Staff at Richmond upon Thames College are striking every day this week in response to the college threatening the use of “fire and rehire” tactics to drive down staff holiday allowances.
The University and College Union said that the college issued notices to “sack every teacher at the college” as part of a plan to force them to reapply for their jobs on “worse terms and conditions” that would see a reduction in their annual leave.
However, the college has hit back, saying they are “hugely disappointed” to see strike action go ahead given that students have already experienced a large amount of disruption due to the pandemic – and have argued “fire and rehire” would only be used as a last resort.
And an MP has waded into the debate- calling for RuTC withdraw the section 188 notice (a notice an employer intends to make a number of employees redundant), to help an “amicable settlement to be reached”.
“The management team at Richmond upon Thames are effectively putting a gun to the head of its own staff. It is deplorable behaviour, and it will be met with the full force of our union,” said UCU general secretary Jo Grady.
Adam Lincoln, UCU’s regional official, said that this week’s strike shows staff will not allow management to “fire them and rehire them on worse terms”.
“Fire and rehire is a sickening tactic used by some of the UK’s worst employers and Richmond upon Thames College’s management needs to treat staff with the dignity they deserve.”
Lincoln said that the 127 teachers who now face “a battle to save their jobs” have dedicated themselves to supporting their students, not least during the pandemic.
“The fact that management are trying to slash 10 days from their holiday entitlement is a mark of shame for the entire college, and one which will prompt fury amongst students and the local community,” Lincoln added.
The dispute has arisen over the college’s proposal to reduce the current 64 days per year of annual leave (including Bank holidays and efficiency days) to what the college calls “a level in line with other FE colleges”.
UCU has claimed staff would lose 10 days of holiday – but the college has said they are proposing a “net loss” of 8 days of annual leave with full financial compensation.
RuTC in turn claimed the move will bring annual leave to a level in line with other FE colleges.
It said the final option to “dismiss and re-engage” would only be used in the “worst case scenario”.
Strike action all week
Staff will be picketing the college from 7am to 11am everyday of strike action.
UCU told FE Week that they expect over 100 members of staff to take part in the strike over the course of the week.
The college has said that UCU represents fewer than 50 per cent of the college’s teaching staff.
They added that the ballot was not unanimously in favour of strike action and the college have been made aware that many of its teachers are “equally disappointed in the union’s decision to strike”.
“Richmond upon Thames College are hugely disappointed to see strike action go ahead at this time, when students across the country have already experienced a large amount of disruption due to the pandemic,” a statement on the college’s website said.
“The college has demonstrated a consistent and genuine desire to negotiate on the overall package of benefits including pay and levels of annual leave and has confirmed the offer of 100 per cent financial compensation (consolidated) for the net reduction in annual leave.”
The statement added that this offer financially compensates and recognises the work that teaching staff regularly carry out during holiday times.
UCU and RuTC have met for negotiations – but so far, no solution to the dispute has been found.
“After a meeting with UCU on Tuesday 10 May, the employer confirmed that it would not enter further negotiations and would begin conducting 1-2-1 meetings with staff ahead of delivering dismissal notices,” UCU said in a statement.
“The employer continues to refuse to recommence negotiations to resolve the dispute.”
However, the college said it informed UCU on February 22, this year that there would be proposals to change the terms and conditions of the teaching staff contract to see if agreement could be reached and individuals could voluntarily move to the revised contract.
RuTC said it was agreed that they would move to formal consultation on March 8.
The 45-day formal consultation period was due to end on April 22, and the College extended the timeline by a further 18 days until May 10.
“Consultation came to an end on that day when the UCU response made it clear that negotiations could go no further,” the college said.
Munira Wilson, MP for Twickenham, said that she had spoken with representatives from both Richmond upon Thames College and the University and College Union to listen to their respective views on the dispute.
“Whilst I believe it is not unreasonable for RuTC to seek to renegotiate staff contracts, the fact that the college has issued a section 188 notice (which begins the consultation process to fire staff), whilst still in the process of negotiating with those affected, undermines their ability to negotiate in good faith,” she said.
“I have urged the college to withdraw the section 188 notice, as I believe this could help bring the strike to an early end and allow for an amicable settlement to be reached.”
The strikes come at a time when many students are sitting exams.
RuTC said they will be doing everything they can to minimise disruption to their students’ ongoing teaching, learning and assessment and that the impact of strike action is likely to vary for different students, depending on the union membership within different programmes.
“Some students may notice little disruption, others may experience more,” the college said.
“We are investigating a range of options to enable any lost learning to be recovered, wherever possible. The strike action will not impact on the operation of formal exams that will be taking place at RuTC during the week of the strike,” it added.