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Who pays to work at the University? or ‘A different kind of expenses scandal’

Following on from the concern about VC expense accounts earlier in the year, staff here have recently received emails reminding them of the rules governing expense claims and asking us to use the new corporate travel agency to make travel and accommodation bookings. UCU members have raised various concerns about the additional charges and sometimes higher priced tickets incurred via this new system, but this blog is about a different kind of expense – the money many staff spend to support the work they do here at the University, but which they cannot or do not reclaim.

Below is the list of the out of pocket expenses of staff we have compiled from a small sample of members of Southampton UCU. We welcome your additional examples to add to this list:

  • Exchange rate and commission charges on foreign currency used during work related travel, conferences etc. These can add up, especially for those who have to make frequent visits abroad on University business.
  • Allied to this many staff now pay their own conference fees and travel expenses to disseminate their University work or undertake professional development. Those caring for babies and young children may bear the cost of a companion to look after them if they have to accompany them, and this is another extra cost.
  • Ditto for research trips – many disciplines have no research budget or limited funds for ECRs only so that other staff are forced to self fund these vital activities.
  • Publication comes at quantifiable cost for many. Some colleagues have to pay for image reproduction costs and rights and these cost can exceed £1000. If these are not covered by a grant then the staff member has to pay to publish.
  • Visa costs for overseas travel are another a huge expense – we know of at least one junior colleague who had a prestigious fellowship that did not cover these costs.
  • Computers /laptops: several colleagues report that they have had to buy/upgrade these from personal funds.
  • Stationery: as budgets have been cut the impact has been felt on these everyday supplies. UCU members report buying envelopes, notepads as well as materials used in teaching or research. The Secret Teacher alerted readers of the Guardian to the fact that school teachers have long been subsidising school budgets, and it seems a similar practice occurs here. We are also aware that some research staff buy the majority of their own equipment for unfunded field trips for research or teaching.
  • Visiting speaker and external examiners’ refreshments– once again cuts to budgets mean that looking after these visitors typically means just a sandwich and a can of pop, and this often does not seem to adequately express our gratitude for expert speakers and examiners who may travel for 4-5 hours to viva our students, assess our education programmes or share their research knowledge. Whilst this varies by Faculty, we know that some staff are paying out of their own pockets to save the University’s reputation and maintain goodwill.
  • Books – yes some of us still use books, and we also pay for personal subscriptions to journals and these are a business expense.
  • Mobile phone – many staff use their personal mobile and data allowance for work and do not claim this. Having access to the internet at home has become necessary for most as work has followed us home in evenings and weekends.
  • Professional society subscriptions and memberships are another work expense falling on academic-related professional services, and academic staff alike – often these are required for accreditation or promotion and yet are paid from personal income.
  • We are aware that staff here sometimes house visiting colleagues and overseas students who may not have the budget to afford local hotel accommodation. These are more hidden expenses that staff pay.
  • And while we are making the list, we should probably add the cost of tissues for distressed students and staff as there seem to be more of the latter than in the past, perhaps as a result of the recent redundancies and reorganisations.

The money we spend on our work is often not made visible. We spend money to support our research, education and professional activity and seldom bother to add up what it costs to work at the University of Southampton. At a time when the employers are offering a pay settlement that is below inflation, and are still threatening our deferred salary (pension) this subsidising of the University starts to rankle. Our current VC earns £423,000 a year (plus £9,000 USS contribution) and we suspect he, along with other senior managers, has no idea how you are subsidising the work of the University from your wages. UCU will  continue to push senior management to start valuing our staff and properly reward them for the work they do.

We are currently balloting members on pay and equality. The value of your wages has been steadily eroded by inflation. As we have shown above many staff are paying considerable sums to subside University work. UCU has asked for a 7.5% uplift on salaries and for more substantial effort to address job insecurity, the gender pay gap and excessive workloads. We need to get 50% turn out in this ballot if we want to take action to get a better deal. So please VOTE NOW AND VOTE YES to strike action and yes to action short of a strike.

 

Vote YES for a fair pay deal

Earlier this year UCU members were asked what they wanted to do about the derisory pay offer made by our employers. Responses from UCU members here more than cleared the 50% bar demanded by TU legislation – you said, overwhelmingly, that you want to take action on pay.

The Pay and Equality ballot closes Friday 19th October at 12 noon. 

Senior managers have ‘implemented’ a 2% pay increase – but do not be fooled by this. The value of your wages has been going down. The last above-inflation pay rise was in 2014. UCU have asked for a pay increase of 7.5% or £1,500, whichever is greater.

We note that the VC’s pay was a whopping £433,000 (including pension) in 2016/17. Sir Christopher is paid more than double the head of our local hospital, although the hospital budget is larger than that of the university, and they have more staff. We note also that in 2007, the then VC, Bill Wakeham was paid ‘just’ £242,000 (including pension) so Sir Christopher’s pay represents an increase of 79% over 10 years. It is time that University senior managers showed front line staff that they are valued too.

UCU also want a nationally-agreed framework for action to close the gender pay gap by 2020. The most recent gender pay return for University of Southampton shows a mean gender pay gap of 20.2%. Women here are paid, on average, 20% less than men. Women continue to be under-represented at the highest levels of the pay scale and little effective action has been taken to address this inequality.

The 2018 pay claim asks for a nationally-agreed framework for action on precarious contracts. We have a small army of staff employed on fixed term and hourly-paid contracts. This ‘disposable’ labour force deserves a better deal.

Finally our UCU negotiators have pointed out that increases in workload and excessive hours also contribute to the decline in pay of University staff. We have had a year of more cuts to staff and yet no decline in the work to be done. The work of all the people who have left and the vacant posts deliberately left unfilled has been redistributed. During the strike at the beginning of the year people kept saying how good it was to ‘go home on time’ and to spend weekends with family and friends. Staff here routinely take work home after their working day is over. Most work more than their contracted hours. Many of us are bombarded with work emails at all times of the day and night. We have put up with almost constant restructuring, moving from 3 to 8 to 5 Faculties, facing the cuts associated with “INEX”, “Hartley” and “Wellington” projects. We have delivered more and more for this University and yet we are not recompensed. Our pay claim asks for a payment to recognise these excessive workloads. 

There is still time to avoid a dispute this year. Sir Christopher, as a key voice in Universities UK,  could represent us and use his excellent contacts to press for a better deal for University staff.

In the coming weeks we will be working to “Get the Vote Out” and will be visiting workplaces to encourage members to vote and asking non-members to join UCU. If you can help – please contact Amanda (ucu@soton.ac.uk).

You should receive your ballot papers over the next few days. We must achieve a turnout of at least 50% to take lawful industrial action so your vote is vital.

You can read the union’s full claim here and click here for further information and the latest in the campaign.

Please Vote YES to strike action and YES to action short of a strike (ASOS).

 

*this blog was updated on 6/9/18 to add details about hospital chief, and previous VC pay (thanks to our member for reminding us of these comparisons). We also added the date that the ballot closes.

Something for the holidays – brief update on the USS Pension ‘holiday’

In the late 1990s the University of Southampton like other employers reduced its USS pension contributions to 14%. Tom Pike, Vice President of Imperial’s UCU wrote an open letter earlier this year saying “with the benefit of hindsight can be seen as the source of the current technical deficit — if employers had maintained an 18.55% contribution there would be another £7 bn in the fund, based on the known subsequent net levels of USS investment return.” Universities UK have argued that the ‘special rate’ of 18.55% met the cost of the future benefits then accruing, and met the shortfall in funding terms relating to the USS’s predecessor scheme, known as FSSU. Universities UK claim that linking the reduction in contributions to the current (disputed) deficit is misinformed.

More on USS pensions (and why the USS consultation is just a paper exercise).

Members will have seen the SUSSED statement, and had personal emails, informing them that USS is consulting on increased pension contributions from both employers and employees. USS have announced that they have opened the statutory consultation about these increases. The USS consultation is, we suspect, like all previous USS consultations – simply a paper process to comply with regulations. We have no evidence that USS has ever responded to input from scheme members or made any changes following such consultations.

To summarise the USS statement, the planned increases in contributions would be staggered, from April 2019, adding 0.8% to the existing 8% employees pay for April 2019 and this will rise in two steps to 11.7% in April 2020. Employers would also pay larger phased increases, and their 1% match of voluntary additional contributions would come to an end. These plans are being imposed by the USS Trustees under the scheme’s “rule 76” as the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC), composed of UCU and employer representatives, has not yet reached agreement on how to balance contributions and benefits to the actuary’s satisfaction. USS claim the increases are needed to cover the projected (but much disputed) deficit in the scheme.

Following the strike action earlier this year a Joint Expert Panel was set up to look at the USS valuation and the alleged deficit. The JEP is continuing its work and will report to the JNC in September 2018. USS have said that their Trustees will continue to engage constructively with the JEP.

The valuation of the pension is at the heart of our dispute. The November re-valuation offered a gloomy forecast of a growing deficit. This re-valuation was provoked and supported – as we subsequently discovered – by a minority of employers with vested interests in shifting to a defined contribution scheme. (Members will recall the additional and coordinated voting by several Oxbridge Colleges).

In response to the earlier September 2017 valuation of the pension, USS suggested that employing institutions could afford increases, and as Mike Ostuka recently noted it would have been possible to retain the current pension benefits (minus the 1% match) via a more modest 5.8% total increase in contributions.

The November re-valuation of the scheme ‘created’ an allegedly much larger deficit but in recent months this has dropped from £17.5bn to £8.4bn in response to new modelling based on revised mortality trends and bond yield forecasts.

Our action earlier this year forced the employers and USS to suspend their plans to reduce our pension benefits and they agreed to set up the JEP.  We believe it is unlikely that the current proposals to increase contributions will actually be implemented as the employer costs are very high; they result from the trustees following the rulebook without waiting for the JEP or JNC.

Rather than wasting time engaging with the USS paper consultation, members here might like to write to our VC asking him not to support those in USS and Universities UK who want to reduce the value of our pensions. After a year of demoralising cuts and restructuring it is time that our VC stood up for his staff.

For those who want to read more on about the pension UCU has provided regular updates about the JEP. Mike Otsuka has threaded a series of his blogs about USS. There are also a number of new  USSBriefs on this topic.

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