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A very busy week, and lots of progress to report

The Penguins of Solidarity re-enact our Strategy Day with Tony, the AUT Brain

I had not anticipated writing another blog quite so soon after the last, but some important things have happened this week, and – accepting the risk that members might get blog-fatigue before the autumn term has even started – I thought it was a good idea to update on the many positive outcomes of all the intense activity.

Tuesday we held our Strategy Day, and it was wonderful to welcome so many people – executive committee members, caseworkers, departmental reps – to what was a very productive session.  On the morning agenda were some important national issues, particularly changes to membership terms and pensions.  Briefly:

  • From 1 October, PGR students who teach during their doctoral studies are to be offered free full membership, valid for four years, or until the member achieves a more secure job. PGR students are already offered free membership, but not with all the benefits of full membership.  This is a very welcome change, and we hope you will advertise this to your PG teaching fellows and assistants. https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/8916/Future-of-the-profession-free-membership-FAQ  Other changes from the union are in the pipeline, including CPD provision, help for international staff, and some significant adjustments to benefits. We’ll keep you updated.
  • Pensions: While we were discussing the problems of the 2017 USS valuation and the continued and growing threat to our pensions, the University of Sheffield decided in the interests of transparency to publish the valuation documents, something that UCU activists have been demanding for months: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/hr/thedeal/pensionupdates/ussvaluation At branch and at national level, UCU is very concerned that the valuation methodology is inappropriate and damaging, and will leave scheme members increasingly worse off, potentially putting us into renewed conflict with our employers.  We have requested a meeting with the Finance Director to discuss USS, and we will be blogging about that in the near future.  You can follow the thoughts of Mike Otsuka, Professor at LSE, here.
Southampton UCU 2017 Strategy Day

Southampton UCU 2017 Strategy Day

In the afternoon, we discussed six related areas of concern that I have outlined in previous posts:

  • workload
  • misuse and abuse of the appraisal process
  • misuse and abuse of student evaluation
  • performance management
  • restructuring/redundancies/settlement agreements
  • the upcoming review of Statutes and Ordinances

From the feedback and ideas raised in the session, we are devising action plans for both negotiation and campaigning on all of these points.  We plan to set up some FAQ pages in the very near future: one in relation to appraisal concerns, and another with some points about settlement agreements.  We are, as always, keen to hear about your experiences, good and bad, in relation to first five; if you think you have expertise or experience that will help us with the sixth, we’d love to hear from you.

Wednesday was also a full day, this time with a number of meetings with HR and other professional services.  The general feeling at the end of the day was encouraging, having achieved some progress towards clear lines of consultation and negotiation on policies (to include principles, procedures, and guidelines) in the morning, and having addressed some points of concern directly with HR representatives in the afternoon. We had a valuable lessons-learned meeting, subsequent to a complex restructuring last academic year, that has helped us establish good practice for what we hope will be more effective and compassionate consultations in the future, with better outcomes for all concerned.

Finally, the statement below is a very positive outcome from our afternoon meeting with Andy Cast, Interim Director of HR Business Partnering, in relation to settlement agreements and protected conversations:

Under Employment Law a mutually agreed exit is achieved using a settlement agreement to ensure that contractual, common law and most statutory claims are settled, including claims of discrimination.  The discussions leading to the employee’s departure are conducted via a protected/without prejudice conversation to terminate the employment contract on terms mutually agreed between the employer and employee.  On occasions the University would like to be able to offer an opportunity for colleagues to leave under these voluntary terms.  Normally there will be a workplace dispute, relationship breakdown or an ongoing performance issue which initiates such action.  A settlement agreement can be requested by the employer or employee.  If the University wishes to offer one of these settlement agreements to a colleague, it will ensure 5 working days’ notice is given for any protected/without prejudice conversation, along with the opportunity for the staff member to bring a Union Representative or companion with them if they wish to do so.  For more information about settlement agreements, please see the ACAS guidance here.

This statement will be added to our FAQs on settlement agreements, but we wanted you to have the text as soon as possible, as it has reassured us of the university’s commitment now to give notice to employees if it wishes hold such a meeting, giving the employee the opportunity to arrange representation, if they wish.

Wishing you all the very best for the weekend, and the coming weeks leading up to the beginning of the autumn term

Laurie

 

Southampton UCU consultative ballot on new contract of employment

Dear colleague

We are currently balloting members on whether to accept or reject the new master contracts of employment.  You should already have received an email with a unique voting link and you have until Tuesday 10 October at 5pm to vote on the proposals.  If you have not received this email please contact Amanda at ucu@soton.ac.uk as soon as possible.

Southampton UCU has been in negotiations with University of Southampton on the new master contracts of employment for staff at Levels 4-6 since summer 2013. These negotiations have been taking place with renewed intensity in the last academic year. The stated intent of University of Southampton in re-drafting contracts of employment is, “To produce a set of modernised contract of employment templates which are legally compliant, written in ‘plain English’, to make the terms and conditions of employment simpler to understand, and, where possible, to future proof standard clauses. It is important to note that the existing terms and conditions of employment are not being changed in this revision.”

The proposed contract is for new staff joining the University, or for staff who are taking up a new post. At present this does not affect contracts for existing staff, who will for the time being remain employed on their current contracts of employment. Southampton UCU is keen to ensure consistency and equity in terms of employment at University of Southampton, therefore if our members approve the new master contracts of employment for new staff, we will in principle approve these contracts being rolled out to existing staff at a future date.  During the lengthy negotiations we carefully considered the views of University of Southampton and the University considered feedback from your Southampton UCU reps. We feel that we are now able to present to our members the final version.

We encourage members to look at the new contract as well as the summary document, both of which can be found here:  https://groupsite.soton.ac.uk/Administration/Master-Contracts-Project/Pages/Home.aspx

PLEASE USE YOUR VOTE.

 

 

September update: Pay and priorities

As many of us descend into the long Sunday night that is September, preparing for the first Monday morning of the new academic year, Southampton UCU are putting together our own “syllabus” for 2017-18.*  We are having our annual strategy day next week (12 September), at which we will set our priorities for the coming year. If you are interested in coming along and still haven’t let us know – do it now (so we can make you welcome and feed you lunch).

More of that in a minute, but it would seem remiss of me not to at least mention the brouhaha in the press this week about top salaries in the university sector.  Most of us can only sit back in bewilderment at the insensitivity of comments made by a variety of leaders in HE.  On Monday, we witnessed the VC of Oxford University admitting that her pay is very generous in relation to the vast majority of her academic staff (but not in comparison to footballers and bankers, so that’s alright then). Today, the government has stepped in, with Jo Johnson set to tell UUK that senior management salaries should be curbed, with fines if excessive salaries cannot be justified. UCU has responded to Johnson’s proposals, underlining the need for transparency.

In the same report, the head of the Russell Group trots out the “global market” argument (“At the same time, our members are operating in a fiercely competitive international market for the best research, teaching and leadership talent. Ultimately this pays huge dividends, adding tens of billions of pounds to the economy every year and helping to maintain the UK’s position as a world leader in science and innovation”), weirdly forgetting, it seems, that senior management don’t actually deliver the research, teaching, and leadership all by themselves:  all staff in all universities contribute to the sector’s importance and position, sometimes despite the conditions in which we are asked to work, and the terms under which we are remunerated.

The national issue of pensions is also ever-present, and we expect that there will be further erosion to our benefits proposed.  We will keep you informed of national campaigns.  As a first action, you could consider signing a petition demanding that USS shows the way it has arrived at its dubious valuation:     https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/uss-must-show-its-workings.

Back to priorities:  as I have outlined previously, there are a number of important and intersecting concerns that have risen to the top of our agenda over the summer.  These are (in no particular order, because intersecting…): workload; abuse and misuse of the appraisal process; abuse and misuse of student evaluation; the upcoming review of the University’s Statutes and Ordinances (which form part of our terms and conditions); performance management; restructures.  I anticipate that these issues will inform the basis of our negotiations with the university, along with the ongoing work of policy review, contractual negotiations, and casework.

We already have a working group looking at workload issues, and we have volunteers who are helping with the Statutes and Ordinances review. But we still need your help: while our team of caseworkers are dedicated and efficient, the casework load is ever increasing, and we are always grateful for more volunteers who are willing to support colleagues.  We will provide you with training and support, and will not give you more than you can handle: sometimes, a member just needs advice or someone to help them consider alternative courses of action in any given situation.  Our more experienced caseworkers and our regional support officer and regional official, Scott Alexander and Moray McAulay, are on hand to deal with the difficult or sensitive cases.

Reports back from members show a variety of approaches to performance management, which range from the supportive and reasonable to the downright alarming. Please keep the reports coming: we will do all we can to keep information confidential.  We are continuing to press management into action on these points: keeping in mind the university’s published values of quality, sustainability, and collegiality, we want to work with management to ensure that all measures taken to improve performance, in whatever part of the university, are proportionate, fair, and should respect the legal rights of the employees and the university’s duty of care.

Saving the most important to last, we are now negotiating in restructures in a number of different areas in the University.  We do not expect that this activity will decrease.  We are also handling individual cases for members who are being offered settlement agreements to leave the university, with no warning, often at meetings that have been called under the pretence of a different matter.  Please be aware: if you arrive at a meeting at which an HR partner is in attendance without prior notice, you can request an adjournment until you have sought advice from UCU, and leave the meeting.  You can also request union representation if you are informed HR will be present at any meeting to which you are called.

We don’t want to alarm staff unnecessarily, but we want to make sure that you are supported, and that you know we are here to support you. We are so much stronger when we act as a community.

Wishing you all well

Prof Laurie Stras
President, Southampton UCU

*And if you are one of our colleagues that has been teaching or providing support for students throughout the summer, or working in professional services doing urgent tasks that cannot be completed in the main teaching semesters, we salute you.

Mid-August briefing from the Branch President

Middle-of-August greetings to all members, and to those who are interested in UCU activity at the University of Southampton.

I am going to try to blog relatively frequently about what the union is doing in university: the executive committee is busy year-round, but it is not always obvious to members what we do, and how, when, and why we do it.

First, many thanks to everyone who responded to my recent email. Your responses helped me immensely in my first meeting with Sir Christopher.  The VC was generous with his time, and the conversation felt productive. I was able to articulate your deep concern about the misuse/abuse of the appraisal process, student evaluation, spiralling workload, and the effects on the community of the pressures of external metrification. We agreed that we should identify areas in which we could make some progress: these were the issues that were at the top of my list.

We are exerting increasing pressure for a meaningful review of the appraisal process: the annual review (according to our negotiated agreement) is a year overdue, and it is also urgent. The Level 7 appraisal round begins again in only a few months. We are still keen to hear your stories if you feel your appraisal was conducted unfairly, or in breach of the agreement: some advice on what to do is here.

Branch executive members and our branch administrator Amanda have also been very busy with a number of consultations across the university. There is no easy way to gloss this activity: we are currently facing restructures and potential redundancies in a handful of areas, and we fully expect that we will be asked to represent members in further exercises in the coming year.

There is no doubt that the entire HE sector is in turmoil, and it is neither wise nor possible to pretend that Southampton will escape the effects of a shrinking market.  The Regional Office and Executive Committee will do our utmost to ensure that measures taken will be proportionate, fair, and in the best interests of the university as a whole. We will not settle for what is doable, but will work to get the best outcome we can – we will always do our best to support our members.

As the new academic year gets into swing, activities increase: branch executive members will be involved in policy reviews, health and safety consultation, individual casework, and – very importantly – an imminent review of the Statutes and Ordinances, initiated by senior management.  We cannot stress how important this review will be, as the Statutes and Ordinances form the basis for our terms and conditions of employment. The more members we can enlist to take part in working groups – especially those with legal or drafting expertise – the better we will be able to protect our terms and conditions, and our academic freedom.

The branch executive will be having a strategy planning day on 12 September.  If you are interested in getting more involved in union work, you are welcome to attend for some or all of the day: please get in touch with Amanda on ucu@soton.ac.uk or 023 8059 2364.  Further details will be circulated in another email.

Prof Laurie Stras
SUCU Branch President

International staff survey

UCU is the largest post-16 education trade union in the world and we are committed to representing our international workforce and fighting for their interests in uncertain times.

Please help us to support international staff by completing our survey of non-UK education workers and sharing it with colleagues.

Most recently, UCU’s campaigning on behalf of international staff has focused on developing UCU’s immigration employment advice service for both EEA and non-EEA nationals which now includes support for member’s families. UCU’s on-going ‘UK universities and colleges are international’ campaign also provides resources and guidance for your local UCU branch.

The UCU post-Brexit charter, produced in December 2016, sets out eight key policy priorities, and UCU’s general election manifesto also called for further protections. The UCU submission to the ‘impact of exiting the European Union on higher education’ inquiry was prominently cited in the final report.

The union does much to represent international staff but we need to do more. Please help us to better support members and future members by completing and sharing our survey of non-UK education workers.

Many thanks, Sally Hunt

UCU general secretary

p.s. – Office for Students: The Department of Education is recruiting for board members for the newly established Office for Students. Members may wish to consider this opportunity to contribute at a senior level to post-16 education. The union does not have any formal role in this process but we recognise that members may be interested in the role.

UCU advice and support related to appraisal process

All staff should have completed an appraisal by 31st May unless on probation.

UCU understands that appraisal scores for staff at levels 4-6 will be moderated at an Academic Unit/Directorate level followed by ratification of these scores at Faculty/Executive Directorate level.

The University previously agreed with UCU that only scores of 4/5 would be subject to moderation.  (See https://intranet.soton.ac.uk/sites/hr/appraisal/SitePages/Home.aspx).  This assurance about the limited scope of moderation was key to the University of Southampton appraisal system being agreed by national UCU.  This feature was highlighted to our members when we balloted them about the Pay and Reward arrangements.  These arrangements, including the appraisal scheme, were endorsed by 94.5% of UCU members at University of Southampton in September 2014.

We are aware that scores of 1-3 are also being moderated. UCU has not been consulted about this extended moderation process or Terms of Reference, and we have raised this with senior management, along with our other broader concerns about how appraisal has been conducted this year.  It appears that University of Southampton could be breaching the collective agreement with UCU on pay and reward, which includes arrangements for appraisal.

We are aware that some UCU members have been given a provisional appraisal score and have been required to attend a meeting with HR and Line Management, before appraisal scores have been moderated or ratified. If you are asked to attend such a meeting, please contact UCU for support. We advise you to request to be accompanied by a colleague or UCU representative into this meeting. You are entitled to ask the reason(s) for a meeting request and who will be present.

If you are asked to attend a ‘protected conversation/meeting’ you may be informed of capability, disciplinary or asked to consider leaving your job.  We advise you to request to be accompanied by a colleague or UCU caseworker into such a meeting and you are entitled to ask the reason(s) for the meeting and who will be present. You do not have to agree to settlement offers made to you in a protected conversation/meeting and we advise members to carefully consider any offers before responding.

University of Southampton has a Dignity at Work Policy statement which begins by stating, “The University of Southampton is committed to supporting, developing and promoting equality and diversity in all of its practices and activities. We aim to establish an inclusive culture, free from discrimination and based on the values of dignity, courtesy and respect. We recognise the right of every person to be treated in accordance with these values.”  We also note that the appraisal scheme approved by UCU members includes a commitment that “All appraisals should be carried out in a fair and equitable way, with due consideration paid to an individual in relation to the process and outcomes of appraisal.”  We are concerned that the practice of appraisal moderation outside of agreed processes, and the use of moderated scores to coerce staff into asking staff to consider leaving their job, appears to breach the commitments made by University of Southampton in these policies.

UCU is currently working with a number of members on issues related to appraisal. If you have concerns or comments regarding the appraisal process please contact us – you can do this via ucu@soton.ac.uk. (If you would prefer not to use university email please telephone the office on 023 8059 2364 and Amanda can provide alternative contact details.)

 

National Senior Management survey for UK University staff

The National Senior Management Survey (SMS) is an anonymous survey for university staff around the UK to complete about the practices of their senior management team. The survey is a form of audit that seeks to move the gaze from the narrow metrics of staff performance to the senior management teams who set the conditions through which staff performance becomes possible. The results will be disseminated as widely as possible and a league table of findings will be produced. In so doing it seeks to ask questions of the current trajectory of higher education in the UK and to broaden debate about what universities should and could be for our students.

You can complete the survey here:  https://smsproject.wordpress.com/

Preliminary findings were reported in the THE recently: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/overpaid-and-overbearing-uk-university-staff-management

Claim Tax Relief on UCU subscriptions

You might be interested to know that due to UCU’s status as a professional organisation, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) gave approval for members to claim up to 67% tax relief on the total annual subscription they have paid to UCU during the last four years, and on an annual basis thereafter.  Further guidance can be found at:  https://www.ucu.org.uk/taxrelief .  Please complete this template tax relief claim form ucu_taxclaimform_Apr16  and return it to the tax office on completion.  The University’s tax office details are:

West Hampshire Area HM Revenue & Customs
Trinity Bridge House
2 Dearmans Place
Salford 
M3 5BS 

The tax office reference number is 663/U1.  

If you need further information please contact the UCU office.

 

Southampton UCU General Meeting – 29 March

Members are invited to attend the next UCU General Meeting which is being held on Wednesday 29 March at 12.15pm in room 85/2207.  The topics of the meeting are:

Experiences with appraisal, two years in; and

A forward look at REF and TEF

We are now into the second year of the new appraisal process and have received a variety of concerns from members, both appraisees and appraisers, on the new system, particularly in relation to moderation at Faculty and University level, and the requirement within Faculties for final scores to conform to the “bell curve” of expectations.  The meeting will provide a forum at which you can raise your concerns, which we can then take forward with management.

With both REF and TEF on the horizon we will be discussing the impact of these processes on your current roles: in particular, possible changes in pathways (from balanced to teaching only) and how this fits with your career plans. We welcome your ideas and contributions, especially if you have concerns you would like to raise.

As we will be providing a light sandwich lunch could you please email Amanda (ucu@soton.ac.uk) if you will be attending, and any special dietary requirements, by Thursday 23 March.  Lunch will be available from 12.15pm with the meeting commencing at 12.30pm prompt. 

Universities are International – Open meeting 1 March

UCU is holding an open meeting for staff to discuss Brexit and international issues.  We are concerned by the impact of recent political decisions on our staff and students and would like to engage with colleagues to understand more about the issues that are important to you.

At the meeting we will discuss how we are campaigning on your behalf, including details of our policy charter, and how we will be engaging with management at University of Southampton to take your concerns forward. 

The meeting is being held on Wednesday 1 March at 12.30pm in room 6/1083.  It is open to UCU and non-members alike so please encourage your colleagues to attend.

If you are unable to make the meeting but have questions/queries that you would like raised, please email ucu@soton.ac.uk