From Martin Atkinson, Director of HR and Organisational Development
As you know, members of the University and College Union (UCU) at Kent will be taking industrial action in the form of a national strike next week from Wednesday 1 to Friday 3 December, along with a period of Action Short of a Strike (ASOS). While these are national disputes, the issues involved are important – we take them very seriously at Kent and recognise the strength of feeling among some of our staff around them.
With that in mind, I wanted to update you all on what we are doing to address the different concerns being raised – those who are available can also come to a Staff Webchat tomorrow (Thursday 25 November) from 13.00-1400 where you can ask any questions you may have about this directly; I appreciate this is very short notice so the recording of this will also be shared afterwards.
The dispute over pensions is long-running and extremely regrettable. Proposed changes to the scheme are currently being consulted on, and we have had an ongoing, constructive dialogue with UCU and staff representatives on it over a number of months. At its heart, disagreement nationally is over the valuation of the USS pension scheme and changes to benefits deemed necessary to address its current deficit. Given the very real risk of unaffordable rises in both employer and employee contributions if agreement isn’t reached, our view is that the proposal put forward by Universities UK currently under consultation is the least worst option available at this time, but we are also calling for a review of the scheme’s wider governance to be carried out without delay and ahead of the next valuation – there is more information on this on our USS Pension Staff Webpages.
Pay and Conditions
There is no denying that recent months have been challenging for our community and I know I speak for all of us on the Executive Group when I say we are determined to put this right. While there is always more to do, there are also areas where we have real progress to build on:
- In the absence of a national agreement with trade unions on pay, in August along with the rest of the sector, we implemented pay increases of between 1.5% and 3.6% to make sure our staff are fairly rewarded within our current financial constraints. In addition, last year we reviewed our Reward Strategy to ensure competitiveness, consistency and transparency in our pay policies.
- We have done a great deal of work since 2018 to reduce the inappropriate use of timesheet contracts across the University, including introducing new contract types, removing zero hours contracts for teaching staff and agreeing principles with UCU regarding the future use of hourly-paid lecturers. We can, and do, actively deal with exceptions to this when we are made aware of them.
- We are also fully committed to addressing equality-related pay gaps and have made real progress towards closing the gender pay gap – over the last three years our mean gender pay gap in favour of male colleagues has reduced from 17.9% to 14.3% and the median gap from 13.7% to 8.2%. We will shortly start work with our staff and trade union representatives on our next Equal Pay Audit to help us identify and address the pay gaps across gender, ethnicity and disability.
Workload remains a serious issue, not helped by national staff recruitment challenges since the pandemic. We are, however, taking practical steps to ease the pressure on staff: our new KentVision project manager is working closely with key stakeholders to address the most pressing issues with the system; this will take time and I can only reiterate our apology for the significant impact the initial rollout of this has had on staff. Elsewhere, we will shortly share a staff survey put together with our Wellbeing Working Group to help us identify and then address specific areas where workload is impacting on our mental health.
There is still plenty of work to do, but I’m confident that our plans will make real improvements to life at work for all our staff over the coming months and we will continue to engage constructively with UCU and with all of our trade union and staff representatives on these issues. As I have said before, while our opinions can differ, all of us want the best for Kent and I hope we can continue to harness this shared determination in the weeks and months ahead.
I hope to see as many as possible at Thursday’s webchat, and in the meantime do read through our Industrial Action Staff Webpages for more information on the background to the current dispute. If you are a UCU member and intend to participate in the strike action and/or the ASOS, please read the University industrial action pay policy and FAQs beforehand.
Recording of webchat
If you missed Thursday’s webchat on Industrial Action you can listen to the session’s recording.
Martin Atkinson | Director of HR and Organisational Development