University launches voluntary measures to mitigate effects of Covid-19

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Durham University has introduced voluntary measures for staff, including pay cuts, reduced hours, voluntary severance, and early retirement, to mitigate the financial effects of Covid-19 on the University. 

The measures include a 5-20% pay cut for a minimum of three months, and a minimum 10% reduction in hours. They will form part of a university initiative to save £10 million to recover from financial losses incurred by the pandemic. 

All members of the University Executive Committee have volunteered to reduce their salaries as part of the scheme, though this has not been publicly announced by the University. 

In a town hall meeting with staff, Durham University Chief Financial Officer, Stephen Willis, revealed that the University is in the process of making an emergency budget for the 2020-21 academic year. 

Willis stated that the University is predicting a “significant reduction in international student recruitment” due to Covid-19 restrictions and the prospect of online education.

“Senior management seem to be seeking to shift the blame for any upcoming compulsory redundancies.”

Durham Casuals

The University will be aiming to protect against income loss by reducing non-staffing costs and instating a freeze on hiring non-essential staff, as well as introducing these voluntary measures. 

Durham Casuals, a group of academics who aim to “resist precarious employment practices in higher education”, raised concerns about these measures, particularly over the potential for redundancies if not enough staff volunteer to take part in the measures. 

The group told Palatinate: “senior management seem to be seeking to shift the blame for any upcoming compulsory redundancies on to workers.”

The measures come after a year in which strike action over casualisation, workload and pay was followed by an agreement between the University and Colleges Union and the University, in which the University agreed to limit its use of casual contracts.

However, Durham Casuals claimed that: “The measures present an attempt by management to reverse some of the progress made on issues of workload, casualisation and pay inequality and devaluation. Cutting staff and hours simply means greater workload for those staff members who remain, in departments that are often already understaffed. A reduction in hours, in these conditions, will likely mean less pay for the same, or more, work.

“Durham UCU branch voted on a motion to back measures to save jobs including pay caps of £100k. The 5 – 20% voluntary pay cut option currently being proposed means many senior managers would still be earning over £100k. If senior management really care about the quality of teaching and staff wellbeing let’s see them offer to reduce their salaries to £100k. In fact let’s see them reduce their salaries to £80k or lower – £80k would still leave them in the top 5% of earners nationally.”

Durham Casuals also raised concerns that these measures may be taken up disproportionately by people who are “already marginalised within the university” such as those with caring responsibilities, telling Palatinate: “These voluntary measures were released without an equality impact assessment and risk deepening existing inequalities”.

Palatinate understands that all of the recognised Trade Unions were consulted prior to the launch of these voluntary measures.

Joanne Race, Director of Human Resources & Organisation Development at Durham University, responded to questions from Palatinate over why the University was unable to carry out an equality impact assessment and concerns over workload and executive pay.

“We’ll do all we can to secure the long-run sustainability of the University.”

Joanne Race

Race said: “The initiatives launched recently to reduce staffing costs are entirely voluntary – staff may choose to apply for one, all, or none of the options, depending on their own circumstances and preferences. As such we could not have known in advance who would be applying and therefore what any impact would be. 

“We’re working closely with colleagues from our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion team and will be gathering the relevant data as applications are received. This will be shared with the relevant colleagues and/or panel members to inform decision making and to help avoid any disproportionate impact on certain staff groups.

“Those reviewing applications will also be considering the impact of any changes for an individual on the workload of the whole team, and whether these can be mitigated, before making any final decisions.

“As part of the measures available, members of staff can opt to voluntarily reduce their salary; an option which all members of the University Executive have chosen from 1 August 2020. 

“We’re planning for a range of financial scenarios for the coming year(s), ensuring we have the appropriate level and type of resource available dependent on need. We will, as always, be working with our staff, students, and Trade Union representatives to achieve this.

“There will be some difficult decisions to take in the months ahead but we’ll do all we can to secure the long-run sustainability of the University. We’re confident that we can continue to deliver our outstanding research, education and student experience and secure the ongoing success of our University.”

Image: Roger via Flickr

One thought on “University launches voluntary measures to mitigate effects of Covid-19

  • I can envisage low hanging fruit on the lowest of wages being sacrificed to satisfy the reduction of staff while the incompetent management get ‘seconded’ into roles in which they haven’t got a clue. The place needs a thorough purging of those who have been placed into positions not by competence, but by who they know. The recruitment process is rotten to the core and the chickens will inevitably come home to roost now they are exposed.


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