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What do you people do all summer?

There is a common misconception (perpetuated by the BBC Radio 4 drama The Archers, and the occasional taxi driver) that Universities have long summer holidays when everyone goes on lengthy vacations. We know, of course, that while many of the students are away, for many of us the work of the University goes on. Indeed for some it intensifies – the timetabling and admissions teams for example experience high workloads in this period. The Academic Centre for International Students (ACIS) team provide all the pre-sessional teaching for the hundreds of students joining the University from overseas. For researchers, the summer months are often dedicated to fieldwork, experiments or analysis that cannot be completed in term time, then there are conferences to disseminate research, writing projects and new funding bids to prepare. For other educators there is teaching preparation for the new academic year, reviewing and evaluating the past year’s activity and always, always, admin to be ‘caught up’ with. Supporting all this are our academic related professional colleagues who also have overflowing in-trays and inboxes, and who attend to the continued smooth running of our libraries, IT and HR systems, equipment and research governance.  And of course, the work of estates, health and safety, cleaning, catering and administrative staff also continues – with the additional challenge that the University is often hosting conferences and visitors amidst major building work.

Your UCU branch also stays open over the summer. Your executive team were left in charge of the UCU office while our fabulous office manager Amanda took her holiday recently and for me as your new president it was a sobering reminder of the volume of work the branch does.  In this two week period UCU representatives and officials dealt with several new and ongoing restructure consultations – involving teams, services and units where staff jobs are being directly threatened. We managed to support all our members involved in these – providing caseworkers and advice, and thus far we have successfully managed to ensure there are no compulsory redundancies. We also provided support to a number of staff making ‘compromise agreements’ or settlements (whereby the University agrees to compensation when a contract of employment is terminated – as in the case of voluntary severance). All this was on top of our ‘regular’ individual case work where our volunteers support staff experiencing difficulties at work. Alongside this we often provide information and advice to staff who are unsure of policies or rights – such as maternity leave entitlement or the flexible working policy.

We continue to attend meetings with senior managers and HR and we have written elsewhere about our meeting with the incoming Chair of Council. Regular meetings include ‘Reward’ where we are pushing senior managers to address the problems our members experience with appraisal and to understand our serious objections to bell curve moderation. The ‘Wellington Project’ * and associated meetings about restructuring, reconfiguration, faculty and service ‘closures’ have taken up much of our time, as has the process of consulting on non-standard contracts where we are trying to improve job security of our hourly paid and fixed term staff.

Our union is only able to do this work supporting our members because of the dedication and effort of our volunteer caseworkers, departmental reps, working group and executive committee members, and our team of officials in the regional office and national headquarters. I’d like to give a dinosaur sized shout out to all of them for the work they have done all year and will continue to do over the summer and year ahead.

The executive team have held two strategy afternoons to plan our branch priorities for 2018/19 and we are planning a further branch development day in Semester 1 for reps and officers to take this forward. We have our EGM on 6th September 1pm in 44/1057 to discuss union democracy and 2018 congress. We will soon be running national ballots on Pay and Brexit.  We also expect more updates regarding the fight for a decent pension so look out for notices about General Meetings to discuss these also. (There are regular updates about the Joint Evaluation Panel (JEP) on the UCU website here.)

We need some additional helpers to help Get the Vote Out for the Pay ballot and we will visiting as many workplaces as we can to remind members to vote.  If you can assist with this or any of the work we do please contact Amanda Bitouche (ucu@soton.ac.uk)

 

 

* this is the name the senior managers use to refer to the reshaping of the University – we have resisted reminding them that this is also the name of a boot and this might be seen as unfortunate given the accompanying redundancy threats. 

 

University Governance part #1: the one where UCU met the new Chair of Council

University governance is a hot topic in several UCU branches at the moment. We heard at our recent AGM from Hedley Bashforth of Bath UCU about how their branch successfully used their governance structures to draw attention to the excessive pay of their VC and senior management. Others will recall the dispute at Leeds University in 2017 prompted by senior management attempts to change the statutes and ordinances there.  The recent branch conference at Bristol UCU debated governance and concluded that “Power needs to move away from the centre and towards staff”. We agree. Many of the problems we face, particularly those associated with recent decisions to restructure the university (again),  appear to be fueled by a failure of senior managers to listen to, or meaningfully engage with staff.

It was therefore a refreshing change when representatives from UCU were invited to meet with the incoming Chair of Council Phillip Greenish as part of his induction last week. Your branch President and Secretary who attended this meeting were pleased to have this opportunity to share your concerns about senior management and University governance.  Phillip asked us to keep the content of the conversation private but we can share with you the content of the briefing we prepared for him and that we asked to be circulated to Council members (see below).

The briefing below may be TL:DR (Too long: Didn’t read) so the summary version is: We want better governance and senior management, and we need the University to stick to negotiated agreements and policies. The list of our concerns is long but we highlighted three pressing matters for Council’s attention:  1. Workloads and poor mental health of staff 2. casualization and 3. the gender pay gap.

Text of the UCU briefing for University Council

UCU is the recognised trades union for academic and academic-related professional staff at the university. We represent staff employed at level 4 and above. UCU is the largest post-16 education trades union in Europe and nationally represents staff in Higher and Further education as well as in prison, agricultural and adult education.

The branch here has an executive team of 16 elected officers and a casework team of volunteers who support individuals experiencing difficulties at work.  All the officers are in employment in the University and devote a limited number of hours during or outside working time to UCU duties. We are supported by regional and national officials, and have access to employment lawyers when needed.

Our branch is one of the largest in the South of England and we have members across all staff grades. Membership has grown considerably in response to local organisational changes and national threats to our pensions. You will be aware of the significant strike and working to contract action at the beginning of the year, and may have the impression that this is a militant branch. In reality the branch is considered moderate by our peers. In the past we have worked positively and effectively with the senior managers to improve the working lives and experience of staff and students here. Unfortunately relationships with senior managers have deteriorated over the past few years.  We have also seen an increase in the number of staff needing our support.

There are three pressing issues we would like to raise with you and the Council

  1. Governance of the university. Staff here want governance that reflects our values. We need our senior managers to be, and be seen to be, more accountable to our community. Governance processes need to be much more open and transparent. Academic and academic-related staff representation and engagement in Senate needs to be strengthened – this vital body has become a passive recipient of information and is not currently effective. We also urgently need more diversity in the membership of Council. Certain kinds of private sector experience are over-represented and we need much more recognition that we are an academic institution closely aligned with the public sector values. We also need to see greater diversity of membership of our governance structures in terms of race, gender and disability to better reflect our community.
  2. Poor senior leadership and people management. Staff are concerned at the disconnect between senior managers and staff. Successive staff surveys have highlighted this and yet little progress is being made. We believe that if senior managers engage with staff and actively attend to organisational culture and low morale we can make this a great place to work we will attract and retain the best staff, and this in turn will attract students and research funding. We have suffered 15 years of restructuring and cuts, moving from 3 Faculties to 8, and now to 5, and this has seriously reduced our ability to deliver. Staff here feel demoralised and devalued. We need better managers and leaders.
  3. Failure to adhere to agreements and policies negotiated with the trades unions. Members of all the campus trades unions have worked hard to support senior managers to improve the University. As the recognised trades union for level 4 and above we have negotiated policy and practice changes and balloted our membership when necessary to ratify these. We have been dismayed at the way some senior managers have ignored these agreements to the detriment of staff and students here.

What we are asking you

We welcome this opportunity for two of the branch executive to meet the new Chair of Council. Some of us also met members of Council during the industrial action and were pleased to discuss our concerns with them.

We would like to ask members of Council to seek views of trades unions, staff and students.  Come and listen to us.  Please visit staff where they work so you can see first-hand what they experience (the view from Building 37 and the Senate rooms gives a very particular view of our workplaces and we are sure you comprehend the importance of also seeing life ‘below decks’).

We also ask you to work with us to address our concerns.  These include but are not limited to

  • Workloads and poor mental health – We continue to battle a workplace culture of presenteeism and overwork. The University is reliant on hours of unpaid labour by staff – at night and weekends. We see increased stress, mental illness and musculoskeletal conditions resulting in sick leave. Sometimes, tragically this overwork contributes to suicide. We must do better.
  • Casualization – lack of job security is detrimental for staff but also to the ambition of the University – fixed term staff are constantly distracted by having to look for jobs elsewhere. We need to value our staff so that we get the best from them.
  • Gender pay gap – it is shameful that we have made so little progress addressing this issue (and other diversity challenges). We need action to reduce our 21% pay gap, this means actually delivering on Athena SWAN action plans and developing all staff to challenge hidden biases.We need also to take meaningful steps to address pay disparities.

Finally we ask you to support the trades unions at the University. We want to work with senior managers and use our governance structures to improve the education and research we do. We have done so in the past and we can do so again. Please help us do this.

We hope that this is the start of a productive conversation between Council and the representatives of staff at this University and look forward to further meetings and discussion with members of Council.

If you can’t stand the heat?

Your branch continues to be busy with lots of casework and more redundancy threats but last week we had a new kind of firefighting to do as several members asked us about regulations for workplace temperatures.

SUSSED offers helpful advice for staff and students about staying safe in the sun, but some of us found the lack of guidance from senior management on staying safe and well within overheating buildings disappointing. We asked senior management to address this lack of information and support but were told that they believed that line managers were dealing with this appropriately at a local level.

The recent thunderstorms and rain have reduced the temperature but we urge colleagues who experience uncomfortable work environments to report the issue as a health and safety concern. The University ‘Adverse Weather policy’ promises that the University “Will ensure that they take additional care during adverse weather and don’t do anything which may put themselves at risk”. Managers should make sure staff are aware of this policy. The HSE also provide useful advice about heat stress on their website. Incident reporting can be done on-line and if you find a room too hot to work in this can be reported to Estates and Facilities call x27474 or email efhelp@soton.ac.uk with the room number and state it is a Priority One call.

Some managers signposted actions we can take when our workplaces become too hot and we’d like to give a shout out to the fab managers in Chemistry who circulated helpful advice and allowed staff to alter working patterns, and alerted them to adaptations required to ensure sensible and safe working conditions.

Adverse weather conditions – hot or cold – are of course not under the control of University, but the University does have a duty of care to staff and students. We continue to push them to support our wellbeing, and as ever UCU are here for you – rain or shine – to help make your working lives better.

Settling in – new branch president but #WeAreStillTheUniversity

Thank you to members who attended the AGM on 15thJune.  It was good to see another high turnout and it was great to hear from Hedley Bashforth from Bath UCU about how their branch successfully used governance mechanisms and local campaigning to highlight excessive VC and senior manager pay at University of Bath. Our branch has been concerned about the University governance for some time because of the apparent silencing of academic and academic related staff voices from decision making processes.  We are worried that proposals to reduce the number of Faculties could cut our representation on Senate. See our estimates in the table below.  Just a few further cuts might tip elected staff representation to being in the minority.  For this reason, prompted by members, we have formed a group of UCU Senators who will be meeting to discuss these developments.

 SENATE COMPOSITION (paraphrased from the Calendar) 17/18 Possible 18/19
The President and Vice-Chancellor (Chair) 1 1
The Vice-Presidents 3 3 (4)
The Deans and Associate Deans 35 23
Dir iSolutions, Uni Librarian, Registrar,  Dir Student Services 4 4
Elected Representatives of the Academic Staff 50 < ? 30 ?
Elected Representatives of research staff (approx. 2 per Fac) 16 10
Elected Representatives of MSA staff 4 4
Chairs of Senate’s Committees not already members ? 2 ? ? 2 ?
Principals affiliated institutions 1 1
Five registered full-time students 5 5
 Total 121 83
Total Elected members 70 (58%) ? 44 (53%)

 

There is lots going on.  The process of fighting for a decent pension continues.  Locally we are busier than ever with case work, restructures and a series of issues, some arising from the project to reshape the University and some as a result of continuing problems we have experienced related to policies and practices instituted by senior management.

Our #BionicPresident Laurie Stras is a hard act to follow, but I will do my best and I thank Laurie and members of the exec who stepped down this year for all their hard work. We have a strong branch executive committee for 2018/19 and we will be meeting over coming weeks to plan the branch strategy for the coming year. If you want to input to this please contact me or Amanda Bitouche (ucu@soton.ac.uk)

We also want to participate in the wider debates about representation, activism and engagement in our union. The special national Congress about these issues will be on 18thOctober in Birmingham and once again we are asking for delegates from this branch to attend – please contact Amanda if you wish to volunteer.  As promised at the AGM we want to hold an extraordinary general meeting to gather your views  – this will be held on Thursday 6 September at 1pm in room 44/1057 Lecture Room B, Shackleton Building, Highfield.

Our plan is to continue to use this blog, in addition to all-member emails, and the branch Twitter and Facebook accounts to keep members updated.  I am acutely aware how busy everyone is, but want to ensure that members know what the branch is doing, and to alert you in a timely way about matters of concern.

A few reminders and notices

The list of all the matters of concern for our branch is quite long and senior managers appear bent on adding to it every day. The redundancies and severances of this year are unlikely to be the last as senior managers continue to enact further reorganisation. Below I highlight pressing concerns and national issues for members’ attention.

HE Pay claim 2018

Following the recent consultative ballot on HE pay, members voted to reject the employers’ pay offer of 2%.  Nationally 82% of members who responded voted to reject the offer with 65% saying they were prepared to take industrial action to defend their pay.  The turnout for this branch was over the 50%.  The next step in the campaign is a comprehensive Get The Vote Out campaign to ensure that members vote in the formal ballot which will open w/c 27 August and close in mid-October.  We really need volunteers to help with this – if you are interested please let Amanda know.

Special HE Sector conference on USS

The branch sent two elected delegates, along with Denis Nicole as NEC rep to the HESC. There will be a fuller report of business there in due course, but this meeting allowed further debate about USS. You should also have received updates from Headquarters about the Joint Evaluation Panel which we hope represents a step forward in defending our pensions.

Workloads, workloads, workloads.

The suicide of Malcolm Anderson at Cardiff University was a stark and deeply sad reminder what overwork can do. Colleagues at all levels are experiencing heavier workloads and many are finding it harder and harder to cope.  Rising performance expectations, coupled with reductions in staff and a continued belief that software systems replace rather than simply re-allocate labour, is having a negative effect on our mental and physical health.  Many members commented that working to contracted hours during the industrial action improved wellbeing – it certainly revealed that this University regularly benefits from many hours of unpaid overtime by staff. If our employers continue to erode pay and refuse to defend our decent pension they may well find that we decide that they do not deserve all this free labour and we remind you that you are free to work only your contracted hours at all times – we don’t need to be in a national dispute to prioritise wellbeing.

Misuse of appraisal

Unfortunately we are still seeing bullying and poor management practice in appraisals so we will continue to push senior managers and HR to keep to the agreements reached in the Reward project and provide a fair and meaningful appraisal system without bullying, bell curve moderation or misuse of student evaluation data to rank staff. We have recently set up a working group to look at the Reward policies, including appraisal, promotion and probation.  If you would like to get involved with this please let Amanda know.

New clarity travel booking system

We continue to receive complaints and examples of how this new system is costing more – in terms of staff time and inconvenience as well as financially – and so we are compiling examples and pushing senior managers responsible to listen and respond appropriately.  If you have more examples please send them to us.

If you’ve read this far thank you.  I know that we are stronger when we work together as a union, so I look forward to working with you over the coming year.

Prof Catherine Pope

Branch President

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#WeAreTheUniversity, part 3 – The One During Mental Health Awareness Week

What follows is an edited blog post that was prepared last month for Mental Health Awareness Week. We sat on the draft so that we would have the opportunity to bring concerns about the policy first to JJNC (in which management meet with all campus unions), and then to UCU JNC (in which UCU meets separately with management).

With the news last Friday from the inquest into the death of Malcolm Anderson, of Cardiff University Business School, we felt that we should go ahead and publish the blog, not least because *if* the new Mental Wellbeing Policy is really being enacted by the university, our members – and all members of the university – should be aware of its implications.

+++

In honour of Mental Health Awareness Week, the committee decided to look again at the university’s policies.  While on the openly-accessible website  there are statements that appear positive, we would like more evidence of resources and support.

The University is committed to positively promoting mental well-being and helping prevent mental health problems occurring such as stress, anxiety and depression. …

… We endeavour to offer you the support you need to deal with your particular situation.

Our guidance also provides consistent, fair and effective procedures to monitor the mental well-being of staff and students, and take action to deal with any issues that arise out of that monitoring.

Away from the outward-facing website, we also found the Health and Safety Mental Wellbeing site [accessible by intranet only] which says:

The Mental Health Policy (2013) is currently under review to ensure it reflects the University’s goals for supporting staff and student mental health. A draft of the new policy will be submitted for consultation at the Consultative Health and Safety Committee on 11th Dec 2017. Following consultation any subsequent additions and or ammendments [sic] will be made thereafter in order for the policy to be made available to all staff and students during the first quarter of 2018.

We got hold of this draft Mental Wellbeing Policy from the December papers of the Consultative Health and Safety Committee [CHSC], and we have extremely serious concerns about its implications. While UCU has representatives on the committee, it is a consultative committee, not a negotiating forum, and its papers and minutes are therefore not routinely circulated to your Executive Committee and your local lead negotiator.

We have since learned that the policy was amended after the CHSC and approved by UEB, however, it was not sent to the negotiating forum for all unions and management, the JJNC, and to this date has not been formally notified to the unions – so we do not know the exact wording it contains. It does, however, figure in the documentation of one of the current restructures, so it apparently is in operation, at least in some parts of the university.

The Mental Health Policy (2013) makes clear that the University has to:
1: Expect staff to take regular and proper breaks and work reasonable hours
2: Require managers etc not to put pressure on staff or students under pressure to work through breaks, work unreasonable hours or fail to take proper leave
3: Provide appropriate, properly resourced and well-advertised mental health services to which employees and students can be referred, or can refer themselves where appropriate, for support.

The current policy also provides explicit guidance on the roles of Occupational Health, Human Resources, Staff in Halls of Residence, the Counselling Service, the Disability Service and Admissions.

The new policy has number of worrying changes that cause us concern – some explicitly, and some by implication.

  • There are no references to Staff in Halls of Residence, the Disability Service or Admissions.
  • The Counselling Service, as we know, has disappeared, so there is no formal counselling service provision for staff.  The Employee Assistance Programme chosen by management (login page here) does provide one-to-one counselling, dependent on the service level agreement. We asked whether this is available to us, and it was confirmed that it is not – we only have access to the 24/7 helpline (unless, of course, we want to pay privately for the counselling service).
  • The role of Occupational Health is not discussed, but the new policy says that the Director of Health and Safety “Will provide an Occupational Health service to the University.”
    • Occupational Health services should be able to provide an independent assessment of workplace risk to health, without being managed directly by the person responsible for ensuring that the workplace is safe
    • Moreover, trawling through the document, it appears that Heads of AUs and Services “Will ensure confidentiality of an employee’s health is maintained by referring them onto Human Resources and Health and Wellbeing, where necessary, for the purposes of supporting their mental wellbeing.” This appears to suggest that we will no longer be referred directly to Occupational Health, but we must engage with a separate level of University management (Health and Wellbeing, for which the Director of Health and Safety is the strategic lead). The paperwork for this is already available to managers.
    • The Occupational Health page of the H&S intranet confirms that Occupational Health is only available by referral: “Please note that this is a specialist service which can only be accessed through referral.  If you’re not sure whether you need to have a referral to the OH service then you can speak with your line manager, Ask HR, or to the University’s Health & Wellbeing team who will advise you accordingly.” Outward facing documentation still suggests that self-referral is possible. We drew this to the attention of the Mental Wellbeing team, who relayed a message from Director of Health and Safety, who said that there was no intention to remove the facility for self-referral. However, The presentation to Council on the new provision (in the 210-page document pack for the CHSC on 18 June 2018) explicitly outlines a process whereby the employee cannot “bypass the line manager” and go to OH directly.
  • There is no provision for the monitoring of mental health and well-being of staff and students, except in terms of performance: The Director of HR “will provide the Health, Safety and Risk Directorate with suitable and sufficient management information to measure performance in relation to employee mental wellbeing.”

The most worrying aspect of this new draft policy comes in its final paragraph, Employees and Students. One sentence abrogates the responsibility for maintaining mental wellbeing in the workplace, and shifts it wholly onto the individual. Another outlines the duty of the individual to undertake “mental wellbeing training” if required by the university.

  • Will take responsibility for their own mental wellbeing through engaging in health promotion programmes and initiatives provided and be mindful of the impact that lifestyle choices could have.
  • Will undertake any mental wellbeing training deemed necessary by the University

Consider these two sentences in context.

Dr X is suffering stress because she has insufficient hours in a 24-hour day to complete marking by the deadline, compounded by having to absorb the effects of others’ misfortunes by turning around marking overnight because of special considerations requests. She is told that she is responsible for managing this stress, and that she should be mindful of the impact that the lifestyle choice of needing more than four hours a sleep a night for a fortnight will have on her ability to follow her line manager’s instruction.

Mr Y is being bullied by his line manager, and is signed off by his GP for a month because of stress and anxiety. He attends one session of mental wellbeing training provided by the university but, for his own reasons, finds the activity unhelpful. He refuses to attend another session, and – having failed in his duty under the new policy – is subjected to a disciplinary procedure.

What, honestly, are we to make of this policy? We brought our concerns to JJNC and to JNC, particularly because we are concerned that senior management appears to be using the CHSC as a means to introduce policies that may be detrimental to our members without having them scrutinised by the Joint Negotiating Committee (including our lead negotiator and regional officials).

If you also have concerns, please raise them with us, and/or with your line manager (and your line manager’s line manager), and/or with your Health and Safety representative.

We expect this matter to be treated with the urgency it deserves, and await a full response from the University that sets out the status of the policy and its implications.

 

 

#WeAreTheUniversity 3 – Report from Congress

Congress is the policy making body of UCU – each year we send delegates from our branch to this meeting which encompasses one day devoted to Higher Education sector business (with a parallel FE conference for delegates from colleges, prison and adult education branches) and two days of whole union business.

The format of the meeting includes updates from key officials and motions put forward by branches, national and regional committees. Motions are voted on in branches or relevant meetings and are included following review (and compositing – joining together similar motions) by the Conference Business Committee (CBC). Motions are proposed and seconded with short (5-3 minute) speeches and then debated with approx. 3 minutes per speaker followed by a vote. Motions that are carried become UCU policy to be enacted by officials, committees and members going forward.

This year approximately 300 delegates attended. This branch sent 3 delegates, and our past-president attended as a member of the national executive committee (NEC). The full list of motions can be found here: https://www.ucu.org.uk/Congress2018#motions

Some of you will be aware that congress was disrupted on Wednesday and Friday due to some controversial motions, notably motion 10 calling for the resignation of the general secretary (Sally Hunt) and other motions that called for debate about democratic structures, and which appeared to criticise national union officers. Union officials, who belong to the Unite trade union held emergency meetings in response to these, which meant that Congress business was suspended as we had no minute takers, legal advice or tellers to support the meeting. Congress was asked to accept orders of business prepared by CBC (there were 4 of these in all as late and reintroduced motions were added and the running order amended) and this provided a chance to decide which motions we would debate – in essence a vote about whether to debate the contentious motions. The CBC agendas were carried.

It was clear that some delegates from both HE and FE felt strongly that the national leadership of the union had not pressed hard enough in recent disputes (the USS action in HE, but also pay and redundancy issues in FE) and that there needed to be better communication and accountability to ‘rank and file’ membership. Some of the motions on these topics were debated and several of these were passed.

On Thursday there was a full day of business and a number of motions in the HE Sector conference were passed – such as HE14 asking for a campaign for all VC and Senior management pay to be pegged to the average wage in the institution, and for it to be, at a maximum, 10 times the lowest paid contracts within the institution, and a number of motions in the main congress relating to union strategy and equality issues.

On Friday we returned to main Congress business with the two motions (10 and 11) that had led to the withdrawal of staff on Wednesday. There was another further debate and a statement from the staff union but the plan to debate these motions was agreed. At this point the staff withdrew and Congress was subsequently closed. Following this, approximately 100 delegates decided to stay and hold an alternative congress. Your delegates decided that they would not participate in this, the status of this meeting being unclear.

There are a number of accounts of what happened already published on social media and some coverage in national media (see below for examples) and there was significant twitter traffic during the congress, some apparently from people not in attendance.

https://michael4hec.wordpress.com/2018/06/02/what-happened-at-ucu-congress-2018
https://exeterucu.wordpress.com/2018/05/30/exeter-ucu-delegation-response-to-events-at-ucu-congress-30th-may-2018/
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jun/03/unions-falling-membership-gig-economy
https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/sally-hunt-clings-ucu-leader-congress-curtailed

I have attempted to write the above as factually as I can, recognising that any account is subjective and influenced by one’s own position and views. What follows is a more personal view.

I had hoped that Congress would be a chance to celebrate the success and strength of our trades union which has grown nationally by 16000 members and, in the pre-92 Universities, has engaged in the largest and most sustained industrial action to defend pensions this year. I felt this was an opportunity to thank our national leadership – paid and voluntary officials – for these achievements. I was disturbed by the polarisation of some of the debates and upset by the failure to undertake Congress business. Whilst I agreed with the sentiment of some motions calling for more discussion of tactics, and I agree that there are lessons to be learned and criticisms to be made (and I am open to this myself as a member of your executive), I am less convinced that the nineteenth-century oppositional debate format of Congress is the best place for this. One motion that was passed was to set up a commission to review some of these issues which might be a better forum for such discussion.

Delegates to Congress represent particular kinds of members (often those more active in branches, many from smaller branches, and not least those willing or able to give up 3 days of a half-term week) and I therefore wonder if this group adequately represents our broad and diverse membership. As someone who has attended Congress on a number of occasions I was aware that, despite claims that there were more new delegates and ‘younger’ attendees, there were still a majority of speakers who might be regarded as ‘regulars’ who have been members and activists for many years. I also know that many members of this branch do not wish to be visible or active in the union in these ways. It seemed that much of opposition to the leadership came from members and supporters of UCULeft, a subscription organisation within UCU whose supporters include members of “ the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), the Labour Party, other left groups, and non-aligned activists in our caucuses” (quoted from their website). I have always been wary of factions in the union and have not joined UCULeft or other groups such as ‘UCU Independent Broad Left’ for that reason.

It is for our branch to debate our position going forward from this Congress. For myself I am taking to heart the comments offered by fellow activist Anya Cook who wrote recently:

I should be setting a precedent for how I want our members to engage and I, myself, must model kindness and gentleness if they are to be the benchmark for my own political and trade union engagement… I need to find a way to keep hold of the ‘non-politicised’ left; those who don’t identify with ideological frameworks and positions.

I hope we can use the upcoming AGM on 15th June to seek your views about some of the issues raised by the Congress motions and the events last week. I hope we can, as we usually do here in Southampton, find a way to do this that is constructive and collegiate. Finally, I want to reiterate my personal support for, and heartfelt thanks to, our regional and national paid officials who have provided excellent support and advice for our members and representatives for casework and local negotiations.

Catherine Pope

Warped appraisal process – what went wrong?

It’s just not getting better, is it?

We were informed – by a written response, distributed at the close of our last JNC meeting – that there are no problems with the current appraisal process, if there are then they are not within the gift of HR or management to solve. It’s not their problem if managers are distorting the process because they haven’t been trained and are not being held to account – because they didn’t intend for the process to be problematic.

Members of Southampton UCU are increasingly seeking UCU support over problems encountered with the way appraisals are being done at this University. UCU executive members are despairing at what appraisal has become, not least because so many of us were involved in over two years’ effort in the so-called Reward project designed to create a new appraisal system we thought would benefit colleagues. Increasingly it seems that appraisal has warped into a device to attack and punish staff, rather than support them. In some areas of the University there appears to be an “appraisal is about performance only” agenda and the annual appraisal meetings are simply being used as part of a disciplinary and capability process. We are asking members to contact us with their concerns about recent appraisals, but below we highlight three of the reoccurring problems we have already identified.

Setting objectives for the coming year

The process of setting objectives for the coming year is meant to happen AFTER the submission of the retrospective appraisal and ownership of this should always be in the hands to the appraisee. The setting of objectives should be focussed on personal and career development and growth and should not be a list of “all the things your manager needs you to do next year.” Objectives need to be realistic and within the control of the appraisee (which is why “winning the Nobel Peace Prize” cannot be an objective but “making a submission to a panel by the deadline” might be). Objectives may be adapted over the year – subject to changes in workplans and circumstances, and they can be “stretching” with the caveat noted above that they must be within the control of the individual – for example, I can write a research bid for a prestigious funder, but I do not control whether it is funded. I can institute administrative processes or create new systems that aim to improve some part of the students’ experience of learning, but I cannot make all students get a first class degree or tick the excellent box in the NSS.

Ratings and moderation

We have written about this before, but we are really very concerned about the ways in which numerical scoring of performance is being used.  All the way through the negotiations about appraisal UCU were clear that telling people they had done a great job (when they had done so) absolutely has a place in appraisal.  We were also very happy that the appraiser could confirm that a staff member has “met expectations,” being clear that this was an acceptable outcome because no-one should be expected to exceed expectations on everything all the time.

The place for discussions of underperformance was not appraisal. This clearly falls into the capability and disciplinary processes designed to offer staff development and support opportunities to improve. Clearly appraisal can be a place where the barriers to achieving an objective can be discussed: for example, the module did not run so I could not deliver the new curriculum we planned; the IT system could not be configured to support the new process we envisaged. Under such circumstances, objectives can legitimately be ignored or adapted.  But appraisal is not the forum in which to inform someone that they will be disciplined, or to begin formal disciplinary documentation. Sadly it is clear that some managers a misusing the process in exactly this way.

Readers of the blog will know that Southampton UCU objects vehemently to the use of numerical appraisal scores and bell-curve moderation of these.  We now suspect that the use of these scores is being encouraged as a silent redundancy policy. We suggest that every score of 1 or 2 given this year will be used to push capability/severance processes, further “protected conversations” and removal of frontline staff. We are asking you to tell us if you see appraisal being used in these ways. And if members are asked to discuss “under-performance” or have protected conversations please don’t attend these without seeking advice from your branch.

Training for appraisal (or the lack of it)

Since the demise of ILIaD Southampton UCU has been concerned about the lack of development and training for all staff.  We understand that the new CHEP (Centre for Higher Education Practice) finally has a director and will be developing resources and training opportunities over the coming year. Training for appraisal falls under the remit of HR and much of this has been reduced to online training. Training for managers in “difficult conversations” (redundancy?) continues to be offered but we are sad that the innovative Appraisal Skills Workshop using Forum Theatre techniques to focus on the skills and behaviours in appraisal discussions has been dropped.  We know that members had mixed responses to this training – not least because it was initially poorly advertised as training for using the new system rather than developing skills in mentoring and developmental conversations. Nonetheless many appraisers and appraises said they welcomed this learning which explored techniques in listening, questioning, coaching and objective setting to ensure a positive outcome for both the appraiser and appraisee. We are aware that many forward thinking employers have woken up to the importance of positive conversations and the ways that these can be used to support staff and organisational goals. It seems a real shame that University of Southampton management and HR do not seem to be using these resources and evidence to get the best from our staff.

For us here in UCU a positive appraisal process – as part of a regular interaction between managers and teams is vital. This is an area in which the University senior management could improve, by listening to staff concerns about where appraisals are not working well, and by re-focussing on a genuinely developmental process. A good appraisal is an opportunity to celebrate success, to reaffirm values and wellbeing, and to plan for the coming year. Let’s make it work as intended.

 

#WeAreTheUniversity – Part 2, The One With You in It

We are now officially into National Recruitment Week, and we are also officially in the run up to the elections for the local branch for the coming academic year. We are holding some informal come-and-chat sessions later this week on Highfield Campus, for those interested in joining, for new members that want to know more, and for anyone thinking that they’d like to get more involved.

  • Thursday 17 May              1 – 2.30 pm, room 58/1045 Highfield
  • Friday 18 May                    4.30 – 6 pm, Arlott Bar

We thought we’d give you a brief rundown of the roles and responsibilities of branch executive officers – these are just sketches, so do get in touch if you’d like to know more. If you’d like to stand, you can download the nomination form here.  We can find you someone to second a nomination if you need, but the forms should be completed and received by the Southampton UCU Office by close of nominations: 5.00pm Friday 25 May 2018.

Many of the roles below will be vacant from 15 June – so don’t think just because there is a name currently next to a role that it won’t be up for grabs in the election. Please consider supporting your branch by putting your hat in the ring!

Elections will be held at our AGM on 15 June. Don’t forget to let us know if you are coming, so we can organise catering: 12:15pm for lunch, meeting begins at 12.30 Building 44, Room 1041.

Executive Committee -Roles & responsibilities

President – (currently Laurie Stras)

This is a visible leadership role, but very much supported by the wider executive team, officers and reps. I provide strategic direction and help prioritise what we do.  I chair branch meetings – such as the termly AGMs – reporting back to members, and I attend meetings with University management: regular commitments here are the Joint Negotiating Committees (JNCs) – which are 2 hours face to face with HR and senior managers, and there are at least 6 of these year. Some of the role involves co-ordinating the work of others, so I work closely with Amanda our branch manager (but I don’t line manage her) and our reps. In my time as president I have paid particular attention to communications with members – maintaining our regular blog and emails to members – these can take a few hours to compose but I enjoy this bit of the job. Currently this has a 40% (2 days a week) time allocation.

Laurie’s highlight of 2018: Watching our membership grow by over 30% in a single year – it’s been such a privilege (and maybe a bit scary) leading the branch during these interesting times, but absolutely I have loved all the support I and the branch have received from our members, old and new. It’s great to think that we are so much stronger now.

Vice president/president elect – (currently Catherine Pope)

Catherine says: This role is an apprenticeship for being president, so you spend time learning what the president does and deputise for them when needed. In the recent strike action this was necessary as the president was on sick leave so I ended up leading our strike activity. Currently we try to divide the work up so that Laurie as president leads on the local issues and I focus on the pension dispute and some of the more national work – but this is obviously up to the people doing these roles to decide. I often attend JNCs and have chaired branch meetings. I contribute the occasional blog piece and member email. I have tended to do University induction talks to recruit new members but this doesn’t have to be a VP role. This job can fill as much time as you have.

Catherine’s highlight of 2018: Chairing the emergency general meeting during the strike with over 170 members in the lecture theatre at Avenue. I really felt how strong we are as a union, how angry you were about the threat to our pension, and how passionate our members are about Higher Education.

Honorary Secretary – (currently John Langley)

John says: The secretary role is another key role for the branch.  While Amanda is the first point of contact I try to be the face of the branch for the other campus unions, senior managers and external organisations.  I attend negotiations and meetings with University management as required.  I am one of the signatories for the branch bank account and this year was one of three people designated to manage the hardship fund. In the event that the president and VP were unavailable I might have to make a decision (but I haven’t had to do this). I need to have a copy of the branch rules handy in case there is a query – but none expects me to remember them off by heart.

John’s highlight of 2018: This year I have encouraged branch members to take a bit of time for wellbeing and our trips to Portswood’s Bookshop Alehouse have established this as our top spot for Friday nights.

Honorary Treasurer – (currently Tim Sluckin)

This is a job for someone who is organised and ideally numerate (but we have a calculator).  Maybe it is for you if you don’t like the limelight or too much public speaking.  Amanda keeps an eye on the branch funds and helps prepare the annual accounts- these need to be audited and presented at the AGM once a year. You need to be a signatory for the branch bank account.

Health and Safety Officer – (currently David Kinnison)

The Health and Safety Officer is one of the most important roles on the committee, and while there are general protections for time spent on union duties, there is special legislation that protects health and safety duties. With luck and lots of volunteers, the executive officer will be in a position to coordinate multiple health and safety reps in the faculty. The H&S Officer is the point of contact for reps, caseworkers, and the committee, liaising with the national committee on policy and campaigns, and raising issues at branch executive and university Joint Negotiating Committee meetings.  There are national meetings each year – usually a full day (accommodation and travel expenses fully paid for this).

Equality Officer – (currently Mary Morrison)

There is a lot of public communication about equality, particularly gender equality, that comes from the University – we know that they both want and need to engage with this, and UCU is in a great position to help them do this. The Equality Officer is responsible for developing local strategies for equalities campaigns, and advising other caseworkers on legislation and institutional frameworks. There are national meetings each year – usually a full day (accommodation and travel expenses fully paid for this).

Mary’s best bit about the job:  “Campaigning for equality in the University of Southampton remains critical and this is most obvious when looking at gender. The Gender Pay gap data for 2017 shows women earning over 20% less than men in the institution as a whole.”

Insecure Contracts Staff Officer (Fixed term and Hourly Paid zero hours and temporary contracts – currently vacant)

This is our point of contact for all our casualised and precariously employed staff and this is a priority area of campaigning and support, nationally and locally. Ideally we’d like a small sub-group to take this work forward.  There are national meetings each year – usually a full day (accommodation and travel expenses fully paid for this).

Post-grad and SUSU Liaison Officer (currently Cori Ruktanonchai)

This officer post is key to building and maintaining relationships with our students. Usually held by a PGR student, this job requires energy , advocacy, and communication skills, and it is an excellent introduction to union work for someone who wants to understand the workings of higher education from a new perspective.

Academic-related Staff Officer (currently Sarah Fielding)

Sarah says: “I have been the UCU rep for at least one large restructure, which affected staff moving from the ERE to MSA pathway. Generally, the ARPS role means making sure the voices of those members on MSA/TAE pathways are heard, highlighting gaps/disparity in provision for those pathways (such as equal access to family facilities, or CPD opportunities), and also raising awareness of challenges such as career progression etc. There are national meetings each year – usually a full day (accommodation and travel expenses fully paid for this).

The best bit of the job for me is knowing that your input can make a difference to someone going through a hard time.”

Membership and Campaigns Officer (currently VACANT)

 This is a role that is currently covered by Amanda, liaising with HQ on membership and recruitment campaigns. If you are organised, enthusiastic, and enjoy coming up with new ideas to help us recruit members, we’d really like to hear from you. It has never been more important for employees to have the protection and advice of their union, and we know that the union is stronger for every member we recruit.  Perks include cakes and treats on recruitment stalls…

Communications Officer (currently VACANT – new role subject to ratification at AGM)

This is a new role – a lot of this has been covered by the President, VP and Amanda this year.  We would like to keep the regular blog and develop other communications newsletters, bulletins and posters, etc. This work can be delegated to reps but we need a plan and some oversight of this.

Environmental Officer (currently VACANT)

 This is a union role suitable for UCU members who wish to develop their understanding of climate change and ways to protect the environment through change at work. The role of the Environmental Officer rep is to work  with management to ensure wherever possible that the University is working towards green objectives. You will be responsible for bringing environmental issues to the attention of the branch executive, for raising with management at JNCs.

Ordinary Members – four posts (currently Mark Dover, Maureen Harrison, Roger Ingham, Marianne O’Doherty )

Attend monthly committee meetings – 90 mins a month in term time – and offer assistance/support where possible to other ongoing issues.  Current ordinary members help on redundancy consultations, casework, JNC meetings, and campaigning (more or less everything that the committee is required to do).

Our OMs say the best bit about the job is meeting great colleagues from departments across the university; and making a positive difference to the treatment of colleagues across the university through your advocacy.

#WeAreTheUniversity – Part I

Last Friday, just as I was about to leave Union House, Amanda reminded me it’s our third and final National Recruitment Week next week (week beginning 14 May). This regular event can be met in the office with a range of responses, from “OK, where’s the banner and the stand materials? Who’s on the rota?” to “Really? Again? But we have [insert urgent and depressing problem here] to deal with next week!”

I have to admit, my feelings were closer to the latter this time, as first thing Tuesday I will be attending yet another meeting regarding yet another consultation which could result in colleagues losing their jobs.  We simply haven’t got the time to think about something else…

And then, as I took a moment on Sunday to enjoy the Bank Holiday sunshine, I thought, actually, how can we not afford to do this?

We have six more weeks of term time, and six more weeks before our Annual General Meeting. There has never been a more important time for recruitment – if you think this year has been bruising, then next year will be even worse.

It is time to gather together as a community and to show that “We Are the University.”

During the strike weeks, the hashtag #WeAreTheUniversity became familiar to Twitter users: but even if you are not a keen social media user, you will understand the sentiment. We long since decided to stop calling the Senior Management Team “the University” in our communications (as in, “the University has decided…” this or that), because we are the University, not senior management. So few of the important decisions now are taken without any demonstrable benefit to education or research.  We need to take a stand, and we need to do it via every means available to us.

Support your union, and help us to support you. Please, do whatever you can to help us recruit more members: talk to your colleagues, have honest discussions about how you are going to manage the pressures of a consultation in your department. Tell them to visit ucu.org.uk/join – it’s so easy to join the union.

And please don’t think it won’t happen to you: the two departments in the University that came top in the country in REF2014 are now looking to the next academic year with many fewer staff and with severely challenging recruitment due to by arbitrary decisions by the Senior Management Team. Those that remain wonder what the future will bring. As far as we are concerned, we want the future to be in the hands of the university community, and we hope, so do you.

Recruit a friend, put “LUNCH AT THE UCU AGM” in your diary for 15 June, and join the effort to save jobs, education, research, and community – for everyone here: 12:15pm for lunch, Building 44, Room 1041.

 

 

 

More on Clarity Travel and AirBnB

When we sent an email to members last week about the less-than-loved policy forcing us to use Clarity Travel, we mentioned we had seen a Faculty email informing staff that they could no longer use AirBnB for university-related business, and they would not be reimbursed if they submitted receipts from AirBnB. Since this appeared to be policy that was (typically) partially and ineptly communicated, and – worse – to be retrospectively enacted, we promised we would come back to you.  We touched a nerve, because we have been deluged by comments and questions.

We have done a little digging, and we have some information to share. But before we get to the root of this non-policy that has not been negotiated or consulted on, we’d like to share with you some of the most important aspects that have been highlighted to us since last Friday:

  • Equal opportunities / discrimination: many staff have good reasons for looking for self-catering or apartment accommodation when travelling. Those with specific dietary needs or accommodation specification (potentially associated with disability or a medical condition) or travelling with carers have welcomed the flexibility of AirBnB.
  • While hotel-style self-catering accommodation can be found, it is often very expensive, or only available for week-long bookings. Shorter bookings can be made through AirBnB.
  • AirBnB have a facility for businesses called AirBnB for Work, which is not covered in the report below.
  • Edinburgh University (a fellow Russell Group institution) has a very sensible and grown-up policy in place that permits the use of AirBnB, with conditions, and also seems reasonable in terms of the use of its nominated travel company for trips under £300, or trips funded by external agencies.
  • AirBnB makes it possible for the increasing number of academics forced to self-fund research activities to attend conferences, work in the field, and present their work in the UK and abroad. Removing access to AirBnB will result in these activities being drastically curtailed, to the detriment of departments and individuals.

We invite further comments below: if you emailed in to the branch, we would love it if you would reproduce your comments here, so that management can see them.

And now, the digging:

Agenda Item 9, UoS Consultative Health and Safety Committee meeting, Monday 11 December 2017

In December 2017, the Consultative Health and Safety Committee received a paper from Cathy Day, the university’s Director of Health, Safety, and Risk, which purports to be a report on the use of AirBnB for university-related travel. It makes some interesting claims and reveals some of management’s reasonings for the recently communicated ban on any further use of AirBnB or other “unregulated providers.”

Item 3.1 of this paper reads:

In July 2017 the University appointed Clarity as their travel management company and then mandated that all air travel should be booked through them. There was no such mandate for accommodation but professional services personnel within Faculties such as Heads of Faculty Finance and Health & Safety Advisers have promoted the use of Clarity wherever possible and endeavoured to manage the issues raised by users over available options. One of those options is Air BnB which cannot currently be booked via the travel management system because Clarity do not have an arrangement to do so and nor do they have any means of checking the suitability, security or safety of accommodation on offer. Those preferring to use Air BnB therefore have to book their accommodation independently.

This appears to suggest that one of the reasons for not permitting the business use of AirBnB is that Clarity do not have a way of recouping “rent” (see here for a definition of “rent-seeking”) from them.

Item 3.2 of the paper reads:

All travellers at the University are required to complete a travel risk assessment and to implement measures to control the risk to as low as reasonably practicable. If undertaken as per the guidance provided this should be sufficient to enable the employee to fulfil their duty of care and to inform them whether the journey, accommodation, location is suitable or not. Checking and signing off this assessment enables the University to also fulfil its duty of care. There are good examples of travel risk assessments across the University. However, there is currently no central database and thus limited knowledge about how well travel risk assessments are completed and whether these are sufficiently checked and signed off.

This item suggests that the University’s risk assessments are sufficiently detailed to allow for the University’s and the employee’s duty of care to be fulfilled.

Item 3.3 of the paper reads:

Travel insurance provided by the University does not cover personal liability for damage caused to Air BnB properties because they are unregulated and in the eyes of the insurer are open to fraudulent claims. Home owners (hosts) may have suitable insurance to cover this but it is not a requirement of Air BnB so needs to be checked for each booking by the guest.

Again, this seems like there are mechanisms to ensure that a stay in AirBnB would present no financial risk to the university.

Item 3.4 caused us a little bit of pre-weekend amusement:

Two simple benchmarking exercises have taken place. The first carried out in September 2017 is attached at appendix A which included 20 large and complex companies within the within the UK of which the University of Southampton was one. The response was mixed…

The second benchmarking was undertaken in November 2017 with the Universities Safety & Health Association network. Very few said they had any policy on the use of it but those that did, either banned it or used Business Air BnB. The lack of responses indicated no definitive conclusion.

Appendix A is reproduced here.  It reveals that this “benchmarking exercise” was conducted by expat-academy.com. We note that this service organisation will conduct a benchmarking exercise for you if you email them with a question. Their website states:

Benchmarking Service: For any question you want to ask other GM [global mobility] professionals but can’t due to anti-trust, you can send them our way. We send your question, consolidate responses and distribute answers anonymously. Click HERE to email us and ask your question!

Slightly hilariously (at least to this blogger), expat-academy chose to benchmark us with Diageo, Pearsons, and Imperial Tobacco: those well-known academic research institutions which require their staff members to self-fund their business activities.

The “second benchmarking” conducted among universities is a bit more nebulous: a lack of responses, and “very few” saying they had any policy. No evidence of any exercise actually being carried out is produced.

Item 4 is where it gets maddening:

4.1 Strategic: This report endorses the University’s strategic goals of;

    • Collegiality – by improving the management of travel to ensure risks are identified and addressed.
    • Quality – by improving the experience, safety and security of those who travel on behalf of the University.
    • Reputation – by helping to ensure travel arrangements are well managed to avoid any reputation damage.
    • Sustainability – by reducing risks associated with travel, thus enabling the university to continue its research, promotional activities and attendance at important events.

4.2  Financial:The cost to the University in respect of lost reputation should anything occur at an event could be extremely damaging.

4.3 Equality and Legal: Equality legislation is often complimentary [sic] to that of Health and Safety with several aspects forming an integral part of good health and safety management such as the risks and environment affecting the disabled, expectant mothers, young and older people, cultural needs etc

4.4  Risk and Health & Safety This report reflects the health and safety management system in place at the time. Failure to identify and assess risks can often mean that inappropriate or insufficient measures have been implemented to control them.

4.5  Reputation Poor health and safety can seriously impact upon the reputation of the University. A serious incident resulting in a large fine, enforcement action or imprisonment could be extremely damaging to the University.

 

This item shows that the overriding consideration here is finance – not the financial cost to external funders or to self-funding staff of Clarity-bookable hotels and Clarity’s rent on top – but the potential cost to the University of some sort of reputational damage caused by its academics trashing an AirBnB property (see Item 3.3 above). The report makes no other reference to equality, or an equality impact assessment of such a policy, but our members have identified that this is a primary concern for them. It also states (Item 3.2 above) that the current risk assessment procedure is sufficient to both employer and employee, if properly carried out.

We will be taking this matter to the Joint Negotiating Committee on 4 June, so we would welcome further comments from members. We are particularly exercised that the policy is being enacted retrospectively, so causing more financial distress to employees. Let us know what you think in the comments box below.