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Richmond upon Thames College urges UCU members to reach agreement on holiday arrangements

Tuesday 28 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. 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 8 days. This will be consolidated into a new salary scale for teaching staff.

We value greatly the work and professionalism of our teachers, as well as their dedication and commitment to our students, and we want to be entirely fair to them. The offer of full financial compensation for the loss of 8 days of annual leave, which has been proposed as a means of improving the student experience, recognises the loyalty of our teachers to both the College and the students and communities we serve.

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, 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. As a result, many of our teaching staff have now signed the new contract as they see the terms and conditions as both fair and favourable. However, by remaining entrenched and refusing to reach an agreement, UCU have now forced the College into a position where that formal process is now in train for members who have apparently been directed by UCU not to sign the new contract at this stage.

The College has continued to seek a negotiated agreement with UCU and, to that end, has demonstrated flexibility and willingness to compromise throughout the consultation process. The College has made considerable movement on its initial proposal and it is regrettable that our most recent offer has been met with outright refusal to compromise on the part of UCU. Instead, UCU have notified the College of their intention to carry out strike action on 14 further days in August and September.

These dates are clearly and cynically targeted at disrupting the enrolment process and start of teaching for new students joining the College in 2022/23, as well as prolonging the disruption to the learning experience for continuing students who have been impacted by the strike action carried out to date. The College urges UCU to reconsider this unacceptable tactic, which risks seriously undermining the quality of education for the community of students that we all serve, and return to the negotiating table. The College has made a fair and favourable proposal and yet UCU continues to reject this proposal on the basis of what the College can only identify as a point of principle. If UCU does indeed, as professed, have a genuine desire to reach an acceptable agreement for its members, end the dispute and protect the interests of our students, then the College again urges them to reconsider this fair and reasonable offer.

We are aware that the ongoing dispute with UCU might reasonably give rise to concerns for prospective students and their parents/carers, as well as those already with us and continuing into 2022/23. Please be reassured that the College remains committed to providing all of our students with the best possible learning experience and opportunities to achieve, and we have already put in place strong and effective contingency plans to ensure that any disruption from further industrial action is minimised and our students’ learning experience is fully protected. The management and staff at Richmond upon Thames College will not be intimidated by tactics that seek to coerce by means of threat of further disruption to our students’ learning and assessment experience.

We reject UCU’s latest inflammatory and inaccurate press statement. There is still time for the union to return to the table to find an appropriate way forward and the College urges UCU representatives to do so.

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