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June, 2018:

#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.

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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