented the College management team with an unreasonable ultimatum and ceased further negotiation, despite a repeated invitation by College management to continue to do so. Consultation will continue with all members of teaching staff in the hope of reaching a resolution.

We recognise and regret that the application of so-called “fire and rehire tactics” has caused a significant degree of upset among some of our colleagues and it is this that UCU identifies as standing in the way of any further negotiations. It is important to reiterate that the application of the option for dismissal and re-engagement is not a coercive tactic but is a recognised part of the procedure for changing terms and conditions, if an agreement cannot be reached. It is known and accepted practice in colleges and all other sectors for old terms and conditions to be removed and for staff to be re-engaged on new terms and conditions. The tabling of this option at the start of the process was simply by way of transparency around the possible outcome of consultations. This was never an intended, desired or declared outcome on the part of the College’s SLT, who have been clear from the outset that we are prepared to negotiate an agreement, as has been demonstrated by the significant movement we have made throughout the consultation process. It is extremely unfortunate and regrettable that the rhetoric around so-called “fire and rehire” has been used to whip up emotions and detract from the true purpose of this consultation – that is, to reach an agreement that supports improvements in the quality of our student experience without being to the detriment of our teaching staff.

Our MP, Munira Wilson, has always been a great support to the College and understands the rationale for the proposals which will support the student experience and fundamentally recognise the work that teaching staff regularly carry out during holiday times, which is currently unpaid. We acknowledge Munira’s stance on so-called ‘fire and re-hire' and we have been clear from the outset, and have reiterated again, that the option to terminate old contracts and re-engage teaching staff on new terms and conditions would be a final, worst-case scenario which we had hoped to avoid through full, professional and genuine negotiation with UCU representatives. Sadly, UCU have not approached the negotiations in this spirit and in our view have let down their members.

The Senior Leadership Team have explored with sector and HR professionals all options available to them before entering consultation with staff and union colleagues. Serious consideration has been given by the Senior Leadership Team on the union response and we feel that the College position is a very fair and appropriate offer that respects the wishes for the significant number of staff that have already signed to agree the new contract. The option to remove the dismissal and re-engagement process was considered without reaching agreement as to be too great a risk for the College. This would result in different contracts being in place for teaching staff and therefore there would be a lack of consistency for our students and the opportunity for staff to develop their pedagogy and collaboration.

At no point during the 45-day consultation period and the 18-day extension given by the College have UCU entered any reasonable negotiations with the College and this position still stands. We reject their latest inflammatory and inaccurate press statement.

The management and staff at Richmond upon Thames College, who have continued to support students throughout this critical exam period while this industrial action has taken place, will not be intimidated by tactics that seek to coerce by means of threat of further disruption to our students’ learning and assessment experience. There is still time for UCU to return to the table to find an appropriate way forward and the College urges UCU representatives to reconsider their own abrupt conclusion to the most recent negotiation meeting and make every professional effort to support the College in finding a solution that allows us to achieve the best outcome for our students and staff.

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