Today, 22nd March 2019, Paula Sanderson and Prof Stephen Hopgood sent a student-wide email titled “One Professional Service - improving services to students”. It declares that there is “highly misleading information [being] sent around about the processes we are going through which may be causing unfounded concern for our students”. They state that their email is about “set[ting] out the correct position”. We believe this has been sent in response to massive student mobilisation, an Emergency Union General Meeting motion signed by 120+ members of the Students’ Union, and an occupation of management corridors earlier today in solidarity with 98% of UNISON members voting to strike. We believe that their email itself contains misleading information, and that Senior Management have no place articulating “the correct position” - as if there is a single story, and as if they are the ones to tell it. We do not claim to have all the answers, but we would like to take the opportunity here to respond to this email point-by-point.
We would like to encourage you to come and talk to us about the OPS Restructuring and any concerns or questions you have about this process. In addition, emailing or talking to your Heads of Departments about your concerns allows them to have a better understanding of the student body’s opinion on the matter, rather than assuming what the ‘student experience’ should look like. They have the power to act, and the respect from Senior Management to be heard. If you need help drafting an email please contact us in the SU. All this info and more, can be found on our website here.
→ KEY POINTS:
No proposals for staff redundancies: There is a difference between having “no plans to make compulsory redundancies” (which the Registrar had to agree to after UNISON requested a commitment on behalf of its members to no compulsory redundancies), and what are effectively redundancies. The latter has now been evidenced in two outcomes. Either: staff have sometimes been matched to jobs on a lower pay grade or with fewer hours - meaning they may not be able to survive on their new salaries, giving them no choice but to leave or, staff has simply not been matched and instead put into the ‘competitive pooling process’. In this process, staff will be made to compete for positions in a not-yet timelined recruitment process.
More posts in new structures than permanent staff: This is partly because during the last few years, SOAS has put over a hundred workers on fixed-term contracts and refused to make them permanent, extending these every six months. This structural undermining of labour contracts means that employees are not eligible for the matching process, which is something that has not been mentioned in the OPS Strategy.
200 staff already matched to posts: However, 109 permanent staff members have, to the best of the SU’s knowledge, not been matched to a role in the new structure. It is apparent, that those who have been matched in this instance often means offering people jobs at a lower pay grade for the same workload in shorter work weeks.
Clear process for staff expressing interest and being allocated to roles: This does not at all corroborate with what many professional services staff are saying in meetings, walkouts and amongst themselves. If this were the case, why would staff be walking out of their department meetings, calling for senior staff to engage and write condemning letters?
Opportunities for development and promotion for staff in new structures: If by opportunities they mean leaving staff in financial and professional limbo until they can apply for their own job again because the grading has been increased, then sure, there are ‘development and promotional opportunities to staff’.
Detailed information sent to all staff on Monday: all staff were supposed to receive personalised information about their situation on Monday at 12pm. As of Wednesday 20th March, some members of staff have still yet to receive their letters of their match, due to HR failings. Staff were, and still are, unnecessarily uncertain about their future at SOAS. It is important to note that while some members on the Executive Board (which includes Heads of Department) had originally agreed, they are now raising concerns regarding the transparency and detail of the information they received on OPS. They do not feel what they had agreed on in EB is what has actually happened and have therefore written a statement to the EB non-HODs members. Also, a few departments are looking into sending something out for their own signed by their members of staff.
Extensive support in place for staff: Staff have continually refuted this, citing examples of turning up to counselling sessions and having no one there, and meetings with Departmental senior management being cancelled or delayed.
Generous Voluntary Severance (VS) scheme in place if staff do not think this new structures is for them: As with all VS Schemes, this is not guaranteed. People can be refused VS if they have been ‘matched’, even if at a lower grade.
Staff will need to work in new ways as we improve and develop our services to students: Students and staff have long been asking Senior Management what is their actual vision. The Students’ Union requests a working explanation of the term ‘new ways’. What major changes (‘improvements’ or otherwise) can we expect to see under these ‘new ways’?
FURTHER, IN REFERENCE TO THE ‘SPECIFIC ALLEGATIONS WHICH ARE UNTRUE’ SECTION OF PAULA AND STEPHEN’S EMAIL, WE WOULD LIKE TO HIGHLIGHT OUR ISSUE WITH THE LAST POINT IN PARTICULAR:
It should be noted by students that UNISON have asked for this statement to be formally revoked, since the unions never agreed to the matching terms. Not only did UNISON not agree to the initial terms on which people were set to be matched (as they did not deem them fair to their members), they also were not informed of the updated process in which permanent staff who had been acting up for less than two years, were to be matched to their original post.
To make this easier, here is a hypothetical example: A staff member is employed on a Grade 5 position as a Deputy Departmental Manager. After working at SOAS for 3 years, their Grade 6 Departmental Manager leaves. SOAS is not currently hiring people into new permanent positions as a result of the imminent restructure (see point 2), so the Deputy Departmental Manager is asked to step up and fill the interim position. With this they are given either a pay rise to Grade 6, or an ‘additional responsibility allowance’ to ensure they are being paid for their work. However, this was only 18 months ago, and the person was asked to act-up to fill the position without a formal set of interviews or recruitment process. The school are therefore now matching those individuals to a Grade 5 post as this is what they started on) - despite the Grade 6 post not being filled, or being filled by someone else who has never done the job before.
So, what is the outcome? 1) SOAS fails to treat its staff with respect. 2) We are likely to lose experienced staff members, as they refuse (or do not have the capacity) to accept a pay cut. 3) The service to students worsens.
Again, if you would like more information about the OPS Restructuring, please come and talk to us in the SU Office or email us. We will be holding frequent open meetings to discuss ongoing actions to oppose the disrespectful and inaccessible OPS restructuring.
We have just passed the Emergency UGM motion to affirm our solidarity with the trade unions on the OPS restructuring. As a Union, we stand united with the staff (not management) of SOAS. Minutes and details will be released here early next week.
Love & Solidarity,
Hau-Yu, Soph & Youssra xxxxx
This is the original email from the School we sent the above in response to.
One Professional Service - improving services to students
General SOAS Announcements
22 Mar 2019, 12:37 (7 days ago)
To: All students
From: Paula Sanderson, Registrar and Secretary, and Professor Stephen Hopgood,
One Professional Service - improving services to students
There should be no cause for our students' experience to be disrupted as we make these changes - and for the coming academic year we should be able to build and deliver improved services to our students.
Registrar and Secretary
Professor Stephen Hopgood
Specific allegations which are untrue
We are not merging the widening participation team with other teams. There has been no proposal to change the roles or structures of the WP team. Now that our Deputy COO (Ian Pickup) has left on promtion to another university, for the coming period the line management will report into another director while we consult on the best location. The suggestion we are altering the role and purpose of WP is untrue.
All 308 staff who had been through matching received letters by email informing them of their outcomes on Monday 18 March. All professional services staff then received detailed information about the new structures, consultation feedback and job descriptions on the same day once letters had been issued. The suggestion staff have not received information is untrue.
There is a clear and well described process for staff expressing interest in the many roles in the new structures and being considered for and appointed to these roles. The suggestion that somehow staff not initially matched have no prospects of posts in the new structure in simply untrue.
There is a reduction in the overall FTE number of posts comparing old and new structures - since we need to reduce the costs of the OPS - but this does not mean that 30 staff face redundancy. There are more posts in the new structure than staff on permanent or fixed-term posts of more than 2 years. Many posts in the current structure are filled with temporary staff, agency staff or in some cases are currently vacant. The suggestion we are proposing redundancy of staff is untrue.
Staff have not been treated differently and in a discriminatory way in the matching process. We have followed a clear and agreed process which has been applied to all staff equally.
I updated all students on Tuesday in the student bulletin on our professional services developments and improvements being made to the services we provide to students.
I am concerned that since then some highly misleading information has been sent around about the processes we are going through which may be causing unfounded concern for our students and I want to set out the correct position.
There are no proposals for redundancies in the changes we are making. We have 449 posts in the new structures. There are 308 staff on permanent contracts or on fixed-term contracts of more than 2 years. All of these staff are either matched to roles, or have the immediate opportunity in the coming weeks of expressing interest in specific posts and being allocated to roles.
We also have 138 staff on fixed-term contracts of less than 2 years. They will apply for roles as we open up posts to internal recruitment in the period ahead. We aim do this as quickly as we can. Our objective is to retain and to developthe very best people.
In some cases, we are indeed asking people to take on new roles that better meet the needs of a modern university. That’s essential, since the higher education sector is changing and we need to keep pace if SOAS is to thrive into the future. There will be more opportunities for staff to develop their careers in these new structures - since we have better structured teams and roles being put in place.
I genuinely appreciate how difficult and uncertain this period is for staff. It’s a process that is necessary for the future of the institution and one that we aim to have concluded by 31st May 2019.
We are following agreed processes for appointing staff to posts that are transparent and equitable, and so that all staff who have the right skills, experience and qualifying service are treated in the same way.
In all of this, we are following the established policy for managing change at SOAS, which involves consultation with the trades unions and with staff.
We have also put extensive support in place for staff - through meetings, 1:1 discussions, counselling sessions with independent counsellors, training and advice from HR. This has been the case throughout the process of change.
We have also put in place a generous voluntary severance scheme - if staff do not feel that they wish to take up opportunities in the new structures. Some staff have already expressed interest in this, and there remains time for staff to apply for this option should they wish.
We do understand it's hard to make changes after a long period where structures and systems have not been changed in a comprehensive and systematic way. But we are doing all that we can to take this process forward in a fair, clear and well-supported way.