Staff ‘forced to jump through silly hoops’ for pay rises

Coventry union members on strike over “onerous and unreasonable” system

November 23, 2019
Acrobats jumping through hoops
Source: Getty

Staff at a UK university claim that they are being “forced to jump through silly hoops to get pay rises that are standard elsewhere”.

University and College Union members at Coventry University are taking strike action over the evaluation system that means that they must exceed targets in order to be eligible for a performance-related pay rise – which their manager must then submit a business case to the human resources department for.

The five-day walkout started on 21 November and also covers 26 and 29 November, and 3 and 4 December.

Coventry has handled performance-related pay differently from other universities since 2006, when a national framework agreement negotiated by unions and employers was implemented across the sector.

UCU said that Coventry staff have been required to demonstrate high performance to get pay rises in “unclear and arbitrary” ways since then. But it said that a new online system was “even worse than its predecessor, which left academic staff at Coventry earning over £5,000 less on average than those at other West Midlands universities”.

The new system was holding down pay and creating extra paperwork for already overstretched staff”, UCU said, making it harder to recruit and retain employees.

“The university’s approach to performance management is onerous and unreasonable; it’s an outlier in the sector,” said Sharon McGuire, the UCU branch chair at Coventry. “Staff are forced to jump through silly hoops to get pay rises that are standard elsewhere.”

Ms McGuire said that pay rises were based on staff demonstrating that they had exceeded not only their own targets but also university-wide targets “that are unachievable because staff have no control over certain factors – for example, National Student Survey scores”.

“There is also a demand from the university of a 75 per cent pass rate for all academic programmes. This will have a direct impact on quality of assessment, marking and teaching,” she said. “Members don’t want to have to go on strike, but we’ve been forced to take action, because the employers refuse to negotiate properly with UCU.”

A Coventry spokeswoman said the link between incremental pay awards and the appraisal system has existed since 2006 and has not changed under the new system.

“Incremental pay awards are on top of the annual pay rise automatically given to staff and we believe most people would find it common sense, reasonable and fair to link them to performance,” she said.

"The revised online appraisal system…requires staff to complete significantly less paperwork than the paper-based system it has replaced. It has been introduced over a two-year transition period to allow staff and their line managers to adapt.”

The spokeswoman said that the university had “made repeated offers” to meet with UCU “but none have been accepted”.

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