Ballot for Industrial Action – ICT Restructure

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.

Dispute About ICT Restructure – Consultative Ballot

Imperial UCU members, your action is needed – check your inbox for an email from the UCU (yoursay@ucu.org.uk) titled UCU consultative ballot on redundancies for your unique link to cast your vote in the consultative ballot.

What we are asking of you

We are carrying out a consultative ballot among all members of Imperial UCU to ask if you are prepared to support and participate in strike action, and action short of strike action, to stop compulsory redundancies in the college’s ICT department.

This is not a formal strike ballot. Please also note that any decision as to the nature and extent of industrial action can only be taken following a ‘Yes’ vote in such a formal ballot.

The current situation

Imperial UCU has formally declared a dispute over the college’s intention to impose a restructure in the ICT department.

The restructure aims to cut costs by reducing staff numbers by 30 per cent and forcing individuals to reapply for new job roles at reduced salaries. Unless these plans are abandoned, a badly needed college service will be severely damaged, with many of its staff sacked while others endure pay cuts.

College management have refused throughout this process to engage in any meaningful consultation with either the staff concerned or the relevant trade unions. The outcome of the ‘consultation’ has been wholly pre-determined.

What we have done

We have already done everything in our power to prevent these cuts. This includes an open letter signed by over 1300 college staff and legal action over serious breaches of the relevant legislation. We have shown that the plans lack any basis in evidence and cannot meet their declared goal of improving the service. Several all-staff ICT meetings led to a report detailing how extensively these cuts will negatively impact on the college’s work. All this has led to large numbers of ICT staff joining the UCU, but only very limited changes to the restructure.

The consultation will close on Wednesday 12 August. Thanks for your participation.

Why you should vote ‘YES’

These plans are being imposed in an especially demanding period, when the college is moving rapidly to online teaching and learning, and when staff and students alike are especially dependent on a well-resourced ICT department.

The ‘White Paper’ outlining the restructure states clearly that the aim is to cut costs by almost £3 million – the first step in college plans to impose a total of £30 million in savings over 5 years. The outcome of this dispute will have a decisive influence on these plans.

We therefore ask that, in this consultation, you VOTE YES to strike action and VOTE YES to action short of strike action to stop the ICT restructure and stop compulsory redundancies among ICT staff.

Vote ‘YES’ in the consultative ballot

Imperial UCU branch officers recommend that you vote YES to strike action and YES to action short of strike action against compulsory redundancies in the ICT department.

10 Reasons to Vote ‘YES’

  1. There is no evidence to support claims that Imperial ICT is over-resourced and badly regarded.
  2. The plans are primarily a cost-cutting exercise which are hugely detrimental to teaching & research.
  3. The College ‘White Paper’ outlining the plans was not based on consultation with academic departments or the expertise of ICT staff.
  4. Consultation outcomes were predetermined from the outset, eg in relation to selection pools and job evaluation procedures – making meaningful negotiations impossible.
  5. Staff losses and downgradings will have a severely detrimental impact on the ICT service, with the loss of invaluable experience adding to the workload of a smaller workforce which faces a future with a greater emphasis on remote / multimodal service delivery.
  6. Like many other universities, Imperial is rapidly moving large parts of teaching online – a huge undertaking which will require more not less ICT staff.
  7. The claims in the ‘White Paper’ are based on misleading assertions. They treat ICT provision at Imperial as a corporate system. They misrepresent the relative costs of ICT at Imperial compared to peers quoted as comparators. Imperial is the only STEM university among these peers, all of which have a much higher student to staff ratio.
  8. The ‘White Paper’ contains no estimate for the cost of the restructure and no explanation of how or if ICT costs would subsequently fall.
  9. The ‘White Paper’ states that the £2.7 million cuts to ICT are based on a College decision to “increase its operating cashflow by £30m within five years”. The likelihood of further cuts will therefore in large part be determined by the outcome of this dispute.
  10. Like other University employers, Imperial is pushing through cost saving measures without any meaningful consultation with staff and unions. These plans signal an intention to make further attacks on staff jobs if there is a shortfall in student fees in the next academic year.

We need to fight to protect staff jobs and working conditions and to oppose the corporate agenda of the College management.

We believe that Imperial should invest in the future and retain rather than lose staff who in many cases have served Imperial College for decades and until very recently considered ‘key workers’.

Open Letter in Response to ICT Restructuring at Imperial

The ICT department at Imperial provides essential core services to the entire college, but it is currently under threat of restructuring which carries a risk of around 75 staff redundancies with over 156 staff to be impacted in some way.

We are inviting staff to sign an open letter expressing their concern at this proposed restructuring. The letter references a White Paper outlining the proposal, which can be viewed online (only available to those with Imperial accounts).

A list of the signatories can be viewed here (only available to those with Imperial accounts). Note that there will be a delay between signing the letter and your name appearing on the list of signatures, be assured that all names are being recorded.

Open Letter

Below is the text of the open letter that all staff at Imperial are being invited to sign. You will need to sign in with your Imperial account in order to do so.

As a member of staff at Imperial College London I would like to express my deep concern about the planned restructuring of our ICT service. The current plan has been developed without any proper consultation on what I need for either teaching, research or to support these activities, jeopardising the ICT service I rely on at one of the most critical times for the College.

The White Paper outlining the restructure of ICT states that “overall 156 staff will be directly impacted”, that many “will need to compete for roles” and “approximately 75 staff will be at risk of redundancy”. The evidence suggests this restructuring is primarily a cost-saving exercise. It is also being rushed through in breach of the College’s own official procedures on restructuring. These specify that only after consultation has been completed can a decision be made on whether to proceed. Instead, HR immediately placed all members of ICT in separate risk groups, with recruitment to new roles scheduled to start before the consultation will be finished. This deliberately stifles any meaningful consultation with the threatened staff, the broader College community and the trade unions that represent them.

My concerns extend beyond the conduct of this restructuring at a time when many staff are already feeling especially vulnerable. These cuts put at risk crucial teaching and support activities at a time when the College is rapidly moving student learning online. The immense challenges involved have already led to more, not less, demands on our ICT staff. As a research-intensive university, Imperial relies heavily on the quality of its ICT service, not least for its role in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

These plans amount to a reckless approach that is destabilising a vital College resource. The current restructuring is undermining staff who have dedicated themselves to ensuring the College has continued to function under the most difficult of circumstances. I request that the current restructuring is halted, and a plan developed for ICT that properly takes account of what College requires to deliver its academic mission in these challenging times.

Imperial staff can click here to sign the letter.

Letter to Provost Ian Walmsley

Dear Ian,

Just over a month ago, 27/1/20, you wrote to all staff:

“This year’s pay and benefit consultation will be informed by the new Pay and Employment Benchmarking Report (from a working group led by Professor Nigel Brandon, Dean of Engineering). This compares salaries and benefits from comparable institutions in the US and Europe. The report will be reviewed by Provost’s Board this week, and a decision made on implementing its recommendations. Our aspiration is to be competitive in our compensation, recognizing the different environments in which we and our competitors operate. The report and the outcomes of the Board’s deliberation on alignment of pay to comparator benchmarks will be shared with you.”

In February’s FoE MC Summary, sent to EEE staff on 4/3/20 we were told:

“Audrey Fraser, Head of Reward, Engagement and Policy in Human Resources joined the FMC to provide an update on the pay and benefits benchmarking data generated by UCEA. The benchmarking now enabled comparisons of academic pay and benefits with leading London universities in STEM subjects, Russell Group universities, and selected US and European institutions. The data will be discussed at the March meeting of Provost’s Board, with the intention that this robust emerging data set will be used every 1-2 years to inform the approach to pay and benefits at Imperial. Members noted that the costs of living in/near London are also a significant factor for staff and a review of housing support is also going to be carried out over the coming year.”

 

The Pay and Employment Benchmarking Report was one of management’s responses to the 2018 industrial action. It is disappointing that consideration of this report by the Provost Board was delayed from January to March, especially as you were informed on 27/1/20 that members at Imperial UCU had voted for industrial action on pay. To postpone consideration by senior management of the pay information that might help them better understand the vote for action is difficult to understand. Certainly it meant that the Provost Board could not use that information to reassess the basis of our claim and consider if the strike could be averted in a timely manner.

Staff are very reluctant to take industrial action. In fact the current strike is the first on pay since Imperial left national negotiations in 2005. Richard Sykes, the Rector at the time, said a local settlement was necessary to give staff at Imperial the pay they deserved. But since Sykes left in 2008, pay levels at Imperial have fallen by 12.2% in real terms. That figure represents the subsequent drop in the value of the annual settlement at Imperial with respect to the local measure of inflation, CPIH London, as supplied by College to inform our local pay negotiations. College might be reluctant to use CPIH London, but it is the measure that best reflects the pressures staff at Imperial face.

In your latest response to us, below, you seek to assure us that our views will be taken into consideration. However, there is no mention of the Pay and Employment Benchmarking Report, and you state, without any justification, that national as well as local inflation should inform the pay settlement. It is difficult to feel reassured if key information is either being ignored or discounted.

Finally, regarding transparency, particularly the policy of pay in lieu of pensions, it should be noted how that policy affected pay for all staff after its implementation in 2016. Looking at ranked salaries in the period from 2015 to 2017, the College accounts show there was a very considerable uplift in the salaries enjoyed by the highest paid staff:

Such an increase was the result of a decision by senior management to compensate themselves for the change in pension taxation introduced in 2016. In the current dispute, in answer to a questionnaire from UUK, Imperial’s senior management stated they did not want to offer any compensation for the increase in USS employee contributions faced by the majority staff at Imperial.

 

All the best

Tom

_________________

W Thomas Pike

Professor in Microengineering
Optical and Semiconductor Devices
Electrical and Electronic Engineering
Imperial College London SW7 2AZ

Teach Out Events – Week Commencing 9 March

The following events will all take place from 12:15-2:00pm in the Metric Room of the Imperial Student Union, Beit Quadrangle, Prince Consort Road, SW7 2BB.

These are open events, all are welcome to attend – Imperial staff and students along with members of the general public.

Monday, 9 March

International Women’s Day – Panel Discussion on Current Challenges for Women in Higher Education with

  • Becky Stewart (Chair), Lecturer in Dyson School of Design Engineering
  • Fay Dowker, Professor of Theoretical Physics, Physics Department
  • Nousheen Tariq, Postgraduate Education Manager, Faculty of Medicine
  • Emma Toumi, Head of Intellectual Property Strategy, Enterprise Division
  • Gemma Williamson, Postgraduate Education Officer, Faculty of Medicine

Resisting the Hostile Environment with Julian Bild – Immigration solicitor, Anti Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit (ATLEU)

(link to Facebook event)

Thursday, 12 March

Viruses: Fact, Fiction … and Fear with Dr Michael McGarvey, Reader in Molecular Virology, Imperial College London

(link to Facebook event)

Friday, 13 March

No teach out, instead there will be a solidarity rally on Exhibition Road before the March for Education and Earth.

Teach Out Events – Week Commencing 2 March

The following events will all take place from 12:15-2:00pm in the Metric Room of the Imperial Student Union, Beit Quadrangle, Prince Consort Road, SW7 2BB.

These are open events, all are welcome to attend – Imperial staff and students along with members of the general public.

Monday, 2 March

The Random Universe with Andrew Jaffe, Professor of Astrophysics and Cosmology, Imperial College London

Tuesday, 3 March

Fossil Free Economy Debate with

  • Martin Blunt, Shell Professor of Reservoir Engineering, Imperial College London
  • Sheridan Few, Research Associate, Grantham Institute, Imperial College London
  • Camilla Royle, Geography Department, King’s College London

(link to Facebook event)

Wednesday, 4 March

The Politics of Mental Health with Roddy Slorach, Senior Disability Advisor, Imperial College London

Thursday, 5 March

Mars: Our Future? with Tom Pike, Professor of Microengineering, Imperial College London

(link to Facebook event)

Start of Strike Action February/March 2020

After re-balloting in the new year, the Imperial UCU Branch surpassed the legally required minimum 50% turnout and voted in favour of a mandate for strike action on two issues:

  1. Local dispute over pay with College Management;
  2. National dispute over pensions with USS.

After the 8 days of strike action before Christmas which Imperial UCU did not take part in due to not meeting the requirement of 50% of ballots returned by eligible voters, Imperial UCU is taking part in the 14 days of strike action across February and March.

Summary of Pay Dispute

Our pay settlements have fallen behind the increase in the cost of living over the last 10 years. In 2019 College Management made a pay offer that did not even begin to address this long term decline in our salaries. This pay offer was rejected by all three campus unions. The college has now imposed a settlement on all staff without the agreement of the UCU. In addition to inflation, staff pension contributions have also risen (see below) from 6.5% of salary in 2011 to 9.6% today.

Summary of Pensions Dispute

Our USS pension scheme has been under attack for nearly 10 years. By 2018 our pension contributions had already risen to 8% of our salary. Since then our contributions have been raised twice more to the current 9.6%, and in 2021 they are set to rise again to 11%. All these rises have been based on a discredited valuation of the USS Scheme, meaning we’re paying more and more for a pension which is worth less and less. The 2018 USS strike showed that the only time the employers have been prepared to listen to us is when are prepared to go on strike.

We have been hit by a real-terms pay cut AND increased pensions contributions.

The full strike dates are:

  • week one: Thursday 20 and Friday 21 February
  • week two: Monday 24, Tuesday 25 and Wednesday 26 February
  • week three: Monday 2, Tuesday 3, Wednesday 4 and Thursday 5 March
  • week four: Monday 9, Tuesday 10, Wednesday 11, Thursday 12 and Friday 13 March.