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Branch Committee

Don’t just be in the Union: Be the Union

Hi, I’m Sarah.

I’m a working mum to two young children, an ex-academic and a scientist at heart, a Learning Designer in iSolutions…and the Academic-Related Professional Services Officer on Exec. If you have some time, I’d like to tell you about my journey here, what it means to me, and what it means for you.

Why did I join UCU?

I used to work in ILIaD. Yes; the Institute for Learning, Innovation and Development (if you don’t remember it you can find it prominently positioned on Sussed, 10 months after its dissolution and replacement structure took effect). I joined UCU because, despite reassurances from senior management that no staff would be at risk of losing their jobs, I was nervous and stressed. I worked in a department that had been restructured 3 times in 4 years by this point. In total I have worked at the university since 2010; personally experiencing fixed term contracts, redeployment, and patchy employer support through two periods of maternity leave. I had battled alone through this, and when faced with another restructure I thought I’d join up. I felt better knowing that someone would be supporting me, we weren’t getting support from HR; quite the opposite. When we pointed out careless mistakes and what appeared to be a fundamental lack of understanding, we were met with aggressive-defensive arguments or silence.

I was lucky. I knew there was a role for me in the new structure (other colleagues, despite assurances, have since been shown the door). I was worried because my job title was changing in a way that devalued my skills and qualifications.

The UCU rep for the ILIaD restructure was excellent. He was professional, a calming presence in all staff and member meetings, and had an accurate eye for detail. You might have read his earlier post; if you haven’t please do. I came out of the other side of the restructure with my role (which I still love) intact but also my original job title and a new-found respect for the work of UCU reps and caseworkers. It wasn’t clear how the past failings that contributed to the restructure were going to be addressed, so how could the team avoid being in this stressful situation again? ILIaD is just one in a line of iterations of this type of Professional Services unit; think CITE, LATEU and so on.

Why did I join the Branch Executive group?

Working in Professional Services in a MSA job family I was a natural fit for the role of Academic-Related Professional Services Officer. It was my chance to change things for the better, to support others going through difficult times, and to highlight issues that might otherwise go unnoticed; the poor experiences of women on maternity leave and their return to work and the removal of the requirement for ethics approval for non ERE-staff gathering data are issues I’m still tackling. I thought my restructure was something of a unique case, but I’ve seen 5 restructures across the university since March last year, and only 1 of those appears to have gone smoothly. It doesn’t fill me with confidence for what lies ahead.

Your UCU executive group

In the relatively short time that I’ve been part of this group, I’ve gotten to know a team of principled, hardworking and concerned citizens. They are caring, decent people who believe in fairness and honesty. They are ERE, MSA, TAE, students, parents, friends… and in every individual role in the wider university they are part of the fabric of this institution. I’m proud to stand beside them in asking that the rest of the university upholds the Nolan principles, that people are treated with decency, and to challenge the assertion that a good education can be purchased as if it were a car or a television.

Your Academic-related Professional Services Officer

I’ve mentioned a few issues that are important to me as a member of MSA staff, but my role on Exec is to represent the interests of members. As the NETSCC restructure has shown, senior management consider a move from ERE to MSA as a variation of contract. If you are ERE now, there’s a possibility I might be representing your interests in future. I think the issues that I’m interested in affect many MSA, TAE, and CAO staff but I need you to tell me what you are concerned about. Contact me via the UCU@soton email address.

Your Union, our Union.

Exec are here for you and we also have a favour to ask. We need you to be here for us. Ask yourself; are you willing to help? Can you be a point of contact in your building or faculty? Can you spare some time for casework? Whatever you can offer is greatly appreciated.

It’s yours. It’s mine. It’s ours. Don’t just be in the Union: Be the Union.

Why I’m a UCU representative – a personal account

Dear colleagues

I should start by explaining that you probably don’t know me, and if you do it’s because either you work with me, or I’ve met you over the last year as a UCU rep. All of what follows is drawn from my own experiences in that role.

 As a UCU rep, I have only one task, and that’s to represent members.  UCU has given me training, support and most importantly the voice to do this. When you meet me as your rep, for whatever reason you are probably not going to be in the best situation.

 I might have met you before a tense meeting with your line manager, who has been bullying you for the last year. After the meeting you thanked me for my actions and realised you don’t have to suffer alone.

 Alternatively, I am walking in with you to a meeting to discuss your future in a restructure, and I’ll make sure your voice is heard, adding my own if needed. If the worse happens and you find out you are leaving UOS, I’ll walk out with you and sit down to talk over your options.

 Since my volunteering to act as rep at UoS, I have sometimes seen working relationships broken, and have comforted people in tears at how they have been treated. I’ve also had a number of 1-1 meetings with HR where I’ve fed back on those experiences and offered to try and work together to stop this happening. I felt we were making progress, and I genuinely want things to be simply better, for everyone.

 Not everyone falls back to a confrontational style. Sometimes, I sit down together with the HR representative over a coffee.  We talk about our children, Netflix, Brexit and then we open our notebooks and try to navigate a solution together. I wish this happened more often.

 In all of these interactions, I’ve never knowingly misrepresented the truth, been offensive or breached trust. I try to keep to high professional standards, and I’ve even sought feedback from the senior managers I’ve sat across from. One Dean wrote to my HoAU telling them how impressed they had been with my actions in formal 1-1’s. I’ve been told the University needs more concerned citizens like me. Maybe that is true.

 For me UCU is about support for its members. If I think UoS isn’t meeting its own procedures or legislation it’s my role to tell them this, and I will continue to do so as long as members ask me to.

 So if you do meet me as a UCU rep, I’m sorry we have to meet like that. But I promise to help.

 If you think you can help as well, contact UCU. We need more concerned citizens.

Mark Dover, Southampton UCU Honorary Secretary and Caseworker