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Letter to Management

Supplementary communication to Management

Further to our five point Claim submitted early April, we are writing to seek clarification on several issues arising from our discussions.


1. Job protection and furlough

We understand a number of institutions have applied to the Government Job Retention Scheme in respect of fixed term teaching staff who mainly teach overseas students, i.e. where the income stream can be argued to fall outside the exclusion category of public funding.


  • Will Birkbeck be making such an application?
  • Can the college confirm the categories of staff, and the staff numbers, for which a furlough application has been or is being made?


2. Teaching and Scholarship and Fixed Term staff and the Covid 19 crisis 

In early March the College Secretary wrote to all members of staff with the re-assuring message:


‘The basis of our community is care, connection, comradeship and commitment to our mission.  We will be working hard to maintain and preserve those values, and their translation into practice, regardless of where and how we work.’ 


Since then we have been told that Teaching and Scholarship staff are ‘part of Birkbeck’s DNA’ and members of senior management have assured the union directly that there no plans for wholesale redundancies among these staff groups.  


The current crisis affects different parts of the Birkbeck teaching community in different ways. For the 600 or so Teaching and Scholarship staff and for those on fixed term contracts, the closure of the college and the move to online teaching and blended teaching in the future poses particular dilemmas. Given the current circumstances it is highly unlikely that fixed term colleagues will easily move into other employment in the sector during the lockdown and any subsequent period.  T&S colleagues face the rapid fall off in demand caused by loss of student numbers. Clauses in their contracts, especially for those with less than four years employment history, leave them particularly vulnerable to redundancy at a time of acute crisis across the sector.


  • We therefore call on the college to engage in urgent negotiations to mitigate the effects of the Covid 19 crisis on T&S and fixed term teaching staff. 


In the short term we are seeking urgent and immediate clarification of the college’s No Detriment Policy. We want re-assurance that the college’s “No Detriment policy” for the remainder of the academic year applies to all teaching staff, including those T&S colleagues whose modules do not run and also all fixed term colleagues whose contracts end during the Covid 19 crisis. The “No Detriment Policy” was widely welcomed by union members because is signalled college recognition that it had an ongoing commitment to protect the whole of the teaching community at a time of crisis. It is therefore deeply disheartening to hear that T&S colleagues have been given P45s at the height of the crisis. 


  • In the long term we are seeking the creation of a locally agreed jobs retention scheme to help protect the work of fixed term and T&S colleagues.  

While the union recognises the need to adjust workloads and scheduling of modules to cope with changes in student numbers and to aid retention, the would view with dismay any plans for the coming academic year to shift teaching away from part-time T&S colleagues to full time staff. We therefore deeply aggrieved that, despite re-assurances to the contrary, such plans are being recommended for the coming academic year and widely circulated as part of the college’s Covid recovery plan.  If such plans are put in place we would call on full time colleagues to refuse to take on teaching previously undertaken by Teaching and Scholarship staff. 


We look to the college to live up to its word and uphold its commitment to the collective values at the core of the Birkbeck tradition. 


3. Homeworking

The college coronavirus webpages are extremely valuable and cover a wide range of issues, particularly around health and wellbeing. We appreciate the speed with which these have been constructed as well as the periodic updates. However, for colleagues who are having to purchase equipment or to upgrade equipment or internet service provision, there is no guidance on which types of expenses are legitimate and can be claimed back.


  • It would be helpful to add material to the homeworking section of the coronavirus pages describing items that can be purchased or supplied and spending ceilings.


4. Strike pay deductions

We would like to reiterate the continuing contradiction between the college’s fulsome praise for the quality and quantity of work being performed daily by college staff, under the most trying and stressful conditions, and the ongoing threat of strike pay deductions. A member of staff on 40K who struck for 12 days stands to lose £1300 gross. T&S colleagues will lose in absolute terms but many will lose a higher proportion of earnings because of their work time patterns. We find it hard to understand how the college can refer to T&S staff as part of the DNA of our institution and yet maintain the prospect of pay deductions hanging over their heads. The issue is particularly acute for T&S staff whose contracts are due to expire shortly: if they are not renewed will they face a demand for full strike pay deduction from their final monthly pay cheque?


  • We believe the college should take a bold and positive step and cancel the strike pay deductions. Staff, and union members in particular, will find it hard to continue showing good will if the institution is seen to be using strike deductions as a bargaining chip.


5. Annual leave

The Working Time (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations (2020) allow employees to carry over up to four weeks (10 days) paid holidays into the next two holiday years where 'it was not reasonably practicable for a worker to take some or all of the leave to which the worker was entitled under this regulation as a result of the effects of coronavirus'. The college has narrowly interpreted the regulations to cover only ‘key workers’ but that is only one reading of the regulations. Their rationale is not to divide workers into key groups and non-key groups but to provide redress for those unable to take leave because of the Covid pandemic.


  • We call on the college to permit staff to roll over annual leave, up to a limit of 10 days in each of the next two years (rather than the current limit of five days). We are happy to the procedure for making such a request and the criteria for granting such a request.  



6. PhD student fees

We appreciate the college decision to provide up to six months of additional funding for final year Birkbeck PhD students in receipt of a college/school/department studentship. However we know that internal and external studentships cover only a minority of our PhD student body and funding extensions will obviously not apply to them. However, they do share many of the same problems as funded students, including restrictions on fieldwork, library closures and the general stress and anxiety arising from the Covid pandemic.


  • We therefore believe the college should invite all PhD students to apply for fee waivers for the period from mid-March until the end of summer term in recognition of the disruption to their studies. We would be happy to discuss the criteria that would have to be met for fee waivers to be triggered.


30 April 2020