Transformation & Change consultation: UNISON response

19 July 2020

Submitted to the SOAS Transformation and Change restructuring consultation (19/07/2020)

Consultation process

  • UNISON considers the School to have substantially failed to meet its obligations under the Management of Reorganisation and Change policy during the Transformation and Change consultation process. Proposed staff structures and outline role descriptions for the restructuring were not – as formally required – published to affected staff and campus unions in advance of the 30-day consultation period. This information was not released to affected directorates until just 10 days before the end of the process. Some teams, such as Campus Services, did not receive documentation until the closing days of the consultation.
  • The minimal role descriptors released with organograms, in many cases comprising only a few bullet points, are inadequate to inform staff about likely changes to roles in their areas of work.
  • UNISON considers the lack of information a breach of the duty of care the School has to its employees during a period of change. Our members were given less than 10 days to reflect and provide feedback on proposals for major staffing changes and to make often life-changing decisions about their own futures, such as taking voluntary severance or reductions in hours.
  • UNISON believes that the School’s approach to this consultation process will likely only lead to poor decision-making. Our members are the experts in what they do and are best placed to offer insight into the consequences of proposed changes. Their consultation responses, due to the timetable, will have been rushed and less than comprehensive. At the same time, the failure to share detailed staffing proposals for some directorates with the wider School community will have meant key users of professional services – our students and academic colleagues – have been unable to provide informed feedback on the plans as they relate to the student experience, teaching and research support.
  • UNISON does not consider that the all-staff consultation meetings offered appropriate opportunities for colleagues to ask detailed questions. In many cases, the time was taken up by senior colleagues presenting information, whilst the majority of staff were limited to text-only contributions in the chat function.
  • UNISON notes that Professional Services staff and campus unions have yet to be able to interrogate the proposals for reductions in central costs and other non-staff costs.
  • UNISON notes the lack of clear rationale and inability to justify the proposed structure beyond cost-savings. Since the OfS will need to be convinced that SOAS will have an infrastructure in place to support its statutory obligations, these proposals undermine and pose a risk to SOAS’ condition of registration.

Contractual working hours

  • UNISON is 100% clear. Our branch (as the recognised trade union) will not agree to a collective agreement with the School to raise the standard Professional Services contractual working week from 35 to 37.5 hours. This proposed change would not mitigate against compulsory redundancies in the coming months. Indeed, it would actively mean that more of our members might be placed at greater risk in front-line roles in places like Campus Services, Student Hub, and the Library, where shifts and service desk duty might be covered with fewer staff.
  • UNISON’s national policy is to harmonise at a 35-hr week across HE. At no other London HEI do all PS staff work a 37.5 hour contracted week. We view the School’s proposal on the working week as effectively a proposal for a 7.14% pay cut for every member of PS staff. For staff contracted overtime, this represents a material pay cut.
  • In light of this, UNISON asks – does the School intend to dismiss every member of Professional Services staff, only to rehire them all under worse contractual terms and conditions? Our branch would view such a move – a so-called “fire and rehire” approach – as an outright attack on our members’ working conditions.

Voluntary reductions in hours

  • UNISON considers that the School has been less than upfront with staff about the voluntary reduced hours scheme. The offer of reductions to 30 hours (0.86 FTE) across 4 days or 22.5 hours (0.64 FTE) across 3 days clearly preempts the School’s attempt to transfer professional services staff to new 37.5 hr contracts, although this has not been explicitly stated. Our members deserve greater honesty from the School.
  • UNISON members have stepped forward to apply for voluntary reductions in working hours – often risking personal hardship in the process – in the hope of helping the institution and protecting the jobs of their coworkers. Yet our members have not seen equivalent signs of solidarity from those above us in School senior management positions. In contrast, LSE, King’s, Imperial, Edinburgh, Bristol, and Manchester Vice-Chancellors and senior management teams have all taken pay cuts of up to 30%. To many of our members it does not seem that those with the broadest shoulders in our community are willing to take the heaviest load.
  • UNISON notes that, where staff have applied for reductions in hours, but risk subsequently moving to posts at a lower grade, the School has provided no guarantee that they will be able to return to full-time hours.

Voluntary Severance (VS)

  • UNISON is dismayed by the School’s approach to Voluntary Severance. The VS terms will not have been sufficiently attractive to encourage significant numbers of  staff to apply and thus to substantially mitigate against the possibility of compulsory redundancies. Remarkably, the School initially offered a scheme that for a significant number of longer-serving staff was financially less attractive than any potential statutory payment would be under compulsory redundancy.
  • UNISON had significant concerns about the timing of the VS application deadline – only one working day after the closure of the consultation period. Unlike the OPS restructuring, this has meant that staff have not been able to see final proposed staffing structures before being forced to decide whether to apply for VS. This has caused significant distress among our members who are faced with making important life decisions with only a draft proposed structure in front of them.

Salary protection

  • UNISON would have expected the School to offer pay protection for staff who would move to a lower grade during the restructuring process, if a genuine attempt was being made to avoid making compulsory redundancies. UNISON notes that no information has been circulated about continued pay protection for staff currently experiencing 2-year OPS salary protection.

Continued top-heavy structure

  • Despite the reduction in directorates overall, UNISON considers that the proposed structure continues to be unbalanced towards senior management positions, with new G8 and G9 posts created, and reductions in front-line roles at G7 and below.

One Professional Service restructuring

  • UNISON notes that the OPS process left many Professional Services staff with unmanageable workloads. It is obvious that the cuts proposed under Transformation and Change will only serve to further exacerbate this widespread problem.
  • The OPS restructuring left many Professional Services teams understaffed with key duties and areas of responsibility omitted from revised job descriptions. This further restructuring will likely aggravate this issue across SOAS.
  • UNISON considers that some of the key findings of the School’s Lessons Learned from OPS report have been disregarded during this restructure. This stated that the 2019 OPS restructuring “did not sufficiently consider the human side of change and the well-being of staff” (p.6), that morale was low and anxiety high, and that there was a lack of transparency about decision-making processes. Instead of addressing these important issues, the School’s actions during Transformation and Change have compounded all these problems.
  • The OPS restructure and resultant job losses have led to a huge loss of institutional knowledge. As a result, staff across Professional Services have found it increasingly difficult to get timely responses to queries, and staff who took on new roles have been put in positions where it has taken them longer to learn their new duties than should have been the case.

Equalities, dignity and respect

  • UNISON notes that, although an Equalities Impact Assessment (EIA) has been conducted, the figures in the EIA are potentially misleading in the way they are summarised as FTE. As a result, part-time staff, who are more likely to be women and/or BAME, are potentially made less visible. UNISON requests for the data to be broken down by individual members of staff (regardless of FTE hours) to show the true numbers affected, and reveal any bias or disproportionate impact.
  • UNISON is concerned that the Transformation and Change proposal undermines various initiatives and projects that had been gradually moving in the direction of addressing discrimination, and creating new kinds of support for students and staff, such as work to redress the sex- and gender-based violence (SGBV) policy at SOAS.
  • UNISON notes the lack of parity in the Transformation and Change process for staff due to be affected in Phase 3. The School has made no guarantee that these staff will be offered the opportunity to apply for VS when these changes take place, or whether another consultation period will ensue.
  • UNISON believes staff who have been employed at SOAS for less than two years are being unfairly treated since they are not eligible for VS.
  • Across Professional Services as a whole Staff on Grade 3 are being disproportionately impacted, with a likelihood of 30+ job losses. UNISON asks how this can be justified with the levels of staffing at Grades 10 and 9 being proposed?

Direct impact on students

  • UNISON notes the proposed 127.5 FTE reduction in the Professional Services staffing – nearly one in four of all PS staff. This level of cuts would leave many areas of the School’s operations dysfunctional and significantly diminish the student experience.
  • SOAS management puts out a constant message about improving the student experience. Many of the proposed changes will have clearly negative impacts upon how SOAS students navigate a huge variety of their daily interactions with the School. For example:
    • Huge staff reductions in student-facing roles in new Student and Academic Support Directorate (e.g., 12.5 FTE DSOs reduced to 6.0 FTE)
    • Moving of Student Advice and Wellbeing into new People Services Directorate
    • 40% reduction in FTE number of Subject/Regional Librarians
    • 40% reduction in FTE number of learning design & technology staff
    • Closure of the SOAS refectory and student-focused catering services.
  • The impact on students of the above could bring about frustration, disengagement, lack of attendance and withdrawal from studies. For example:
    • Students need a DSO officer to engage with, even if the advice is in the form of signposting; some students are more comfortable speaking to the DSO, rather than an academic, while others struggle to get Wellbeing appointments
    • Students need a guarantee that the level of staffing in the Subject/Regional Librarian team is maintained to ensure that they all get introductory library sessions; sessions providing guidance on finding information for their niche ISP & dissertation subjects; and 1-to-1 sessions providing help on specific issues
    • There are very real concerns around having a People Services Directorate where Wellbeing staff, already stretched, will be expected to support HR services. This service will be moved away from other student-facing colleagues, which will reduce the joined-up approach essential to supporting troubled students. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion functions need to be implemented in a way that is able to hold the School to account where necessary, and also provide a neutral space where individuals can seek advice in confidence. There is a risk that these important aspects of these services will be lost if EDI is moved to an operational unit alongside HR.

Phase 3: Outsourcing and privatisation

  • UNISON will oppose any attempt to outsource Professional Services teams to shared services with other HEIs or private providers.
  • Our members have not been provided with sufficient information about these proposals to date – especially as the School has admitted to the campus unions that options under consideration include transfers to private providers and the privatisation of services.
  • UNISON does not consider that there would be any form of mandate for such a change following this Transformation and Change consultation. Any future proposals for shared services must be subject to a further properly constituted change management process.

Covid-19: The effects of the pandemic

  • UNISON believes the Transformation and Change proposal does not account for increased workload as a result of COVID-19, specifically:
    • Increased demand on Security and Cleaning staff. Owing to the pandemic, more security officers will be needed to maintain social distancing, secure SOAS buildings, and maintain a safe environment for students, staff and visitors. In addition, more cleaners will be required to disinfect areas more regularly and replace hygiene products more frequently. Instead, the School proposes that 20+ cleaning posts be cut along with an unknown number of security posts.
    • Increased support for online learning and resources. CILT teams, including Learning Design and Technology, Academic Development and Widening Participation, have successfully developed, delivered and supported a School-wide move to online learning resulting from campus closure due to the pandemic. This support is expected to continue and indeed grow. There is also an increased demand for library resources to be made available for students now studying online. It is clear that online learning must be well resourced as we mitigate the medium- and long-term impacts of COVID-19.
    • Increased workload for Department Officers due to the August resubmission period which was extended to all finalists (UG/PGT), which will also affect the Registry team and academics; and a November exam board for UG students while managing students online.