Monday, 21 March 2011

I've been putting this off...

I've been putting this off... out of fear maybe but I should not live in fear of being sacked so here goes. My employer is making redundancies; a lot of them. Somewhere between 150 and 200 jobs are to go. I do not work at a local council however, I work at one of the most successful FE colleges in the UK. My employer provides a very high quality of education to students, lecturers are talented and committed; teaching is rated outstanding by OFSTED. Financially the College is in good shape; year on year a surplus is made so you may find it strange that jobs are under threat. The College, like many organisations will find that it's funding from government will be cut, the size of those cuts is not yet known so the College could be accused of cutting too far, too fast and rushing into making almost 20% of teaching staff redundant. The thing I find most alarming about the situation is that college management seem to have adopted a 1980's attitude to negotiation with Trade Union officials, meaning that they won't negotiate at all and do appear to be very anti-Trade Union.

The story so far; I will try to be succinct.

The management of the college announced the redundancies - middle managers then gave a prepared statement and presentation to staff about possible future cuts in government funding. The government should not be blameless in this, they are cutting funding to FE colleges, these are the very institutions needed to re-train the workforce who are being made unemployed by Osborne, Pickles and co.

Union officials met with the Chief Executive of the college and some senior managers. The Union offered to work with management to mitigate the effect of the cuts provided that the notice of redundancies was withdrawn. This offer was refused. The Union also stated that staff can not work effectively with the threat of redundancies hanging over them. The reply was "we accept your view but it is not one that we share" The union asked for financial evidence to back up claims that the redundancies were necessary and were given no figures in the meeting but were told that accounts were publicly available. After this meeting the Union then announced that they were in dispute with management.

The Union then did some research into College finances, using published accounts and found the following; (To avoid confusion it is important to understand at this point that the college itself will be referred to as 'College' this is different from 'The Group' which is a national enterprise including colleges outside the region and a work based learning provider which operates out of many different offices across the UK).  The College made a surplus of over £10M. The Group made a surplus of only £6M this means that the parts of the Group outside of the region made a loss in the region of £4M and that loss was taken from money that could have been re-invested in the region. The rather dark irony of the situation is that the estimated cut in government funding is also around £4M. We don't know what the actual cut will be and we also don't know how many students we will have next year but still management rushes ahead with redundancies. These seem like vast amounts of money but when you consider that 'The Group' turnover is in excess of  £150M the cut is (relatively) small and should not result in a 20% reduction in numbers of teaching staff.

The next thing that the Union uncovered in the published accounts was the Chief Executives pay scandal. A 'Golden Handcuffs' pay rise of over 30% was given to the Chief Exec. taking the pay packet for the last financial year to over a quarter of a million pounds - about double what the Prime Minister earns. To put this into perspective the Chief Execs pay increase was equivalent to the annual salary of two experienced lecturers. I agree that, as is the case in football, the very best individuls are paid very well but it is the timing of the pay increase that causes anger. The college is also pushing ahead with costly new builds, these may be necessary but again, the timing couldn't be worse. The latest news, is that the Union was ordered by management to cancel Union meetings, because permission to meet was not sought in advance.

I could go on but I think I have made my point. When I got involved with the Trade Union movement I hoped to work with managers and decision-makers to make changes that would benefit both staff and the College as a whole. I had hoped that management styles have moved on from a time when the workers had to unite in the the face of repression. I also hoped that in the 21st Century, we had reached a point where the adversarial approach had been left behind and that managers would welcome a more collaborative method of settling disputes. Evidently this is not the case. We are still fighting for our livelihoods.


joanne Carr said...

The case is very well put, however, today's announcements about Super Technical Colleges that would become F&HE could give some fillip to the arguments on both sides that could bring an accord, the College is rightly well placed to support great technical skill development alongside the universities, Science City will not be lost in your department, time to pounce and bring the talents of Building Services and Engineering to bear. Step up to the mark with positive input to save some jobs in this challenging world. Don't be fearful - you never were.

joanne Carr said...

hope the picket went well, lots of lecturers in the BACCUS at lunchtime.