I’m sure many of you are aware that earlier in the year the University proposed a number of significant changes to the portering system. Some of the most significant were:
- Moving from 12 hour shifts to 8 hour shifts.
- Making the porters desk bound and improving the rapid response team.
- Splitting porters into night shift workers and day shift workers.
As widely publicised, these changes, specifically the changing night shift and day shift pattern, would result in a pay cut for the porters. This is because the porters who work days wouldn't continue to get extra pay for working unsociable hours.
The initial plan was to implement these proposals in January.
As a students’ union our aim was to ensure that these changes would improve the service for students. Alongside this, on a personal level, my aim was also to ensure that whilst these changes were being made the University wasn’t treating the porters unfairly. As a result, when the proposals first came to light, I met with the Head of Estates and made a number of recommendations, including the following key points:
- The implementation date should be pushed back to Summer 2016 to allow greater levels of consultation and to ensure first year students who have gotten used to the current system aren’t left confused.
- Porters shouldn’t be split into nighttime and daytime workers. Across the country employers are moving away from nighttime only roles as they aren’t good for the well being of employees. Along with this, if those who work night shifts don’t have contact with students during the day, students won’t necessarily feel comfortable going to them with issues at night. The nighttime staff will also never have contact with any of the other staff in the College.
- Having a consistent team of porters working in locations is absolutely essential! Local knowledge of the area and its workings is a huge part of the role.
- If it is necessary for the porters to become desk bound, it is vital that the rapid response team is up to scratch. Porters are often called upon last minute to deal with issues away from their desks
- The porters have to be treated fairly and with respect during this process.
Following these recommendations and an extensive negotiation process with Unison, the porters’ union, the University agreed to move the implementation date back to Summer 2016. They also recently produced 3 new proposed rosters. These consisted of a variety of suggestions including:
- Making some porters part-time
- Having an alternating team dedicated to evenings and nights, along with a separate daytime team.
The University refused to remain on a 12-hour shift pattern despite Unison taking huge issue with an 8-hour shift pattern. In response, Unison has produced three different roster suggestions, all of which include a 12-hour shift pattern.
In light of these developments I tried to organise an open forum for students to attend. Both University management as well as Unison representatives would have the opportunity to offer their side of the story. This was something I really pushed for. Unfortunately, due to the formal negotiation process underway, University management, and then later Unison, agreed it wouldn’t be possible at this stage.
The University and Unison are now entering a final negotiation process to try and reach an amicable compromise. It is unclear how long this process will take, although it might be a number of weeks. At this point Unison has advised the student body not do anything other than collate anecdotes and stories detailing positive experiences students have had with porters. Should this final negotiation period be unsuccessful we can then work with Unison to determine next steps and establish what we can do as a student body to ensure the changes being made are in the best interest of students, and that the porters are being treated fairly.