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#climatestrike 20th September, 1200-1230, Jubilee Plaza

Friday will be a major day of global action for the Climate Strike and last week the TUC passed a motion (tabled by UCU) to support the school student Global Climate Strike on 20th September and has called on TUC affiliate unions to organise a 30 minute work day campaign action to coincide with the school students strike on 20th September.

Please come along, if you can, to demonstrate your support. There are a range of speakers confirmed – all will be saying a few short words on #climatestrike and they are:

  1. Bea Gardner (UCU Postgraduate Representative and SUSU link)
  2. Emily Harrison (President, SUSU)
  3. Rachel Mills (Dean of the Faculty of Environment and Life Sciences)
  4. Simon Kemp (Professorial Fellow in Education for Sustainable Development)
  5. Roger Tyres (Research Fellow, Faculty of Social Sciences)

Come to pledge your support for the school strikers, and make practical suggestions to help the University as a whole fulfil the Southampton Green Charter commitment to be carbon neutral by 2030.

20th September – support the climate strike

If you can, please come along to the rally at the Jubilee Plaza, Highfield Campus from 12pm on Friday 20th September. Bring with you placards/ posters and other messages of support if you want to.

If you cannot attend but want to offer your support you can use the national hashtag #climatestrike and #UCUclimatesolidarity, making sure you copy in @southamptonUCU and @Unisouthampton so we can circulate your message. We are pleased that the University management is supporting the rally and they are extending the invitation to all staff to attend.

We are also encouraging people to respond to the following two statements, outlining the individual and collective changes you want to see relating to the environmental impact of the university.

  1. I pledge to…
  2. I call on the university to…

You can either share your ideas at the rally or tweet/ email us using the details above. Given this is a rally related to the environment, we encourage people to be creative with their use of materials for placards and suggestions, using recycled paper and materials where you can.

Why are we doing this?

We are organising the rally to pledge our support for the Climate Strike and the young strikers taking action against climate injustice. We also hope the rally provides an opportunity for us to come together as a university community to confirm our commitment to reducing our impact on the climate and we are pleased that the university and other campus trade unions are joining with us for this important event.

Since February, millions of students across the globe have been striking from school and college to protest climate injustice. Their action has contributed to governments across the world declaring a climate emergency. Yet, without sustained effort, such declarations will not be enough. Global temperature rise will pass a dangerous tipping point within the lifetime of young people alive today if action to halt climate change isn’t taken – we are running out of time. So, to keep up the pressure on leaders, young strikers have appealed to the trade union movement to support them in their struggle, with 20 September the given date for this action to take place.  You can read more about UCU’s approach nationally here and the Youth Strike4 Climate campaign here.

Future plans

This is the first action we have organised of this kind, so it is just the start. We will work in partnership with the other campus trade unions, students and the wider staff body to develop proposals that can move us closer to meeting our commitments to the environment. If you would like to be involved in this ongoing campaign work, let us know.

 

 

Climate Strike – 20 September 2019

In our blog of the 22nd July we said that we would be offering public support for the next ‘Climate Strike’ organised by the Student Climate Network.  This is to confirm that there will be a lunchtime event for staff and students between 1200 and 1230 on Friday 20th September at Jubilee Plaza, Highfield Campus. The University is fully supportive of this and hopes to offer speakers, and is involved in planning the event and communications. We have yet to confirm exactly what will take place but please check back on this blog for more details.

On the same day there are other events – for instance there will be a city-based event between 1100 and 1600 in Guildhall Square, and October Books in Portswood are hosting a range of activities between 1300 and 1700.

If you are unable to get to Highfield Campus on that day, but would like to explicitly offer your support we encourage you to do something locally at your campus or wherever you are at the time. You can publish a photo of you and your colleagues via the hashtag #ClimateStrike using @SouthamptonUCU and @unisouthampton.

More information to follow… suggestions also welcome!   Send these to the UCU office 

You can find more information about how  UCU is supporting the Climate Strike here

 

 

 

 

UCU letter to employers’ assertions about the USS dispute

The date for the opening of the ballot on USS pensions is fast approaching (opens 9 September – look out for your ballot paper!).   UCU national negotiators have set out the demands to our employers in the letter below, a copy of which was sent from our branch to the VC, Professor Mark Spearing, today.  We hope for a positive response which we will share with members.

 

 

Support the climate strikes

Following the publication of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report late last autumn, there has been a renewed drive from environmental campaigners to see meaningful action to halt climate change. The report warned we have less than 12 years to cut carbon emissions by 45% to avoid the most catastrophic effects of global warming. Leading the call to action have been thousands of inspiring young people, who have been taking monthly strike action to protect their futures. As part of the student climate network, they have highlighted that, without action, they will face a runaway greenhouse effect in their lifetimes. 

Many staff and students here at Southampton share this commitment to protecting the environment, and we have seen several protest actions on the issue at Highfield campus in recent months.   Southampton UCU branch is pleased that the University was a founding signatory to the Southampton Green City Charter, which was launched in June. The charter includes the commitment to be carbon neutral by 2030, and we look forward to hearing how the university plans to meet this substantial, but necessary, commitment.  In addition, following discussion at our recent AGM, Southampton UCU branch has endorsed the Southampton Green City Charter and will follow these principles in our future activities. 

 Meanwhile, school students have appealed to the trade union movement to support their next strike action. UCU proudly responded to this call by unanimously passing a motion to take solidarity action with young people, including a 30-minute work stoppage on 20th September.  The national UCU will submit a motion to the upcoming Trade Union Congress (TUC) to support this action. UCU Southampton Branch has officially backed it and you can declare your individual support for the solidarity stoppage and read more about the TUC motion here.

 In liaison with the student union and the Southampton Trades Council, Southampton UCU plans to hold a lunchtime rally on the 20th.  We will keep members updated as plans develop in the coming weeks. We are still looking for a UCU environment rep to join the executive and to lead on this and related work – if you are interested in getting involved, please let us know.

 

 

USS update

If you attended the AGM earlier this month, you will already know that there is going to be a ballot for further strike action this Autumn. The UCU position is one of No Detriment, and the decision to ballot for strike was proposed and accepted at Congress earlier this summer. In April, our pension contributions increased from 8% to 8.8%. The current proposals from USS will increase the total contributions of employers and scheme members by at least a further 1.4%, with our member contributions rising by at least 1.3% since the start of the dispute. If the employers do not agree additional contingent contributions, the increases will be even worse.USS is proposing rates that will increase our contributions to at least 11% after 2020.

Industrial action by UCU members led to the establishment of a Joint Expert Panel last year, comprising both UCU and UUK representatives. The Panel confirmed UCU’s belief that the pension scheme has a sustainable future, and made reasonable recommendations to USS. If applied, these recommendations would have resolved our dispute and would have resulted in no contribution increases or benefit cuts for members. Our employers however, instead of committing fully to the Joint Expert Panel recommendations, are proposing we should increase our contributions based on a pessimistic valuation of the scheme.

And a story came to light in the last week (featured in USS briefs on twitter and in the FT) that the Chair of USS trustees (David Eastwood) was rebuked by the Pension’s Regulator (tPR) for misrepresenting the tPR position on an issue key to that valuation. Currently VC of Birmingham University, David Eastwood was told in January that the USS report mistakenly suggested that the tPR insisted on using the most cautious of discount rates, which resulted in a larger projected deficit. Despite an email on the subject, he and the board have done nothing to correct their statements or acknowledge the potential impact on the valuation of the scheme. We also have to wonder what the effect on the negotiations would have been had this been made public to all parties at the time. You will also have seen this in UCU General Secretary elect Jo Grady’s most recent email (from Monday 24thJune).

This follows reports that a USS trustee (statistics expert Professor Jane Hutton) claims to have been prevented from carrying out a full analysis of the scheme valuation.

A further complication to the debate is the decision (confirmed 20thJune) of Trinity College, Cambridge to withdraw from USS – on the grounds that there was a remote risk that its assets would be required to bail out the scheme in a worst-case scenario. UCU has already called for a boycott of Trinity College – as outlined in the brief from Head Office on the 21stJune.

To keep up to date with USS developments you could follow FT journalist Josephine Cumbo on Twitter or visit the UCU USS pages.

Southampton UCU BBQ

We braved the weather and held a barbecue for UCU members and their families on Thursday 20th June on the Common outside of Avenue Campus. Alongside the feast of meaty and vegetarian hotdogs, it was an opportunity to chat, meet new people and recreate the very friendly and constructive atmosphere of the picket line last year. It was also the last appearance of the Dinosaur of Solidarity and an opportunity to thank Cathy Pope for all her work for this branch. We will miss her a lot but, as she wisely said, we are a very active branch, with lots of new people and ideas. The barbecue was the first in a long series to come, and more UCU social events will follow starting in September!

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day…

This is the first blog of the new UCU year and exec, so as incoming president I wanted to put in a short welcome on behalf of the branch and the new exec. I am very sad to see Cathy Pope leave the University this year but on behalf of the exec wish her the very best in Oxford and we look forward to her continued support as a Regional representative on the NEC. Our exec, reps and members will continue the good work that she has been involved in over the last 16 years!

You can see the full list of newly elected Southampton UCU branch officers for 2019-20 here – most were introduced at the AGM. We all very much look forward to working with you in the coming year, and want to hear your thoughts and feedback. Please contact us through your local reps, exec members or via the standard UCU email address.

Mary Morrison, President, UCU Southampton

 

AGM Report

The AGM took place on 5thJune at Highfield Campus – thanks to those members who attended to hear Christine Haswell of UCU give an update on USS. If you would like to read in detail about the latest USS news please see this link  . As things stand, it is highly likely that UCU will be balloting for industrial action in the Autumn.

We also heard Cathy Pope, outgoing UCU Southampton president, give a report of the main events of 2018/19. Cathy talked about issues that the branch has been working on where we have been representing members collectively or individually, in particular the amount of case work that the branch is handling, and some restructures, including the Health and Safety Committee restructures and other aspects of H&S work and other departmental / unit restructures. Broader issues included appraisal procedures and implementation of appraisal policies and the gender pay gap. The report will be summarised in the minutes of the AGM which will be sent to all members.

BBQ

Claire le Foll is taking the lead to organise this and you should all have had an invitation to the UCU barbecue on the Common on the 20thJune, starting at 4pm. We intend to give Cathy a proper send-off there and will be located somewhere near the top of the common near to the Avenue Campus (see invite in your inbox). Please bring something to drink and a re-usable drinking cup!

Two big issues discussed at the AGM were:

Appraisal

This remains problematic with members telling us they feel unfairly treated or that their appraisal was not conducted properly. There are ongoing talks to revise the existing policy on appraisal and we are aware of different approaches to implementing the policy locally. The senior management team have suggested further guidance on this and we will support them to try and reduce the number of problems that arise in appraisal. In recent weeks we have seen genuine commitment to solving some of these problems and desire to work with all the campus trade unions. As before please tell us about your experiences to help us inform this process.

Workload

We now have a team of trained workload reps and we need to hear from you about the problems you experience. Write to us at the usual address or approach your local reps if you have information to share now. We will come back to you soon with more details of what the workload reps will be doing.  Dario Carugo (Communications officer) and Claire Le Foll (Campaigns and Membership officer) are going to be working actively on this campaign over the coming months and we would encourage you to get involved by joining a working group.  Please email us if you are interested.  In addition, at JNC it has been proposed to develop some high-level guiding principles for workload allocation.

Environment

It was also discussed that UCU Southampton should support Southampton City Council’s proposals for a Green Charter to improve the working and living conditions in the City and to work towards a sustainable city. The Green Charter has yet to be published but it was agreed at the AGM that it was a good initiative. We still need to identify an environment rep for the exec to lead on this and related work – if you are interested or know another member who might be please get in touch.

Stop press: Members have contacted us this week (week beginning 10thJune) about press coverage of an industrial tribunal which took place in the first week of June, where the University was ordered to pay £2.5 million to an ex-staff member who made accusations of discrimination on race and religion. University management have made a short statement on SUSSED to the effect that there will be an independent investigation to understand what happened, and have confirmed to us that they are looking for the opportunity to present the considerable body of evidence that they had put together in their defence, as soon as possible. We will keep in touch with the senior management team and are confident that they will report back as soon as they are able.

 

 

 

Taking the PIP? Some concerns about appraisal, line management and performance improvement plans

We have had several requests for help from members related to distressing or difficult appraisal conversations, the use of Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs) and, sadly the return of ‘protected conversations’ where staff are encouraged to leave the University. We are especially concerned to hear that PIPs are being very badly used in some areas.

PIPs have received some very bad press:

If your boss really wanted to improve your performance, he or she would sit down with you and talk to you like a friend or a coach. They’d say, “Something is getting in your way on the job. Let’s figure it out! You are awesome and I know we can work through this.

Although a Pip is often presented as a tool to assist you in your performance, you should be under no illusions about its secondary purpose. If you don’t improve, it will give your employer evidence that they have followed correct procedure, otherwise they may be at risk of a claim for unfair dismissal.

Sadly it seems that sometimes PIPs are being introduced here in these very negative and damaging ways. We remind members that all staff at level 4 and above have additional employment protections and rights under our Statutes and Ordinances. Ordinance 3.6 referring to capability says that informal action may be taken to make staff aware of standards expected, and agree a way forward – “including supervision counselling or mentoring, It may include reviewing duties and responsibilities etc”. Importantly this should also include the provision of appropriate training or development opportunities.

It is our understanding that PIPs are being used as the informal stage of the capability procedure. Unfortunately in some areas, we know that these are being introduced in appraisal conversations in ways that members find unhelpful and distressing. Sometimes the appraisal is the first time a member of staff is alerted to a problem with their work or behaviour – this should not happen. We are clear that appraisal and capability procedures need to be kept separate (i.e appraisal must not be used as the informal part of the capability process). Moreover, good management is predicated on regular meetings and conversations, not a once a year form filling exercise, and managers should therefore be supporting their staff all year round.

PIPs, like appraisal, should not be a negative experience. Used well, a PIP may be a helpful part of a positive managerial relationship and can provide structure and support. But, if your manager genuinely wants your performance to improve, they should provide you with support to achieve the improvements. They should agree SMART objectives and a realistic timeframe. Managers should help you to identify a mentor and development opportunities to directly address the objectives within the PIP. The PIP should not interfere with your annual appraisal (for example being on a PIP should not mean that the staff member automatically scores as ‘unsatisfactory’ against their individual or global objectives).

Tips for engaging with PIPs
1. Is the assessment of performance correct? What is the evidence of poor behaviour or performance?
2. Is the PIP a well-structured plan for addressing problems? Are there SMART objectives (e.g. to draft a paper, submit a grant, to address a behaviour in meetings, but NOT actions that are outside the control of the individual e.g. to publish in a 4* journal, to win a grant of a pre-specified value).  We encourage members to note what is said in the meeting and document any conversations that you have with your line manager or HR about your PIP.  If you disagree with the objectives or comments you should raise your concerns with your line manager in writing.
3. Make sure you get proper training and the support to succeed – this may include workload reallocation, dedicated time, formal training, counselling, coaching and/or supervision.
4. Above all, ensure that a reasonable time frame is set to address the issues identified.

And for managers

5. Carefully check if there are personal or health issues that may be affecting the employee’s performance – managers need training in dealing with mental health and stress themselves and for the team members.

6. Seek guidance and support too – HR should review the plan with a focus on removing any bias against the employee. Managers need to be aware of gender and racial bias and how this can affect their interactions with staff. Insecure managers may feel threatened by some employees and PIPs should not be used in these situations.

7. Take care to inform the staff member that the PIP could lead to formal capability processes which in turn could lead to dismissal.  If you can, tell them how you plan to help them avoid this outcome.

Your branch casework team will review the current cases we have related to appraisal and PIPs and take our collective concerns to the senior management. If you are experiencing difficulties please contact Amanda.

Wellfest and a wish list

We’ve had a great UCU recruitment week here in Southampton, cleverly aligned with #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek so that we could highlight our local campaign priority about workloads and wellbeing. Thanks to all of you who visited our info stand and took part in the events. On the info stand at Highfield we asked people to tell us – via a post it note – how the University could help staff wellbeing. We were delighted to talk with the Interim VC Mark Spearing and some members of the senior management team, and we also got lots of feedback and ideas from staff and students.

Staff spoke of the need to feel able to balance the quality and quantity of work, but also how difficult it was to take regular breaks, and how often they felt guilty and stressed about their workloads. Talking with students it was clear that they are acutely aware of our workloads, indeed some shared that they didn’t feel able to come forward because they felt they were too much of a burden on staff. One post it note said “As a student I think that staff are overstretched and struggling to support students” – this is not what any of us want. Others commented that they have seen lots of staff leave and not being replaced, and said how disruptive this was, an indictment of the repeated rounds of cuts and reorganisations we have experienced.

Here’s a few of the ideas and comments from the UCU message board.

Things that might help:
• Counselling for staff (face to face) and mental health first aiders
• Massage
• Flexible working/ working from home (where reasonable)
• Lunchtime mindfulness session held somewhere peaceful
• Chill out/ Sleep Zone

Actions suggested to address the problems:

• A workload audit – look at workload implications for all new systems and processes.
• Cover for staff on long time sick. More temps!!!
• Stop cutting staff numbers / replace staff when they leave
• Stop the culture of working and emails 24hrs a day!
• Policy of no emails on home phones!
• Tell temporary staff all the details of their job

And instead of ‘Work-life Balance’ one comment requested ‘Work-Life Separation’ – How many of us feel able to achieve this? Others spoke of the need for respect for the diversity of staff and student expectations, experiences, and emotional triggers, and the need to work with a spirit of generosity to address the mental health challenges people face. Mental Health Awareness Week and Wellfest are small parts of our journey to improve mental health and wellbeing. We hope there will more attention to the problems caused by excessive workloads and, importantly that there will be action in coming months to improve the mental health and wellbeing of our staff.