Statement on Front of House Review

By Benjamin Leatham

There has been a lot of speculation over the past few months about the proposed changes to the Portering system at the University. We have been trying to monitor and engage with the process throughout but have faced some difficultly due to sporadic communication from the University. It has now been confirmed to us that the university management and Unison; the porters union, have reached a compromise that they are both happy with. It will see existing porters continue on their current contracts and retain a 12-hour shift roster. As staff leave through natural turnover, all new staff employed will work according to the following roster:

  • 8 hour 15 minute shifts
  • A permanent early day shift and an alternating late day and night shift (no permanent night shifts)

 

There will be the following provision on campus:

7 x 24/7 Locations:

  • Information Centre (Extra provision during Mon-Fri 8.30 - 17.30 as normal)
  • James College
  • Alcuin College & Campus North
  • Derwent College
  • Halifax College
  • Ron Cooke Hub
  • Langwith College

And 

3 x Day Time Only Locations:

  • Wentworth College Mon-Sun 06.45 - 23.00 
  • Heslington Hall Mon-Fri 08.30 - 18.00 
  • King’s Manor - Currently undergoing a security review to determine best practice. 

This new system will be implemented in mid-July 2016.

 

This agreed compromise addresses a number of issues I raised in conjunction with Unison with regards to the initial proposal. Them being:

  • Permanent night shifts - The relationship between porter and student is integral. By having permanent night shifts students wouldn’t get to know those porters who work nights and therefore would likely feel less comfortable going to them for support. I am glad the University moved away from this suggested model. 
  • Dissatisfaction amongst the portering staff - The care and compassion many porters show for students has a hugely positive impact on the standard of provision. Reaching a compromise that the porters were content with was essential. 
  • Implementation date - The original implementation date was January 2016. This would have had a detrimental impact on residents who are content with the current system. By implementing over the summer new students will commence life at York under the new system. 

 

Unfortunately, a number of key issues remain outstanding that will have a direct impact on students. Them being:

  • The staff will have to remain desk bound under the new system. There will be a new rapid response team in operation that will deal with issues / tasks the porters are no longer able to carry out. Currently, porters are often called upon last minute to deal with issues away from their desks. If the rapid response team is not effective then the service will suffer dramatically. 
  • The lack of provision in the Exhibition Centre. It is a key passageway that a huge number of students, staff and visitors use. If there is not going to be any provision then it is absolutely vital that the University invests in improved signage to ensure those who need help can easily access it. 

 

I will be making strong representation to the University on these two points over the coming weeks. Considering the whole review process was budget neutral, if the service worsens as a result then students should rightly be upset. It is vital that when the new system is implemented in July, the short term impact on students is minimised and in the long term the service improves. 

 

With regards to the process of review as a whole I have a number of points:

  • I do understand that there was a need to do a front of house review. Having 2 managers to oversee over 40 porters wasn’t effective. 
  • I do not think the University communicated effectively with students about the whole process. If there are plans to review and change an element of University life so integral to students, communication must be a priority. I felt like I had to constantly chase the University for updates on the situation.
  • Although I wasn’t involved directly in the discussions between Unison and the University, I know a lot of porters were very frustrated and concerned. Porters who had dedicated a significant part of their lives to the University felt mistreated. This is concerning. In future it is essential that the University carefully considers the processes by which it undergoes reviews that will have a direct and significant impact on staff.

 

I will be sending this blog post to the Vice Chancellor, highlighting in particular the remaining concerns I have. It is incredibly important that, simply because a compromise with Unison was reached, the process doesn’t finish. The University needs to learn from the way they handled this review as well as responding to the highlighted remaining key issues.