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’.

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.