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OPEN LETTER TO MUSIC STUDENTS ON UCU INDUSTRIAL ACTION – Southampton, 19 February 2020

Dear Music Students,

We, staff and PhD students in Music, are writing this letter to explain our position in the upcoming University and College Union industrial action. Many of us will be striking. Some will not, or not the whole time. All of us sympathise with what the UCU is asking for in the disputes, which involve 74 UK universities.

First, we know that this means trouble for you. None of us who are striking take this lightly. Indeed, we are not getting paid for the days we strike. We believe that strikes are a last resort. Unfortunately negotiations have not yet achieved a result that the UCU and its members feel they can accept, for themselves, for you and for the future of higher education in this country,

You recently received a communication from the university claiming that the strike is over “pay and pensions.” Actually it is about more than that:

  1. Casualisation. In our department most classroom teaching is still done by staff on full-time contracts. The national trend, however, is for universities to use more “casual” teaching staff on yearly, academic-year only or even zero-hours contracts, despite the introduction of £9K+ home and large increases to overseas student fees. The effect, especially on younger academics, has been impossibly high levels of stress. We know that some of our own graduates, top students who went on to do PhDs, now earn less than the “living wage” as lecturers at prestigious institutions.
  2. Workload. Compared to ten years ago, before the increases in fees, British universities spend less on people. There have been significant cuts to crucial front-line administrative staff and widespread hiring freezes. The result is more work for fewer workers. It is no surprise that academics and academic-related colleagues across the country are reporting record levels of stress, and increasingly stress-related illness. Most of us will tell you that the price of giving you the education you deserve is longer hours, frequently in excess of the 48 hours per week laid down by the European Working Time Directive, which remains British law. All of us want to do our very best by you, but the price is getting higher every year. Our working conditions are your learning conditions.
  3. Pay equality. At many British universities, including ours, there is a disgraceful gap in pay between men and women, and between White British colleagues and members of racial and ethnic minorities. At the University of Southampton across all subjects men earn 16% more than women on average. For years our employers have agreed with us that this is unacceptable–and not enough has changed. We demand action.
  4. Pay. Senior academics earn good money. But many of us did not find secure employment until we were older, and when we did we worked for low entry-level salaries. We accepted these conditions because we were deeply committed to our work, and knew that pay would improve with seniority. Yet in the past decade, since the increases in student fees, by conservative estimates our average pay has fallen 15% behind inflation, and behind compensation for similar work in the private sector. We ask that this loss be made up.
  5. Pensions. Academic pensions are attractive, roughly comparable to those of teachers or local government employees. But they are under pressure. In 2015 we accepted a significant decrease in our pensions to make them more affordable (we understand that people are living longer!). The result for all but the most senior of us was a substantial loss (£100s per month) in future pension income. In 2018 our employers tried to impose a “defined contribution” (instead of “defined benefit”) model, which would have resulted in losses of up to £1000 per month for mid-career and even more for junior colleagues. As a result there were strikes at many universities, including this one. These strikes ended when the employers withdrew their plans. They have yet to offer an acceptable alternative.

Some of us took action over all of these issues in November and December. Since then there has been some movement on casualisation, workload and equal pay. The UCU are happy that employers now recognise these as national issues, and have made specific suggestions to address them. But union negotiators cannot accept these without mechanisms of enforcement. On pay the offer currently on the table (1.8%) is not acceptable because it is below most measures of inflation and does nothing to address the many years of relative decline. Employers have made a series of alternative suggestions about pensions, but are refusing to agree to pay for what these would cost.

Negotiations are in a critical phase. Those of us who are going on strike do so because we believe that only pressure on employers will convince them to move the short distance that separates us. If they do, and the UCU accepts their offer, those of us who plan to strike will return to work immediately.

What you can do if you support us:

  • Write to the Vice Chancellor, Prof Mark E. Smith (emailvc@soton.ac.uk). Although he has not been here long most of us have experienced him as a friendly and open person. Let him know, politely, and in your own words, that you are on the side of your teachers and the staff who support your learning, and that you would like him to use his influence to end this long and draining dispute.
  • Talk to your friends and family. Educate yourselves and them about what is at stake here: your learning conditions, and those of the students who come after you.
  • Come out and support us. This Thursday, 20 February, Music staff will be picketing near Building 2 from 10-11 and then attending a rally in Jubilee Plaza. Show your support. Bring your instruments. Come and sing with us!

Yours sincerely,

 

Tom Irvine

David Bretherton

Dan Mar-Molinero

Valeria de Lucca

Ben Oliver

Richard Polfreman

Drew Crawford

Francesco Izzo

Mark Everist

Bastian Terraz

Matthew Shlomowitz

Jane Chapman

Diana Venegas

Kate Hawnt

Ryan Ross

Peter Falconer

Catherine Fabian

Jeanice Brooks

Anisha Netto

Clare Merivale

Gintaré Stankeviciute

David Alcock

Clarissa Brough

Mary-Jannet Leith

Jamie Howell

Andy Fisher

 

UCU trustee, national officer and NEC elections – ballot now open

Members should have received their ballot material for the election of some of UCU’s national officers and national executive committee positions, including the Vice President, Trustees, and members of the National Executive Committee. These are very important roles in our Union; however, the turnout in these elections is typically very low. We thus strongly encourage you to take part to this democratic process of our Union. We have reported below a brief description of the function of each elected position, and a list of candidates for each position (CLICK on a candidate’s name to open their election statement). The ballot is conducted on a single transferable vote (STV) basis; you should thus rank candidates in order of preference by placing a number next to each candidate’s name. Your ballot papers should arrive by February 10th; do not hesitate to email us at ucu@soton.ac.uk for additional information.

Note that not all regions or sectors have candidates being elected this time round.  This is because periods of office for some positions are staggered.

 

VICE PRESIDENT

This is one of the most important and influential elected roles in the Union. The Vice President (VP) is elected annually, in alternating years from Further Education (FE) and Higher Education (HE), but always by the whole membership. Once elected, the VP serves four years: the first as VP, the second as President-Elect, the third as President, and fourth as Immediate Past President. They are strongly involved in UCU’s decision making. For instance, they are members of the pay negotiating teams for their sector, along with various other sub-committees, and they chair their Sector Committee/Conference for two years.

Candidates (1 seat available):
Margot Hill (Croydon College)
Janet Farrar (The Manchester College)

TRUSTEES

The trustees have oversight of the union’s property and funds. They may attend meetings of Congress, the National Executive Committee, and finance committees.

Candidates (3 seats available):

David Limb (North West Regional College)
Martin Ralph (University of Liverpool)
Mike Barton (London retired members’ branch)
Dr Angela Roger (University of Dundee)
Angie McConnell (Open University)

NATIONAL EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE

Members of the national executive committee (NEC) of UCU, include HE and FE members, some of whom are elected regionally, some on a UK-wide basis, plus equality seats and officers of the union. The NEC is responsible for conducting the Union’s business between Congress meetings, and interprets/implements policies decided by Congress. The NEC comprises a number of sub-committees which cover specific areas of work: higher education committee, further education committee, strategy and finance committee, education committee, recruiting, organising and campaigning committee, and equality committee. The higher education committee (HEC) in particular makes key decisions about the conduct of industrial ballots and disputes involving HE institutions.

Candidates (these are divided in categories):

Northern Ireland HE (1 seat available)
Philip McGowan (Queen’s University Belfast)
Linda Moore (Ulster University)

North East HE (3 seats available)
Ariane Bogain (Northumbria University)
Bruce E. Baker (Newcastle University)
Ruth Holliday (University of Leeds)
Dr Steve Lui (Dr Sun Chong Lui) (University of Huddersfield)
Joan Harvey (Newcastle University)
Dr Edward Yates (University of Sheffield)
Matilda Fitzmaurice (Durham University)

North East FE (1 seat available)
Rachel Minshull (Leeds City College)
Saleem Rashid (Sheffield College)

London and the East HE (4 seats available, to include at least one woman)
Roddy Slorach (Imperial College London)
Holly Smith (University College London)[woman]
Annie Goh (UAL Central Saint Martins)[woman]
Sarah Brown (Anglia Ruskin University)[woman]
Dr Stan Papoulias (King’s College London)
Professor Paul Anderson (Queen Mary University of London)
Dr Claire Marris (City, University of London)[woman]

Midlands HE (1 seat available) (casual vacancy)
David Harvie (University of Leicester)
Alan Barker (University of Nottingham)
Dr Teresa Forde (University of Derby)

UK-elected members HE (5 seats available; to include at least one post-92, one academic related)
Ann Swinney (University of Dundee)
Mark Abel (University of Brighton)[post-92]
Chloé Vitry (Lancaster University)
Dr Adam Ozanne (University of Manchester)
Shereen Benjamin (University of Edinburgh)
Michael McKrell (University of Central Lancashire)[post-92]
Jo McNeill (University of Liverpool)[academic related]
Ann Gow (University of Glasgow)
Sunil Banga (Lancaster University)
Dr Mark Pendleton (University of Sheffield)
Mike Finn (University of Exeter)
Dr Leon Rocha (University of Lincoln)[post-92]
Julie Hearn (Lancaster University)
Jamie Melrose (University of Bristol)
Dr Chris O’Donnell (University of the West of Scotland) [post-92]
Sarah King (University of Sussex)[academic related]
Michael Carley (University of Bath)

UK-elected members HE (casual vacancy) (1 seat available)
Chloé Vitry (Lancaster University)
Dr Mark Pendleton (University of Sheffield)
Sunil Banga (Lancaster University)

UK-elected members FE (3 seats available; to include at least one ACE and one woman)
Lauren Mura (Blackburn College)
Saleem Rashid (Sheffield College)
Richard McEwan (New City College Tower Hamlets [Poplar])

UK-elected members FE (casual vacancy) (1 seat available)
Nina Doran (City of Liverpool College)
Kevin Lynch (Sunderland College)

Representatives of women members for Higher education (3 seats available)
Rhiannon Lockley (Birmingham City University)
Dr Joanne Edge (University of Manchester)
Marian Mayer (Bournemouth University)
Pura Ariza (Manchester Metropolitan University)
Madhu Krishnan (University of Bristol)
Dr Rhian Elinor Keyse (University of Exeter)
Julie Wilkinson (Manchester Metropolitan University)
Dr Joanna de Groot (University of York)
Dr Renee Prendergast (Queen’s University Belfast)

Please note that some NEC positions were uncontested, and have not been reported in the list above. You can find the names of candidates who have been already elected (as uncontested) HERE.

UCU meets V-C to discuss current strikes

Officers from Southampton UCU met on the morning of 8 January with Vice-Chancellor Professor Mark E. Smith and Anne-Marie Sitton, Executive Director of Human Resources to hand over our petition (of 1242 signatures), asking for a proper settlement on the current pension and pay disputes. During a 45-minute meeting we discussed a range of issues relating to the ongoing industrial action, including casualisation/precarity, workload, and the Joint Independent Panel (JEP) reports. From SUCU’s perspective, the meeting was positive and productive. The VC and Exec Director of HR indicated willingness to consider a range of options for tackling casualisation and excessive workloads, and there was a clear recognition on the part of the VC that you as members had communicated to him on the picket lines that these issues need to be a priority. Both were open to address staff concerns. They are open to exploring ways of replacing future fixed-term contracts of more than two years with permanent contracts (triggering redundancy when the funding ends) and turning zero-hours contracts into permanent contracts with annualised hours, reviewed annually.

While we were not able to cover all aspects of the dispute within the time available, we took the opportunity to ask for the VC’s views on the JEP 1 and 2 reports. Speaking in a personal capacity, Prof. Smith indicated general agreement with the main recommendations of JEP 2, as well as recognising the importance to UCU and to the sustainability of the scheme of keeping individual members’ contributions to affordable levels. He has also agreed to take the issue of the University’s position on JEP 2 to University Executive Board very soon once an analysis and paper could be prepared. SUCU hopes that this will lead to a public statement of commitment to its aims on the part of the University. We also hope that the VC will take the concrete ideas discussed at the meeting to inform national discussions, in his capacity as chair of UCEA.

SUCU looks forward to further constructive engagements with Senior Managers to help turn these positive aspirations into concrete actions.

 

Campaigns Officer Dr Claire Le Foll hands SUCU’s petition for action on pay and pensions to Vice-Chancellor Prof. Mark E. Smith.

 

 

You can read more about the HE disputes on USS here and Pay & Working conditions here , and via the UCU Twitter account.

Strike Deductions

Members have raised concerns about strike deductions and there has been correspondence between UCU and the VC and senior management.  See below.

Email received from Anne-Marie Sitton, Weds 4 December 2019

Dear SUCU Branch Executive Committee

Thank you for your letter received 3rd December 2019.  As was stated in our correspondence on 21st November 2019, the University respects the rights of UCU members to take strike action, and appreciates the collegial manner in which the industrial action has taken place to date.

 In respect of withholding pay due to strike action, the University has taken the clear position that pay should be withheld in the first available payroll run following the action. On this occasion, given UCU set the strike dates ahead of our December payroll run, all eight strike days fall within December pay.  The dates on which payroll will be run this month have not changed at all and staff will be paid on the originally scheduled day.  Given the extra work for some local colleagues in needing to collect information on colleagues absent through strike action HR and Finance have worked to populate core information so that it does not put unnecessary strain on managers.

In your letter you state that some universities are spreading withheld pay over several months. Having spoken extensively to other universities it is clear that a significant number do plan to make all deductions in December, or all deductions in January. A few Universities have indicated they will spread deductions over two months, some due to the fact their cut-off dates for payroll fall on different days to ours and some due to changes they are making in their HR or payroll systems. A minority have decided to spread deductions over more than two month.

We are aware that UCU has  promoted the provision of hardship funds to support striking members. We trust, that given UCU set the dates for action, these payments will be made expeditiously to anyone with pressing needs.

We hope the local branch also recognises positively that the University has decided initially not to withhold pay for partial performance (although we of course reserve the right to change our position), unlike most other Universities who have, from the outset, taken a different line.

 We appreciate this is not the response your members would prefer, but it was the UCU nationally that called the strike and set these particular dates and not the University. If local UCU members have concerns over when pay should be withheld, we suggest the local branch influences national UCU on the duration and timetabling of strike action.

Kind regards

Anne-Marie Sitton

On behalf of UEB

 

Text of email sent by Southampton UCU Exec committee, Tuesday 3rd December 2019

Dear Vice – Chancellor,

We write in open correspondence following instruction from our General Meeting today (2/12/19). We want to convey our disappointment that UEB has decided to deduct both November’s and December’s strike days in colleagues’ Christmas pay packet.

We naturally accept that such deductions will take place – though we note that some employers have chosen to spread them over further months (Cambridge, Durham, Royal Holloway, Sheffield among others).

It appears to Southampton UCU that the University of Southampton payroll process is being expedited. We are concerned that the rush to push this quickly through payroll will cause unnecessary stress for HR business managers and the payroll team, given that we understand the standard deadline for payroll would be the 4th of December 2019. We are also concerned that the University putting pressure on line managers to rush through reports to enable swift pay deductions will put an unnecessary strain on staff which will further undermine collegiality in our University.  Indeed, many casualized members of staff have expressed dismay that the management is able to prioritize the processing of deductions, when their own routine monthly pay claims are, as the University knows, often held up by management or HR/Payroll delays.

We feel that the decision risks damaging the wider reputation of our University. We therefore urge you to reconsider it.

We note in particular the effect this deduction may have on some of our most precarious and lowest paid staff – coming at Christmas, and prior to the extended January pay period. Again, UCU members fully expected these deductions when we agreed strike action, but we did not (and do not) expect our institutions to alter their payroll processes in a punitive way.

All best wishes,

SUCU Branch Executive Committee

 

Email response from Anne-Marie Sitton , 21 November 2019

Dear UCU Executive,

Thank you for your e-mail dated 19th November on the matter of strike deductions to the Vice-Chancellor, I have been asked to respond to this matter on behalf of the Executive Board (UEB).

I would like to start by saying that we fully respect the rights of your members to take strike action, and we recognise that your members feel strongly about some issues.

The matter of strike deductions was raised at the UEB meeting held on Monday 18th November 2019. The outcome of the discussion was to deduct the strike monies as activities are undertaken.

This decision took into account the dispute in 2018, whereby some institutions, including the University of Southampton, ameliorated the impact of strike deductions on individuals over a number of pay periods. This action was met with a negative response by several elements of UCU across the country at the time, who made clear they had fully understood the potential impact on their members’ pay when determining the period of action. The decision by UCU to take strike action over a consecutive period of eight days commencing on 25 November 2019, was clearly therefore a conscious decision at a national level, and the impact and consequences will have been a known consideration of the UCU executive at the time it made that decision.

Payroll cut-off dates and operational objectives will have been a determination on the timing of deductions in other institutions, and it is clear that the majority of Universities affected by the dispute intend to collect contributions in one single pay period following the industrial action.

In line with the partnership agreement, we are keen to continue to have a constructive dialogue with you about those issues which are directly in our own control, to ensure that we continue to be a supportive employer who works together with local trade unions to improve the employee experience here at Southampton.

With kind regards

Anne-Marie Sitton

 

Email sent to Vice-Chancellor – 19 November 2019

Dear Vice-Chancellor

We are writing to express our concern about recent communications where we were informed that the University plan to deduct strike payments as soon as possible, with all 8 days coming out of the December pay packet.

From discussions with other UCU branches we have found that a number of Universities have already agreed to deduct payments across a number of months (and much like last time, it seems clear that many others will follow). We are therefore writing to ask you to spread the pay deductions across 3 months, in recognition that some of our most precarious temporary staff will be taking part in this action. We would also like a guarantee that pension contributions will not be withheld. An agreement to spread the deductions over a number of months would send a really strong message to all staff that our new University senior management is taking a constructive approach to the leadership of our University (especially in light of the recently signed partnership charter). During the last period of strike action senior management took a very inflexible approach to the strike, and were quick to condemn the actions of those taking strike action, even though the initial valuation that led to the strike was found to have many shortcomings and proved that staff had legitimate causes to take action. This resulted in increasing tensions between staff and management (as you will have no doubt seen in the recent staff engagement survey).

As you noted in communications to all staff and students, this dispute is a national dispute. However, strike action also has the potential to significantly disrupt local relationships between unions and management, and we would like to maintain productive working relationships with senior management through this difficult time for all of those in our University community. Clearly communicating to staff that deductions will be spread across three months would be a small concession to make, and one that would no doubt help foster mutual understanding and trust.

We really do hope this request will be considered.

Yours sincerely

Southampton UCU Executive Committee

 

 

 

 

Southampton UCU EGM – 2 December

Southampton UCU members are invited to attend an Extraordinary Members Meeting to take place on Monday 2 December from 12-1pm in room 2/1085 (L/T C). 

The meeting will discuss the current industrial action and plans for future action.  Your feedback will then be taken to the HE Sector Conference on 6 December, which is being attended by your three elected representatives.  This will be your opportunity to raise any concerns/voice your ideas about future action so we would encourage you to attend.

(apologies that the meeting is being held on campus.  Unfortunately, we were unable to secure any suitable meeting rooms off site – the University has granted UCU members permission to enter University premises whilst on strike).

 

 

UCU Strike Action – A letter to students from a member of staff

Many members have asked us to post the text of the letter to students from a member of staff that was read out at today’s rally. We have posted the text below. Please share widely, and particularly with your students.

 

Imagine there’s a toxin in the air on campus. You can’t see it or smell it or taste it, but with every breath more accumulates within you. Not everyone is affected, but almost everyone will know someone who is. The physical effects are subtle at first — accelerated heartbeat, headaches, nausea — but the real damage is in the mind. The toxin is known to cause stress, anxiety, and both fatigue and insomnia. It frequently leads to depression. At its worst, the toxin can be fatal.

Like all poisons, the first to fall victim are those who are vulnerable in other ways. But over time the numbers affected grow. They include not only students but staff. No one is safe — from freshers to graduates, from technicians to Professors Emeritus — victims present in ever greater numbers. One in five students is diagnosed. Some universities see a 300% rise in cases amongst staff. Researchers begin to talk of an epidemic.

Suppose it then emerges that the toxin was known about all along. Vice-Chancellors’, University Executives — even members of the Government — knew what you were breathing. And like the tobacco industry in the 50s, they said nothing. And suppose we find out that they not only knew, but it was they who introduced the toxin to the airstream — milligram by milligram — in the knowledge of what it would do. Perhaps to you, perhaps to your friend, perhaps to your tutor. What do you do when you find this out?

The toxin in our air is marketization — the transformation of education from a social good, into a product. The move to administer centres of learning as businesses, within a competitive marketplace. Marketization is not a chemical, and it is not strictly in the air, but it may as well be. Marketization is the reason your degree costs £27,000. It is the reason universities must compete for funding, students and reputation or go bust. It is the reason your essays are marked by staff on zero hours contracts. It is the reason your lecturer works a 50 hour week. It is the reason you’re thinking about how you’ll make a living, not how you’ll change the world. It is the reason you cannot afford to fail. It’s the reason everything we all do is monitored, measured and turned into metastasizing targets. It is the reason you, I, we are all so tired.

All the research into mental ill-health — and stress in particular — highlights three culprits. These are financial insecurity, pressure and working hours. These factors are not side effects of marketization — they are its M.O. The story of the last decade of Higher Education has been the demand — year on year — for university staff to do more and more with less and less. But at a certain point, the only fuel left to burn is the health of the people in the sector. There is only so much a mind can juggle. Students and staff experience marketisation in different ways — but we suffer the same symptoms, from the same source.

The epidemic of mental ill-health in Higher Education is not a problem that can be fixed with yoga, or mindfulness, or awareness raising. It was important to raise awareness of asbestos when its toxic properties became known. But it was far more urgent for us to demand that it be ripped out of our homes, our schools and our workplaces. Before all else, we had to refuse to keep breathing it. And that’s what we’re doing with this strike.

It is also why it is not easy to explain. It is not one just thing — not only financial loss, not only working conditions and insecurity and not only the way these weigh on younger, female and minority staff disproportionately. It is the deeper sense that things cannot go on as they are. That there is something bad in the air around us. And that far, far too many of us — the people we work with and the students we teach, — are falling sick because of it.

On some level, we suspect all staff and students feel this. And so while we know acutely how much pressure you are all under, and how no one needs this disruption right now — we hope everyone can understand why we are not in our lecture halls, our offices and our seminar rooms. The reason we’re out in the cold is because of what happens to people who stay inside.

UCU Southampton strike action – branch guidance

UCU’s 8 days of strike action begin on Monday 25th November. Please support the strike and please come to take part in our pickets (see our email from last week).

You will find Branch guidance at this link on our local website at this link http://southampton.web.ucu.org.uk/local-documents-and-info/strike-action-and-action-short-of-a-strike-some-members-tips/

You will find UCU generic guidance at https://www.ucu.org.uk/he-action-faqs and more information about the strikes on linked pages.

Please ask if you still have questions!

The case for climate action

Guest blog from Dr. Philip Goodwin, Associate Professor in Earth Systems Dynamics,  School of Ocean and Earth Sciences.

 

As a scientist working in the field of climate change and the carbon cycle, I believe strongly that urgent action is needed.

The truth is, climate change is not a new problem. People have known about the potential for human-caused changes in Earth’s climate for a very long time. The ability of different greenhouse gasses to trap heat was measured back in the 1850s and 1860s. It was quickly realised that if the atmosphere held more of a particular greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, then the climate would be generally warmer.

People have also known that burning fossil fuels, and clearing and burning forests, releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been measured continuously since the late 1950s. By the late 1970s it was obvious that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was going up year-after-year, and that human emissions were the cause. Measurements now show that carbon dioxide levels are rising ever faster, because each year more fossil fuels are burnt and more forests are cleared.

A big problem with carbon dioxide is that it is difficult to remove from the atmosphere once it has been put there. Some of the carbon dioxide we emit goes into the ocean, and some gets taken up by land, but the rest will stay in the atmosphere keeping the Earth’s climate warmer than it would be naturally for thousands of years.

Daily temperature records at many locations across the globe have been taken for a long time, with a number of records going back as far as the 1850s. Different teams around the world have looked at the available temperature measurements, and all have agreed on what they mean for Earth’s average surface temperature: so far, temperatures are around 1 degree Centigrade warmer than they were in the late 1800s. The only way we can explain this 1 degree warming is by considering the impacts humans have had on the atmosphere, principally the increase in carbon dioxide.

If nothing is done to limit fossil fuel use and the clearing of forests, then the further increases in carbon dioxide are due to cause Earth’s temperatures to rise by another 3 or 4 degrees Centigrade by the end of this century. Such additional warming would have drastic and devastating consequences. To avoid the most serios consequences of man-made climate change, most of the world’s nations have already signed up to keeping global temperatures less than 2 degrees warmer than it would naturally be, and take steps to achieve just 1.5 degrees warming.

All this shows why it is so important to act quickly now, and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide we emit every year. The less carbon we emit now, the less warming future generations will have to cope with. Eventually, to stop climate warming further, we will have to live in a completely carbon-neutral society.

The more quickly we can achieve a carbon-neutral society, and phase out fossil fuels altogether, the less warming future generations will face. Urgent and significant action is now required: to stop warming going above 1.5 degrees Centigrade, assuming we start emissions reductions now, we will need to reach a carbon-neutral society by the year 2050.

All the information needed to make good decisions for our future climate is out there, and has been for a long time. This is an urgent problem that is only going to get worse unless good decisions are made, both on individual and governmental levels. This is why I am keen to see meaningful action on climate – now.

 

 

Counting the cost of casualisation

The current strike ballot on pay, workload, and equality highlights the problems faced by casualised staff. These could be staff on fixed-term contracts (like the vast majority of our early career researchers) or those on hourly-paid or zero-hours contracts, with staff working for a relatively small number of hours per semester (such as with some of our teaching (and other) staff).

A UCU survey from earlier this year prompted 67 responses from Southampton University staff (1.8% of total respondents). The report explored financial insecurity within this group, with respondents to the survey clearly reporting real problems resulting from the precariousness of their income – see tables below copied from the report.

About 60% of respondents have experienced problems with making ends meet, 40% with paying bills, and 30% with paying their rent.

Have you experienced any of the following issues as a result of your employment on insecure contracts? Numbers answering yes Percentage
Problems securing rented accommodation 571 28%
Problems paying rent 613 29.8%
Problems getting a loan 562 27.4%
Problems paying bills 828 40.3%
Problems making ends meet 1228 59.8%
Problems with VISA status 149 7.3%
Problems accessing or maintaining access to benefits 263 12.8%

 

Staff also reported high levels of stress – caused in part by financial insecurity but also by the nature of the work depending on the contract (such as not enough time to prepare, no dedicated workspace and so on).

On a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 = not stressful at all and 10 = extremely stressful, how stressful do you find working on an insecure contract?
  Numbers of responses Percentage of respondents
10 (extremely stressful) 649 24.6%
9 472 17.9%
8 682 25.9%
7 391 14.8%
6 163 6.2%
5 105 4%
4 46 1.7%
3 75 2.8%
2 22 0.8%
1 (not stressful) 33 1.3%

 

For the full report and all findings see Counting the costs of casualisation in higher education – Key findings of a survey June 2019.

Casualisation can mean insecurity, inability to progress and unfair disadvantage. Whilst short-term contracts are often embedded in current research funding models, the recent UCU survey showed that the large majority (97% of respondents) on a fixed-term contract would rather be on a permanent contract, while 80% of those who were hourly-paid would rather be on a contract that guaranteed them hours, even if it meant less flexibility.

The HESA figures for 2017/18 show that of the 2,995 academic staff in the University of Southampton, 1,235 are on fixed-term contracts. We do not have figures for how many are on hourly paid contracts locally. We would like to hear from members here about their experiences of casualised contracts, the impact on themselves, on colleagues and on students. Write in confidence direct to ucu@soton.ac.uk.

And in the context of the current ballot, we urge members to vote to end rising job insecurity.

 

Climate strike rally – thanks for supporting our event

 

Thanks to all who attended the rally in Jubilee Plaza, to our excellent speakers who gave the gathered crowd plenty to think about, and to others who tweeted images, pledges and requests for action.

Also thanks to the Sustainable Energy Research Group (SERG) who planted a tree close to Jubilee Plaza directly after the rally.

 

We are of course only at the beginning of a journey and we intend to work closely with SUSU, other Union colleagues and the University Executive Board (UEB) to ensure that the University achieves the commitments in Southampton City Green Charter (see earlier posts for links).  Any suggestions for activities or actions in the future are welcome, but watch this space…