The branch is currently balloting for strike action and industrial action short of strike action. This is a postal ballot not an online ballot. You should have received the ballot by now in the post at the preferred address you’ve registered with UCU.
It is recommended that you return the ballot by 10 November to ensure it arrives on time to be counted. Use the prepaid envelope included with the ballot – you don’t even need to add a stamp.
It is a legal requirement that at least 50% of the ballots are returned for the vote to be recognised, so it is vital that you return your ballot regardless of how you vote.
What is the ICT dispute about?
On 29 May, a “White Paper” by the ICT department’s new CIO announced plans to make £2.7 million worth of savings due to “inefficiencies” in its services. These cuts will directly impact on 156 staff and will mean compulsory redundancies for many longstanding ICT members. At the same time, many others are being forced to re-apply for jobs which are often identical to those they are already doing but paid at a much lower salary.
Haven’t management consulted staff about these changes?
Management say they are consulting staff, but the process has in practice been a sham.
The plans are not based on any consultation with academic departments or ICT staff. A genuine consultation could alter the restructure plans, the pools of staff affected, the job evaluation and selection procedures, and / or the numbers and identities in each group. Instead, individual staff have already been identified and interviewed about potential redundancy or a reduction in grade. In some cases, new roles are being advertised externally – ignoring possible redeployment for those at risk.
College procedure states that decisions on whether to go ahead with restructure, or to amend or keep the current one can be made only once the consultation period ends and feedback has been considered. Instead, feedback from the trade unions has been ignored, as have questions from individual ICT staff. With all possible outcomes determined in advance, meaningful consultation has been impossible.
What’s wrong with the plans?
The ICT restructure is a cost-cutting exercise detrimental to teaching & research at a research-intensive university. Imperial has a prominent role in the computer modelling of COVID-19, but the plans do not mention COVID-19 in describing how the College will meet new challenges. As a consequence of the pandemic, Imperial has been rapidly moving huge parts of its teaching online – a process requiring more and not less ICT resources.
The claims in the “White Paper” that ICT is over resourced are based on comparisons with four other universities, showing Imperial has highest income per student or staff member. These claims treat ICT provision at Imperial as a corporate system and misrepresent its relative costs. Imperial is the only STEM university among these peers, all of which have a much higher student to staff ratio. The “White Paper” does not contains any estimate for the cost of the restructure or any explanation of how or if ICT costs would subsequently fall.
How do the ICT cuts affect me?
The White Paper states explicitly that the cuts in ICT are part of a long-term plan to “increase its operating cashflow by £30m within five years.” In other words, if these cuts are allowed to proceed, we still face further cuts of over £27 million over the next four years.
If the College succeed in sacking some staff and downgrading others as part of this cost-cutting exercise now, they will believe they can do the same in other College departments afterwards. This goes beyond the immediate adverse impact on the day-to-day functioning of the College that will result from a reduction in ICT services and staff.
Isn’t the UCU being unreasonable in resorting to strike action?
Nobody takes a decision to withdraw their labour and voluntarily lose wages lightly. Your reps have attended numerous meetings in attempts to secure meaningful negotiations while representing individual ICT members in discussions with HR. We organised an Open Letter to management, signed by over 1300 College staff. We have organised several meetings, not just of UCU members, but of all ICT staff. These led to a report by a working group explaining how the cuts would damage the ICT service as well as all College services and departments. We have taken legal action because management have been prepared to break the law in order to impose the cuts. Strikes are a weapon of last resort. We have now exhausted every other available option.
Isn’t it too late to late to ballot now?
It’s true that several ICT staff have already taken voluntary redundancy, after being told they have no role in the planned new structure and their skills are no longer required. However, we know that several such members have already been told by management that they must work their full notice period in order to pass on these same skills to new staff!
Given the complexities involved in the shift to online working, and the fact that to date no member of ICT has yet been issued with a notice of compulsory redundancy, this ballot is a key tool to maintain the pressure on management for a change of course.
Didn’t our last strike action end in failure?
The national action about pay (at other universities, part of “the 4Fights”) and USS pensions was suspended because the last series of strikes ended just before the Covid-19 lockdown began. The action did not fail but was suspended – partly because UCU members wanted to be seen as showing goodwill by working together with management to fight the pandemic. Unfortunately, this goodwill has not been reciprocated, and the outcome of these disputes has yet to be determined. Our dispute over the ICT cuts is entirely separate.
How can strike action make a difference?
Imperial is a wealthy institution with large capital and cash reserves. It is under no financial pressure to make these cuts. The widely predicted shortfall in student recruitment, and the huge fall in income this would have involved, has failed to materialise. On the contrary, many courses have been over-subscribed.
Our campaign thus far has helped to make the plans to restructure ICT both well-known and widely unpopular among College staff. We have good reason to believe we can win support for strike action to defend the jobs and conditions of our members.
The law requires that individuals have to be given 3 months’ notice of compulsory redundancy. We therefore have time to apply pressure, through strike action, to make management change their minds and stop these cuts.
When does the ballot finish and from which date might industrial action begin?
The ballot began on Monday 26 October and ends on Friday 13 November. You should have received your ballot form by Wednesday 28 October at the latest. If not received, contact UCU to order a replacement ballot paper. The last date for which you can safely post your vote is the night of Tuesday 10 November.
Every vote counts. The law requires all industrial action ballots to be conducted by post, and that at least 50 percent of all those eligible to vote do so. If this threshold is achieved, the first date on which any action can take place is Monday 7 December.