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Branch Committee

Senate and the Staff survey – update

Following an additional request from Senators, the Vice Chancellor shortened the formal Senate agenda for this Wednesday’s meeting, to enable an early adjournment. Most Senators (including those from the University Executive Board) remained for an informal ‘no agenda’ discussion from 3pm on the staff survey and its implications. They were joined by some additional staff and the VC chaired the session.

This discussion was broad ranging and enabled staff to raise concerns about the survey and what will have motivated staff to give the answers they did. It also touched upon the difficult context of higher education and the current economic climate.

There was an acknowledgement of the lack of trust and confidence between staff and senior management, and various suggestions were made about how to rebuild that. UCU welcomes the commitment of senior managers (including the University Executive Board) to explore ways of improving communications. We look forward to further action to address the key issues raised in our blog from 13th February.

It was agreed that there would be similar space for discussions of this type following future Senate meetings – at least for as long as Professor Spearing will be in the role of Interim Vice Chancellor. This is to be welcomed and we look forward to better communication resulting in a better working environment for all.

What is wrong with ‘the University’ (senior managers’) reaction to the 2019 staff survey

Over 4200 staff completed the staff engagement survey (69%) and the strength of feeling, particularly about the senior management of the University must be acknowledged and acted on. ‘The University’ needs to find ways to meaningfully engage with staff, and this means that senior managers must change their approach.

UCU members are particularly disappointed for the following reasons:

1. Senators requested the opportunity to discuss the staff survey at Senate and were told ‘The role of Senate is in Academic Governance and as such the Staff Survey would not fall within this remit’. Given what the survey results imply for staff retention and organisational leadership this seems surprising – unhappy staff who lack trust in senior managers may find it hard to deliver academic excellence. After further correspondence a hasty ‘informal’ (presumably un-minuted) meeting is to be convened, after a shorter Senate, to discuss concerns. We hope that all Senators, especially those who are University Executive Board members, will attend, and participate in this meeting.

2. The text comments provided in the survey will clarify why staff gave low positive responses to questions, in particular, those about ‘the University’ and senior management. However, we understand that these are not being shared with School/ Department Heads. Yet these comments could be anonymised and depersonalised and shared, especially as staff have taken the time to write them. Responses to Q31 suggest that only 19% of staff agree that ‘the University’ acts on staff feedback. Discussing the text comments is an opportunity to reverse this.

3. Staff are expected to ‘engage’ in conversation in their departments about the survey, with their line manager and their Head of unit. The answers to Q27 suggest staff feel that it is not safe to speak up, so this may not result in open discussion and debate. Senior managers will need to equip staff to engage actively, facilitating equal participation and critical conversations.

4. The survey suggests that staff are relatively content with local line management arrangements, and the teams they work in, but are very disillusioned with the senior management. Staff urgently need to be reassured that senior managers have understood the survey results and see that action is being taken, at the highest levels, to address their concerns.

We propose some immediate actions:

a) Senior managers must commit to resourcing a serious and meaningful reaction to this disastrous staff survey. This means as a first step organising external, independent facilitators for focus groups (where confidentiality and anonymity is guaranteed) to understand the problems and consider how to address them.

b) To be seen as ‘open and honest in their communication’ (Q26) the senior managers must engage Senate properly and openly in the critique and development of the response to the survey and the wider university strategy. This would help the Executive Board and Council to begin to make more consensual decisions, taking staff with them to rebuild ‘confidence in the leadership of the University’ (Q25).

c) Given the rates of experienced or witnessed bullying (shockingly high in some areas) senior managers should introduce as a matter of urgency compulsory training in areas where rates are highest and a hotline to report bullying in confidence.

NEC elections and voting – why bother?

We have had lots of new members join UCU and our branch in the past 12 months, and we know that some of you may not know how the union is organised. There is lots of information on the UCU website and Amanda in our local union office loves to meet new members and knows everything (well nearly everything) about UCU. But we know – because you tell us – that you are all busy people and may not have time to delve into the archives of UCU. Many of us simply pay our union subs in the knowledge that UCU will be there to help us if we experience a difficulty at work, and that we will mobilise collectively when needed to defend pay, pensions and work conditions.

Anti-trades union legislation means that now we are under greater pressure to demonstrate that our members are engaged in decision making, particularly about industrial action. We now need at least 50% of our members to participate in ballots about strike action. This is why we need up to date information about your membership details and why we pester you to vote. We hope you have all returned your ballot paper for the Pay and Equality vote. This blog is to tell you that you will be receiving another ballot paper soon – this time for the National Executive Committee (NEC). This committee is responsible for conducting the union’s business between our annual Congress meetings. The elected members of NEC, include HE and FE members, some of whom are elected regionally, some on a UK-wide basis, plus equality seats and officers of the union.

In the past our branch executive has not published a slate or voting preferences, instead leaving members to make up their own minds based on the candidates statements. However we do often get asked who we are voting for, and who might best represent the views of members here. The past year, and the strike to defend pensions in particular, has shown us that it is important to have a strong, representative NEC that can act strategically and respond to support members’ concerns. For that reason your branch is breaking with tradition and encouraging members here to vote for candidates that we believe will represent us. Two candidates for South HE seats are our own Denis Nicole and Catherine Pope, and we would also urge you to vote for Sally Pellow from Reading Branch. We suggest voting just for these three candidates in the South HE to maximise the chance of them being elected.  In addition members of your branch executive will be voting for the following candidates:

Vice President Adam Ozanne

UCU Treasurer Steve Sangwine 

UK-elected HE Pat Hornby-Atkinson and Ann Gow

Disabled members Lucy Burke

Black members Victoria Showunmi and Maxine Looby

Please do read the candidates statements and use your vote to ensure that we have a strong and effective NEC that can represent your views. All ballots close at 12 noon on Friday 1 March 2019.

Health and safety – shared concerns

At our General meeting last year, we reported that the branch was experiencing problems trying to engage with the senior management to address serious safety concerns at this University. Managing risks to the health of staff and students is, and should be, a shared concern. This is an area where the trades unions can work in partnership to keep us all safe and well. Sadly that partnership is breaking down.

Nationally UCEA (the body that represents employers), the trades unions, and USHA have agreed that “in exercising their statutory functions, trade union health and safety representatives have a key role to play in representing the views of staff groups, participating in employers’ health and safety consultation structures and promoting opportunities for joint working and collaboration”. This is something that we want senior managers to recognise. This role for trades union representatives makes sense; union reps are ‘on the ground’ in our workplaces, and so can monitor safety and take action to address risks. Crucially, they are also protected by health and safety legislation, making it possible for them to speak out when needed.

The TUC describes the benefits of the ‘union effect’ on health and safety: organised workplaces are safer workplaces and, when asked, 70% of new trade union members say that health and safety is a “very important” union issue (more important than pay). UCU health and safety representatives across the UK make a real difference in Universities, helping to prevent workplace hazards, injuries and accidents, and intervening on matters ranging from open plan offices to excessive workloads, and prevention of bullying, through to fire safety and the storage of chemicals.

We are saddened that our attempts to work with the University to ensure and improve the health, safety and welfare of staff, students and visitors, appear to have been thwarted in recent months. In the closing months of last year this manifested in the senior management’s repeated refusal to hold an emergency Joint Negotiating Committee meeting, delayed responses to communications about our concerns, and a refusal to allow our national H&S officer to support our representatives undertaking an inspection. We had invited our national H&S official to support our H&S reps in an inspection of Building 53 because we have long had serious concerns about safety, following casework related to staff sickness, problematic water quality, and a dangerous incident with a pressurised system. Despite giving ample notice of this inspection UCU, were told at short notice that our official, Adam Lincoln, was banned from entering the building. Adam frequently accompanies UCU reps in such inspections across the country and at our General Meeting he wryly observed that he had found it easier to conduct such inspections in some of the UK’s most challenging prisons than here.

We had hoped that by undertaking this inspection we could clarify the actions needed to protect people working in this building. Reluctantly, because of the serious nature of the threats to health and well-being, the joint campus trades unions decided to report our concerns to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). We are awaiting their response.

UCU are now taking the unprecedented step of detailing our concerns here in the hope that the senior managers will take action to protect staff and students. We are concerned about the following reported hazards and threats to health and wellbeing:

1. We do not believe that senior managers have enacted appropriate control measures, mitigation and remedial actions in Building 53 in response to concerns listed in our previous communications to the employer (beginning in 2014) and as set out in the formal complaint to the HSE (also copied to the senior management). The health and safety risks to staff health and wellbeing posed by significant structural defects with Building 53, include but are not limited to:

a. pipework in this building has been installed incorrectly and uses wrong and incompatible components. This has led to several “minor” incidents and at least one spectacular, and potentially fatal, near miss.

b. exposure of staff (and potentially students) to harmful dust that includes a category one sensitising agent, and that several colleagues appear have been harmed

c. potential drainage problems, due to drains that are not constructed of appropriate material

In addition to these specific issues in Building 53 we have raised further concerns that:

d. Near-miss and incident information is not being passed on from the safety office to Departmental managers

e. The campus trades unions are experiencing difficulty in obtaining safety information from the University about halls of residence, notably pertaining to fire safety and cladding.

2. We do not believe that effective or appropriate health and safety consultation arrangements are in place across the University to enable the University, its employees and recognised trade union representatives to cooperate effectively. The reorganisation of trade union representatives on the Health and Safety Committees and forums represents a negative shift away from a culture of joint working and cooperation.

3. The Joint trades unions Joint negotiating Committee (JJNC) is the appropriate body to resolve disputes and disagreements in relation to these matters. The senior management have refused repeated requests for an emergency JJNC to discuss matters relating to Building 53.

We will be reiterating the concerns outlined above to the senior management.  We have offered to resolve B53 issues via a working group and joint inspections and we hope to be able to tell members that we have made progress soon.  Please tell us if you have additional health and safety concerns about your workplace at the University.

When he spoke at our General Meeting last year, Adam Lincoln outlined the new UCU Workloads campaign designed to tackle the problems associated with the ever-increasing workloads. Following the sad death, from suicide, of a colleague at Cardiff last year we feel impelled to speak out about workload-related stress at University of Southampton. We note the successful campaign at Liverpool Hope University which resulted in the HSE serving an enforcement notice on that University for failing to properly assess workplace stress risks. [apologies, for the paywall]. At our General Meeting last year, members agreed that we needed to run the workload campaign locally, and we are recruiting a number of new Health and Safety representatives who will focus only on these workload concerns. This will be a key UCU branch priority for 2019. If you think you can help, or want to find out more please contact Amanda (ucu@soton.ac.uk).

While we are here we would also like to promote the Hazards Campaign manifesto for a ‘safety system fit for workers’. Launching the manifesto Janet Newsham said: “Work contributes to a huge amount of public ill-health, to health inequality, lower life expectancy, fewer years of healthy life, kills over 50,000 people in the UK each year, makes millions ill, injures over half a million and the quality of jobs contributes to poverty and ill-health. But all of this is preventable. The right framework of strong laws, strict enforcement and support for active worker and union participation will have massive payback for workers, employers and whole economy.” The campaign seeks to create “a health and safety system based on prevention, precaution and participation of strong active unions.” Southampton UCU are committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of staff and students and we hope that the senior management shares this commitment.

The Story of Returning to the Tea Estate

Guest blog by Mahesan Niranjan

This time last year, I wrote an open letter to the Chair of our University Council (archived on the UCU blog here). I raised several points about scholarship and the need for better governance structures to support it. Nearly a hundred colleagues from across campus thanked me and agreed with my views. But, apart from a single exception, all of them ranked below the level of Head of Department. From the upper echelons, the reaction was simply one of politely raised eyebrows at my audacity in exercising my right to write.

More disappointing was my inability to trigger any open discussion within the community. Nobody expressed a view – in agreement or not – in public. I wondered why. Perhaps I was just wrong. Wrong about high salaries at the top end of our hierarchy. Wrong about annual appraisals and their demoralising effect. Wrong about the need for greater participation by the community in decision making. Wrong that scholarship is our revenue generator, hence academics should not be seen simply as costs. Wrong about the tuition fees we charge subsidising contract research. Perhaps those who agreed with me were a minority.

Or maybe we have accepted that we are mere human resources required to turn up at work and follow commands without question.

Hence this year, my reflections are inward. About myself. About my career of three decades. After all, I will be sixty soon. Grateful for what I have so far had. I can relax, have fun and reflect. Yes, reflect, for ‘tis the season of reflection.

I grew up in a tea estate in the central hills of Sri Lanka, a region of exceptional beauty. Hill after hill with rows of fresh green tea bushes. A tea estate has a special kind of beauty. Neatly pruned bushes grown to waist levels of the workers who pluck them. The workers, in bright coloured sarees with cane baskets hanging over their shoulders pluck tea with impressive skill: two leaves and a bud snipped with precision, and a palm-full of them periodically tossed over the shoulders into the basket. They continually chew mouthful of betel leaves to be spat on the deadly blood-sucking leeches that get between their bare toes.

Management of the estate is neat, efficient and hierarchical. There is the top level guy, usually the owner, referred to as the planter. Between him and the workforce is a layer of supervisors, known as kanganis. The planter sets the high level objectives for the estate. He (always it is ‘he’) defines how the workforce is partitioned into teams and which kangani supervises which team. Periodically, he shuffles the groups of workers among the hills. In days gone by, the planter was an European colonialist. The global thinker with vision and skill to spot where tea will grow and where it will be consumed, and what human resources would be needed to pluck the leaves and how precisely they shall be managed to maximise throughput. Since independence, the State and local entrepreneurs have taken over the estates, but retained the management techniques.

The kangani knows his place between the planter and the workforce. He is ambitious, dreaming of becoming a planter himself one day, though the probability of achieving that is infinitesimally small. In pursuit of that ambition, the kangani nods in the direction above to anything the planter cares to utter,  and barks orders downwards at the workforce. The objectives set by the planter are passed down as targets the workers should achieve: Pluck X kg a day, and you get N Rupees. Incentives also exist: Pluck 10% more the set target on any day, you get a reward of 1% increase in pay. If you overshoot, the target is raised by 10% the next day. Once in a while, when the kangani’s back is turned, the workforce have fun. They mimic his nods: “yes, Sir, yes, Sir, three bags full, Sir,” they tease and giggle.

During my childhood, I hated the tea estate. I hated the fact that the beauty of the estate hides intolerable inequality, poverty, hierarchy and exploitation. I wanted to leave the place as soon as possible and pursue scholarship and the discovery of knowledge, driven by curiosity. I did precisely that, leaving the tea estate and hiding myself in the bubbles of the Universities of Cambridge, Sheffield and Southampton. Three wonderful decades.

Somewhere mid-career an interesting thing happened. I was asked to take on a university management role. My father was amused. “How could you do a management job?” he wrote. “You are an absent minded scholar. You hate wearing a neck-tie. You read the Guardian. You buy the Big Issue. You go to work in socks and sandals. Son, you do not even have a strong enough brake between thought and speech.” Despite such scepticism, I took the role.

Towards the end of my tenure in the said management job, my father asked how it went. “Alright,” I reported, immediately inventing a performance measure to justify the claim. “Yes, a small number of people didn’t like the way I did the job, but they all ranked above me in the hierarchy, and those who ranked below all seemed appreciative.” The dislikes and likes being above and below, respectively, shows I did alright, I explained.

“How did you achieve that?” he asked. “I owe it,” I said with  sincerity, “to the transferable skills you taught me, from the way the tea estate was organised: the separation of the skill of the workforce from the profit-making objectives of the planter, by the ambitious intermediary, the kangani.” “All I had to do was to recognise the importance of the workforce, and not mimic the kangani. I simply refused to nod in agreement upwards and avoided barking orders downwards.” My father was amused by the term I had just used. “What did you say, transferable… what?” he asked. He was a teacher of English and a scholar of Sanskrit. He was a good linguist, too. Our mother tongue, Tamil, comes from the Dravidian family of languages, distinct form the Indo-European family which include English and Sanskrit. He has studied the flow of words, morphological changes and grammatical structures between Sanskrit and Tamil. His particular interest was in Hinduism, a religion in which communication between man and stone is executed in Sanskrit. Despite that background, my father has never come across the phrase “transferable skill”. As a teacher, he has always insisted that the primary purpose of education is joy, the pleasure achieved by discovering knowledge. He would accept the ability to solve previously unseen problems as a secondary benefit.

I have plagiarised his practice. I try to instil the idea that there is fun in machine learning, which is the subject I teach, and insist that my success is measured by my students being able to solve problems they have not seen before. The pleasure I achieved last week, for example, when a student of eight years ago wrote to thank me when he got appointed to a lectureship, far outweighs the irritation I tolerate when the moderated appraisal score is returned informing me of my mediocre performance in the previous year. It is apparently axiomatic in present day universities that there is a sharply peaked “bell-curve” of performance into which our scholarship could be packed.

I regard quality assurance processes as necessary, but not sufficient proxies for achieving high quality. There is an anecdote I heard about someone who wrote in an Annual Module Reflection Form (AMRF): “As a result of innovative teaching this year, half the candidates achieved a grade higher than the median mark.” That AMRF has been approved by several committees and filed somewhere, as testimony to the quality of the quality assurance processes that dominate our lives.

It wasn’t my father’s ignorance of the phrase “transferable skill” that bothered me. My casual use of the phrase shamed me. Whatever next, I wondered. Have I been house-trained into the system? Will I now speak of “strategic priority”? Or will I have a “vision”? Or will I start believing in “learning outcomes”? Or will I be “moving forward”?

A month after that conversation with my father, I was nearing the end of my tenure in that management role. I was called into the office of a senior manager. “You seem to have done alright… we would like you to continue for another term.” He had consulted the foot soldiers. “They all seem to like your work,” he reported his discovery, quickly adding “me too.”  I declined the offer. “I do not wish to continue. I need to get back to the research lab, the classroom, the journal club and the coffee room of the foot soldiers.”

So, I went back to the tea estate! Spotting two leaves and a bud at a glance with amazing skill; manipulating my fingers to pluck them with speed; rhythmically shoving handful of them into the basket that hung on my back. I am promised incentives if I perform above target: 10% plucked above target gets 1% increase in pay. But the kangani moves my target whenever I overshoot it.

Yet, occasionally, when the kangani’s back is turned, I do have fun, thinking of the tea estate workers and their “yes, Sir, yes, Sir, three bags full, Sir!”, for ‘tis indeed the season of reflection.

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. 

 

#WeAreTheUniversity – Part 2, The One With You in It

We are now officially into National Recruitment Week, and we are also officially in the run up to the elections for the local branch for the coming academic year. We are holding some informal come-and-chat sessions later this week on Highfield Campus, for those interested in joining, for new members that want to know more, and for anyone thinking that they’d like to get more involved.

  • Thursday 17 May              1 – 2.30 pm, room 58/1045 Highfield
  • Friday 18 May                    4.30 – 6 pm, Arlott Bar

We thought we’d give you a brief rundown of the roles and responsibilities of branch executive officers – these are just sketches, so do get in touch if you’d like to know more. If you’d like to stand, you can download the nomination form here.  We can find you someone to second a nomination if you need, but the forms should be completed and received by the Southampton UCU Office by close of nominations: 5.00pm Friday 25 May 2018.

Many of the roles below will be vacant from 15 June – so don’t think just because there is a name currently next to a role that it won’t be up for grabs in the election. Please consider supporting your branch by putting your hat in the ring!

Elections will be held at our AGM on 15 June. Don’t forget to let us know if you are coming, so we can organise catering: 12:15pm for lunch, meeting begins at 12.30 Building 44, Room 1041.

Executive Committee -Roles & responsibilities

President – (currently Laurie Stras)

This is a visible leadership role, but very much supported by the wider executive team, officers and reps. I provide strategic direction and help prioritise what we do.  I chair branch meetings – such as the termly AGMs – reporting back to members, and I attend meetings with University management: regular commitments here are the Joint Negotiating Committees (JNCs) – which are 2 hours face to face with HR and senior managers, and there are at least 6 of these year. Some of the role involves co-ordinating the work of others, so I work closely with Amanda our branch manager (but I don’t line manage her) and our reps. In my time as president I have paid particular attention to communications with members – maintaining our regular blog and emails to members – these can take a few hours to compose but I enjoy this bit of the job. Currently this has a 40% (2 days a week) time allocation.

Laurie’s highlight of 2018: Watching our membership grow by over 30% in a single year – it’s been such a privilege (and maybe a bit scary) leading the branch during these interesting times, but absolutely I have loved all the support I and the branch have received from our members, old and new. It’s great to think that we are so much stronger now.

Vice president/president elect – (currently Catherine Pope)

Catherine says: This role is an apprenticeship for being president, so you spend time learning what the president does and deputise for them when needed. In the recent strike action this was necessary as the president was on sick leave so I ended up leading our strike activity. Currently we try to divide the work up so that Laurie as president leads on the local issues and I focus on the pension dispute and some of the more national work – but this is obviously up to the people doing these roles to decide. I often attend JNCs and have chaired branch meetings. I contribute the occasional blog piece and member email. I have tended to do University induction talks to recruit new members but this doesn’t have to be a VP role. This job can fill as much time as you have.

Catherine’s highlight of 2018: Chairing the emergency general meeting during the strike with over 170 members in the lecture theatre at Avenue. I really felt how strong we are as a union, how angry you were about the threat to our pension, and how passionate our members are about Higher Education.

Honorary Secretary – (currently John Langley)

John says: The secretary role is another key role for the branch.  While Amanda is the first point of contact I try to be the face of the branch for the other campus unions, senior managers and external organisations.  I attend negotiations and meetings with University management as required.  I am one of the signatories for the branch bank account and this year was one of three people designated to manage the hardship fund. In the event that the president and VP were unavailable I might have to make a decision (but I haven’t had to do this). I need to have a copy of the branch rules handy in case there is a query – but none expects me to remember them off by heart.

John’s highlight of 2018: This year I have encouraged branch members to take a bit of time for wellbeing and our trips to Portswood’s Bookshop Alehouse have established this as our top spot for Friday nights.

Honorary Treasurer – (currently Tim Sluckin)

This is a job for someone who is organised and ideally numerate (but we have a calculator).  Maybe it is for you if you don’t like the limelight or too much public speaking.  Amanda keeps an eye on the branch funds and helps prepare the annual accounts- these need to be audited and presented at the AGM once a year. You need to be a signatory for the branch bank account.

Health and Safety Officer – (currently David Kinnison)

The Health and Safety Officer is one of the most important roles on the committee, and while there are general protections for time spent on union duties, there is special legislation that protects health and safety duties. With luck and lots of volunteers, the executive officer will be in a position to coordinate multiple health and safety reps in the faculty. The H&S Officer is the point of contact for reps, caseworkers, and the committee, liaising with the national committee on policy and campaigns, and raising issues at branch executive and university Joint Negotiating Committee meetings.  There are national meetings each year – usually a full day (accommodation and travel expenses fully paid for this).

Equality Officer – (currently Mary Morrison)

There is a lot of public communication about equality, particularly gender equality, that comes from the University – we know that they both want and need to engage with this, and UCU is in a great position to help them do this. The Equality Officer is responsible for developing local strategies for equalities campaigns, and advising other caseworkers on legislation and institutional frameworks. There are national meetings each year – usually a full day (accommodation and travel expenses fully paid for this).

Mary’s best bit about the job:  “Campaigning for equality in the University of Southampton remains critical and this is most obvious when looking at gender. The Gender Pay gap data for 2017 shows women earning over 20% less than men in the institution as a whole.”

Insecure Contracts Staff Officer (Fixed term and Hourly Paid zero hours and temporary contracts – currently vacant)

This is our point of contact for all our casualised and precariously employed staff and this is a priority area of campaigning and support, nationally and locally. Ideally we’d like a small sub-group to take this work forward.  There are national meetings each year – usually a full day (accommodation and travel expenses fully paid for this).

Post-grad and SUSU Liaison Officer (currently Cori Ruktanonchai)

This officer post is key to building and maintaining relationships with our students. Usually held by a PGR student, this job requires energy , advocacy, and communication skills, and it is an excellent introduction to union work for someone who wants to understand the workings of higher education from a new perspective.

Academic-related Staff Officer (currently Sarah Fielding)

Sarah says: “I have been the UCU rep for at least one large restructure, which affected staff moving from the ERE to MSA pathway. Generally, the ARPS role means making sure the voices of those members on MSA/TAE pathways are heard, highlighting gaps/disparity in provision for those pathways (such as equal access to family facilities, or CPD opportunities), and also raising awareness of challenges such as career progression etc. There are national meetings each year – usually a full day (accommodation and travel expenses fully paid for this).

The best bit of the job for me is knowing that your input can make a difference to someone going through a hard time.”

Membership and Campaigns Officer (currently VACANT)

 This is a role that is currently covered by Amanda, liaising with HQ on membership and recruitment campaigns. If you are organised, enthusiastic, and enjoy coming up with new ideas to help us recruit members, we’d really like to hear from you. It has never been more important for employees to have the protection and advice of their union, and we know that the union is stronger for every member we recruit.  Perks include cakes and treats on recruitment stalls…

Communications Officer (currently VACANT – new role subject to ratification at AGM)

This is a new role – a lot of this has been covered by the President, VP and Amanda this year.  We would like to keep the regular blog and develop other communications newsletters, bulletins and posters, etc. This work can be delegated to reps but we need a plan and some oversight of this.

Environmental Officer (currently VACANT)

 This is a union role suitable for UCU members who wish to develop their understanding of climate change and ways to protect the environment through change at work. The role of the Environmental Officer rep is to work  with management to ensure wherever possible that the University is working towards green objectives. You will be responsible for bringing environmental issues to the attention of the branch executive, for raising with management at JNCs.

Ordinary Members – four posts (currently Mark Dover, Maureen Harrison, Roger Ingham, Marianne O’Doherty )

Attend monthly committee meetings – 90 mins a month in term time – and offer assistance/support where possible to other ongoing issues.  Current ordinary members help on redundancy consultations, casework, JNC meetings, and campaigning (more or less everything that the committee is required to do).

Our OMs say the best bit about the job is meeting great colleagues from departments across the university; and making a positive difference to the treatment of colleagues across the university through your advocacy.

Members’ update – 19 March 2018

Dear members

Welcome back to work. And a warm welcome to the 200+ new members that have joined the branch.

Many thanks to all our members who participated in the first 14 days of strike action – on the picket lines, by staying at home and not working, by writing to the VC, and by donating to the hardship fund.

We also thank our colleagues and friends in sister trades unions for refusing to engage in strike breaking activities and for their support of our picket lines and striking staff.

Thanks, too, are due to our students, individually and collectively (as SUSU and a myriad of student societies and groups including Southampton Students Against University Cuts and Socialist Students) who have engaged with the Vice-Chancellor, sent messages of support, and kept the picket lines supplied with cakes and good cheer.

Make no mistake, our action to defend our pensions is working.

Before the strike began, UUK said there was no possibility of any movement on their position.

  • UUK refused to go to ACAS  – then they did;
  • UUK said that they could not consider preserving defined benefits – then they did;
  • The statutory consultation on full defined contribution had to start on 19/3 – it is on hold;
  • We were told that independent valuation was impossible – now it is planned.

Locally, our senior management told us that they would deduct pay for action short of a strike (ASOS) or working to contract – we remonstrated, and they backed down.

When the offer of a deal was made last week, this branch felt that we needed more information and we were minded to support suspension of the action to allow the deal to go to a vote by all members.  In the end, there was a strength of feeling across country in favour of rejecting the deal – we listened, debated, and heard concerns that

  • while the proposal retained defined benefit it did so with too great a reduction in the maximum pensionable salary;
  • the proposed reduction in accrual rate was unacceptable;
  • the proposed CPI cap, given volatility associated with continuing uncertainty over Brexit, was unacceptable;
  • the proposal still weighted risk disproportionately on scheme member rather than the employer collective;
  • the proposal included a commitment to encourage staff to reschedule missed lectures and classes. Although in practice, this would have been logistically very difficult, many members believed this was an unacceptable condition.

The deal was rejected and the dispute continues. National UCU is currently consulting with branches about further strike dates in the summer term.

UUK appear willing to talk and a number of astonishing concessions have been made, which offer us hope that we will be offered a better deal. We have written again to our VC, and to the Chair of Council asking them to put pressure on UUK to offer us a better deal.

We are asking ALL members to participate in ASOS.  This means working your contracted hours.  This will undoubtedly impact on what gets done – even our senior managers have conceded that our workloads regularly extend beyond the work hours we are actually paid for. This will be painful – like taking strike action – but it is vital that we keep up the pressure on our senior managers and on UUK.

UCU has asked all members to resign from external examining roles for those HEIs affected by the action. As a result, we have lost a number of external examiners for programmes and doctoral examinations here, and many of us have resigned from these duties elsewhere.

Members here have prepared a helpful guide to the ways in which you can support the strike and ASOS. We expect this to be added to over the coming days and weeks – please keep your suggestions coming for how we can ensure this part of the action has maximum impact.  

The dispute here has thrown a spotlight on a number of local concerns that extend beyond the pension dispute. Conversations here have highlighted staff dissatisfaction with

  1. the governance of the University of Southampton – the lack of academic and ARPS staff voices in decisions; the dominance of external influencers who have no background in higher education on our strategy and practice; the lack of transparency;
  2. the restructuring and cuts – we are concerned that this is yet another top down, ill-managed organisational change that is damaging education and research;  
  3. the ever-increasing size and remuneration packages of the senior management – when front line staff are being cut do we really need to expand the number of managerial roles, including both academic and administrative leadership, earning over £150,000?
  4. gender and other inequalities – the publication of the Equal Pay Review in the middle of the strike did little to reassure staff here that senior managers take inequalities seriously – the 21.5% gender pay gap is indefensible;
  5. workloads – the requests from senior managers to prioritise work that comprises some 60% of workload cements the view that our workloads are excessive – we simply cannot do the job in our contracted hours (which is why we work weekends and evenings to the detriment of our health and wellbeing);
  6. attacks on our lower paid colleagues in levels 1-3 who are also threatened with the removal of their defined benefit pension (we are working closely with our sister trades unions UNITE and UNISON to support these staff).

Given the scale of these concerns it is little wonder that senior management have booted the proposed annual staff survey to October – they are undoubtedly too scared to find out what we think. But they are also apparently using the busy-ness of our return to work to hit us with another wave of job losses: this morning the Exec were made aware of four new consultations comprising 28 new redundancies, 24 of which are in UCU’s bargaining group, ERE staff and MSA/TAO staff appointed at Level 4 and above. We cannot afford to reduce the pressure on our employers with regards to either our pensions or these local issues.

If all this seems overwhelming, please do remember that the strike has brought out the best in us as a community – our strength and our common values. It has reminded us of many of the things that we thought we had lost at this University. We have rediscovered collegiality – we have talked to each other unfettered by the silos of academic units or impossible schedules. We have laughed together and supported each other. We have debated and learned alongside students and members of our community (especial thanks to our wonderful colleagues who led daily teach-out sessions during the strike). We have harnessed an inflatable dinosaur and social media to spread our messages – much more successfully than Universities UK or our own corporate comms.

Above all we have rediscovered that ‘We Are the University’. As of today we are asking you to join us to reclaim your University and higher education. Whatever your role here, you are part of our team and together we can do this.

If you are reading this you are also a member of UCU – the largest post-16 education union in the UK. We are asking you to help us fight for you.

Here’s what you can do – starting today

  1. stick to ASOS – work  your hours
  2. come to the EGM on Friday 23 March 11 am Building 29
  3. ask a colleague to join UCU
  4. donate to the local hardship fund – we will be distributing payments soon
  5. volunteer for our new working groups, or as a caseworker supporting members in difficulty
  6. defend USS – strike and ASOS planning group (Wave 2 of the strikes will commence after Easter)
  7. restructuring and cuts  
  8. misuse of appraisal  
  9. protecting the statutes and ordinances  

You can volunteer today by contacting Amanda ucu@soton.ac.uk

We do not want to lose the momentum and well-being created by the strike.  We urge you to grow your networks and establish regular contacts with each other to engage in everyday small acts of resistance and to reclaim the University.  We will use our social media, other online and offline networks to publicise these acts – and please suggest ideas of your own. Thus far we are aware of

  • reclaim your lunch break clubs – to meet in the observatory B85, the Arlott Bar, Avenue Canteen or off site;
  • ‘go home on time’ email cascades around work groups to remind people to work their hours;
  • plans for teach-outs to meet colleagues and students outside the constraints of the formal curriculum.

Thank you for reading this far.  We have come a long way since the strike action began on 22 February. We have further to go but We Are the University. We will fight together.

Cathy, Mark, Roger, Marianne, Dave, Sarah, John, Mary, Huw, Maureen, Tim, Amanda, and Laurie (in absentia)

ACAS proposals and members’ briefing

We held a briefing meeting for members this morning to hear your views about the new proposals from UCU and UUK, published last night. Please note that this was not an EGM as we need to give three days’ notice for this under branch rules.

Earlier this morning a quorate UCU executive committee met to discuss the proposals and agreed the following statement:

“We are minded to support the suspension of the action to put the deal to our members with the information they will need to make evidence based and critically informed decisions because this is a complex situation and we need to hear all voices.”

This statement was then read to the members at the briefing. There was a discussion of the proposals at the meeting, and members raised a number of issues and concerns. We will feed these issues, and others that come to us via email, back to UCU nationally. It was very clear at the meeting that we need more information to inform our decisions. We are also aware that not everybody from the branch was able to attend the meeting or express their views. At this stage, the branch does not feel able to either support or reject the proposals.

UCU HEC will be meeting this afternoon at 2pm to discuss the proposals and will make the decision whether to suspend or continue with the strike and ASOS action. Please note that should the action be suspended UCU members will be balloted on whether or not to accept the proposals.

We will be in touch with you once we know more and can begin to answer your questions with confidence.

Thank you for your patience and continued support.

Interview with a Dinosaur

Today, the Dinosaur of Solidarity met with SUSU’s Arun Aggarwal, the VP Student Communities, and gave him an exclusive interview.  Below is an edited transcript, but for the full dinotastic experience (including Dinah throwing some rawrsome shapes), you can catch up with the full interview on video.

  1. What does a Dinosaur of Solidarity do?

I see my role primarily as drawing large scale attention to the attack on staff pensions.  I am quite large and I have been told I am a bit shouty. Basically I want staff here to have the decent pension they were promised.  Universities UK and some VCs of our Universities want to replace our defined benefit pension with an inferior defined contribution scheme that represents a 10-40% cut in deferred salary. My slogan is don’t let the pension go extinct.

 

  1. So what is a typical day for you on strike

I get up and eat some porridge – I need the slow release energy throughout the day because being a Dinosaur of Solidarity burns the calories. I then join a local picket at Highfield or Avenue or SGH. I do a bit of shouting.  Sometimes if the pickets re really good I do my special Dino picket for pension dance.  I’ve been working on it at the weekend.  Then I have some lunch – usually a salad – and I go to one of our teach outs. This week we have protest song writing with the Music Department – on Thursday – looking forward to that

 

  1. What are the parts of your role that are most directly relevant to students at the University of Southampton

I love students. I couldn’t eat a whole one because I am vegetarian now.  But I want them to get the best education they can. Demoralised devalued staff who have suffered real term pay cuts, casualization, increasing workloads and now this cut to our pension cannot deliver excellent education.  Students here have been Dino-tastic in their support of this strike action – they understand that their staff need a decent pension.

 

  1. I’d like to know about your time as a student, what do you miss ?

I was a student a long time ago. Can’t say how long ago it was cos then you’d work out how old I am, and a dinosaur never tells. But if I say first Ice Age you’ll have an idea. I studied when you didn’t have to pay – there were no student fees or those horrible student loans.  That’s another thing that makes me angry – a bunch of people who got free higher education have stolen it from a generation. Grrr.

There were polytechnics back then.  I went to one of those. It was great. I loved it. I often say it transformed my life.  I wouldn’t be where I am today without those awesome teachers.  I miss the days before fees when people from all walks of life could do education without paying.

  1. Were there any student union clubs or societies you joined?

Well obviously archaeology club. Love a bit of digging up ancestors, that kind of thing. And the choir. I love a sing.

  1. Southampton offers a broad range off degrees if you could start now what would it be?

Oh that’s a tough one. I’m a bit of a polymath. I like so many things. I like to stretch myself.  I suppose I’d like to learn finance and accounting and maybe do an MBA so that I could help the poor leadership of Universities UK, you know help them get their sums about the pension right.

I like to stretch myself and I don’t let my small brain or short arms hold me back so if I’mhonest what I’d really like to do is learn to knit.  I was hoping I could do that when I retired but I am not sure I can afford the wool if we don’t get the pension back.

  1. One last question before I let you go back to the strike – what are your hobbies?

I mostly like reading with my family and resting after a hard day working at the University. If I haven’t got marking or stuff to do.  I’ve go a big family so mostly I like reading. I like those Dinobird books – reading to the little dinos. They’ve learn lots of new words like ‘anti trade union legislation’ ‘expenses’ and ‘Pornstar Martinis’ from those books.