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It doesn’t mean we aren’t angry.

Members will have seen the result of the HE ballot, which saw a turnout of 41%, with a 70% vote in favour of a strike and 80% for action short of a strike (80.5%). The turnout was disappointingly short of 50% threshold required by the current legislation.

Our employers will no doubt be relieved that they will not be faced with strike action (some members may feel the same, especially those still paying debts incurred from the USS strike action this time last year).

But this does not mean that staff are not angry about the issues at the heart of the ballot.

Talking to members here we know just how furious staff are about successive below inflation pay rises (and the prospect of paying more for our USS pension despite the recommendations of the JEP). We share your outrage at the casualization of the sector. We too are infuriated with the failure of employers to take meaningful action to address inequalities. We also know how overloaded everyone is due to increasing workloads and performance expectations.

Staff here have sent a clear message, via the recent staff survey, to senior management about their dissatisfaction with their leadership of the University. Staff reported a lack of confidence, a lack of trust and a sense that the senior managers do not listen or respond to feedback. Over the past few years staff and students have also repeatedly spoken out against excessive pay at the top of our University. And in the recent ballot many staff here also voted for strike action over pay and equalities.

Our employers should take note.

The message from the national ballot is that a significant number of UCU members are very angry about Pay, Precarity, Inequalities and Workloads. Locally, the staff survey signals problems at the top of the University of Southampton.

This is a moment for the senior managers to show that they can listen and respond.

The University Executive Board could seize this opportunity to work with staff and students. They could stand with staff on Pay and defend our pensions. They could take meaningful action on equalities. They could work towards ending the over-use of casual contracts. They could tackle excessive workloads, presenteeism and bullying. We believe they should.

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.

Staff survey confirms substantial collapse in confidence in senior leadership of the University

UCU members will remember that the staff engagement survey was postponed from April to October 2018 until “after the university has undergone its reshaping exercises from 8 Faculties to 5.”

Yesterday, summary results from the survey (which had a 69% response rate) were cascaded to staff; these make for very grim reading indeed.

Confidence in the leadership of the University has always been shaky, but the 2018 result shows a significant drop in confidence to 25%; in other words, three quarters of the 4284 colleagues responding to the survey do not have confidence in the senior leadership team. We here at UCU are not surprised. For months and months, UCU have been saying that staff and students have serious concerns about the senior leadership of the University, and about poorly managed organisational change. The staff (dis)engagement survey provides a critical and very clear indication of what staff think of the senior team and their strategic leadership.

When we look a bit deeper into detail of the responses, it is clear that many of our staff love the work they do and, for the most part, have good relationships with colleagues and local line managers. But, it all falls apart when we look at the results for senior leadership of the University. On key questions (Qu 24-25) about whether the University is well placed to meet opportunities and challenges of the future, and confidence in the leadership, less than one third express support for the senior team.

When asked if the Executive Board are open and honest (Qu 26), staff report a mere 24% agreement and this plummets to as low as 16% in Arts and Humanities, 18% in Engineering and Physical Sciences and 19% in Social Sciences; these are truly alarming figures.

In a previous blog we noted the steep rise over recent years in the number of senior leaders, notably the increase in Vice President and associated roles. Like many in the higher education sector we have long been concerned at the pay and remuneration of our Vice Chancellor (who receives a salary of £423,000), and at the more than doubling of the number of staff earning over £100k per annum (from 66 in 2010 to around 140 in 2017*). The staff survey results invite serious assessment of whether the University is receiving value for money from these senior leaders.

The survey also included questions about experiencing bullying and witnessing bullying. UCU are disturbed to see that between 15% and 28% of staff report having witnessed bullying across the University in the past year. This too is a damning statistic.

We look forward to the senior management responses to these – and the other – results. We will welcome the opportunity to work closely with the senior management and new Vice Chancellor to restore confidence across the University and repair some of the damage done over the last few years.

* figures taken from Financial Statements and Statistics 2016-2017 

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.

Open letter from Southampton UCU Executive Committee to University of Southampton President and Vice-Chancellor regarding the USS Pension Scheme

Dear Sir Christopher

We write with concern as to the recent developments regarding the USS pension scheme.

As you know, nearly a year ago staff here at Southampton took unprecedented action to defend their USS pensions. Since the JEP report and the decisions of UCU and UUK to endorse the JEP’s recommendations, USS has stated that it will now undertake a fresh valuation of the USS pension scheme using March 2018 data. This new valuation requires participating employers to be consulted on the assumptions used to value the scheme’s liabilities

https://www.ussemployers.org.uk/sites/default/files/field/attachemnt/2018-technical-provisions-consultation.pdf

The JEP estimated that if all its recommendations were implemented, current benefits (minus the match) could be secured for 29.2% – 3.2% higher than the current 26%, but substantially lower than the 36.6% previously proposed by USS.

In the new technical provisions, USS states that it is not persuaded of the case for two of the proposals made by the JEP: the postponement of de-risking in the first 10 years and the smoothing of contributions over two valuation cycles. However they also say that, even without implementing these two recommendations, contributions can be as low as 29.7% if they can agree suitable contingency arrangements with the employers.

The USS consultation with the employers finishes in mid-February and we ask on behalf of Southampton UCU members and members of the USS pension scheme here that this University will call for the full implementation of the JEP, including the postponement of de-risking and the smoothing of contributions.

We seek assurances that this University will:

  • call for the full implementation of JEP recommendations;
  • support measures to secure the lowest contributions possible for staff (mindful that pay has not kept pace with inflation);
  • support further work by the JEP to improve the methodology for future valuations which would have the support of all sides.

We look forward to your response and formally request permission to communicate such to our members.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely

Catherine Pope

On behalf of Southampton UCU Executive Committee

Workloads matter

Thanks to all members who attended the GM last week. We were really pleased to have Adam Lincoln, the Bargaining and Negotiations Official (Health, Safety and Sustainability) from UCU HQ as our speaker. Adam reminded us of the sad death of a colleague at Cardiff who took his own life after expressing concerns about being overloaded, UCU have for a long time been aware of rising workplace stress and staff concerns about workloads. Indeed action on workloads this was one of the elements in our recent pay claim. We know it is of concern to many of you especially following the recent round of cuts to staff which has seen the reallocation of their work to already over-burdened staff.

Adam told us about a new UCU campaign to build a network of workload reps who can use the Health and Safety legislation and legal protections to address workload stress and overload. This will begin with a process of identifying and appointing H&S workload reps in target departments. If you care about rising workloads talk to us about becoming a workload rep for your department – this is a small, defined role that means you can do your bit to make a difference. If you want to help please do volunteer – contact Amanda (ucu@soton.ac.uk). (The ppt slides and campaign packs on workloads are available from the UCU office).

 

University Governance part #1: the one where UCU met the new Chair of Council

University governance is a hot topic in several UCU branches at the moment. We heard at our recent AGM from Hedley Bashforth of Bath UCU about how their branch successfully used their governance structures to draw attention to the excessive pay of their VC and senior management. Others will recall the dispute at Leeds University in 2017 prompted by senior management attempts to change the statutes and ordinances there.  The recent branch conference at Bristol UCU debated governance and concluded that “Power needs to move away from the centre and towards staff”. We agree. Many of the problems we face, particularly those associated with recent decisions to restructure the university (again),  appear to be fueled by a failure of senior managers to listen to, or meaningfully engage with staff.

It was therefore a refreshing change when representatives from UCU were invited to meet with the incoming Chair of Council Phillip Greenish as part of his induction last week. Your branch President and Secretary who attended this meeting were pleased to have this opportunity to share your concerns about senior management and University governance.  Phillip asked us to keep the content of the conversation private but we can share with you the content of the briefing we prepared for him and that we asked to be circulated to Council members (see below).

The briefing below may be TL:DR (Too long: Didn’t read) so the summary version is: We want better governance and senior management, and we need the University to stick to negotiated agreements and policies. The list of our concerns is long but we highlighted three pressing matters for Council’s attention:  1. Workloads and poor mental health of staff 2. casualization and 3. the gender pay gap.

Text of the UCU briefing for University Council

UCU is the recognised trades union for academic and academic-related professional staff at the university. We represent staff employed at level 4 and above. UCU is the largest post-16 education trades union in Europe and nationally represents staff in Higher and Further education as well as in prison, agricultural and adult education.

The branch here has an executive team of 16 elected officers and a casework team of volunteers who support individuals experiencing difficulties at work.  All the officers are in employment in the University and devote a limited number of hours during or outside working time to UCU duties. We are supported by regional and national officials, and have access to employment lawyers when needed.

Our branch is one of the largest in the South of England and we have members across all staff grades. Membership has grown considerably in response to local organisational changes and national threats to our pensions. You will be aware of the significant strike and working to contract action at the beginning of the year, and may have the impression that this is a militant branch. In reality the branch is considered moderate by our peers. In the past we have worked positively and effectively with the senior managers to improve the working lives and experience of staff and students here. Unfortunately relationships with senior managers have deteriorated over the past few years.  We have also seen an increase in the number of staff needing our support.

There are three pressing issues we would like to raise with you and the Council

  1. Governance of the university. Staff here want governance that reflects our values. We need our senior managers to be, and be seen to be, more accountable to our community. Governance processes need to be much more open and transparent. Academic and academic-related staff representation and engagement in Senate needs to be strengthened – this vital body has become a passive recipient of information and is not currently effective. We also urgently need more diversity in the membership of Council. Certain kinds of private sector experience are over-represented and we need much more recognition that we are an academic institution closely aligned with the public sector values. We also need to see greater diversity of membership of our governance structures in terms of race, gender and disability to better reflect our community.
  2. Poor senior leadership and people management. Staff are concerned at the disconnect between senior managers and staff. Successive staff surveys have highlighted this and yet little progress is being made. We believe that if senior managers engage with staff and actively attend to organisational culture and low morale we can make this a great place to work we will attract and retain the best staff, and this in turn will attract students and research funding. We have suffered 15 years of restructuring and cuts, moving from 3 Faculties to 8, and now to 5, and this has seriously reduced our ability to deliver. Staff here feel demoralised and devalued. We need better managers and leaders.
  3. Failure to adhere to agreements and policies negotiated with the trades unions. Members of all the campus trades unions have worked hard to support senior managers to improve the University. As the recognised trades union for level 4 and above we have negotiated policy and practice changes and balloted our membership when necessary to ratify these. We have been dismayed at the way some senior managers have ignored these agreements to the detriment of staff and students here.

What we are asking you

We welcome this opportunity for two of the branch executive to meet the new Chair of Council. Some of us also met members of Council during the industrial action and were pleased to discuss our concerns with them.

We would like to ask members of Council to seek views of trades unions, staff and students.  Come and listen to us.  Please visit staff where they work so you can see first-hand what they experience (the view from Building 37 and the Senate rooms gives a very particular view of our workplaces and we are sure you comprehend the importance of also seeing life ‘below decks’).

We also ask you to work with us to address our concerns.  These include but are not limited to

  • Workloads and poor mental health – We continue to battle a workplace culture of presenteeism and overwork. The University is reliant on hours of unpaid labour by staff – at night and weekends. We see increased stress, mental illness and musculoskeletal conditions resulting in sick leave. Sometimes, tragically this overwork contributes to suicide. We must do better.
  • Casualization – lack of job security is detrimental for staff but also to the ambition of the University – fixed term staff are constantly distracted by having to look for jobs elsewhere. We need to value our staff so that we get the best from them.
  • Gender pay gap – it is shameful that we have made so little progress addressing this issue (and other diversity challenges). We need action to reduce our 21% pay gap, this means actually delivering on Athena SWAN action plans and developing all staff to challenge hidden biases.We need also to take meaningful steps to address pay disparities.

Finally we ask you to support the trades unions at the University. We want to work with senior managers and use our governance structures to improve the education and research we do. We have done so in the past and we can do so again. Please help us do this.

We hope that this is the start of a productive conversation between Council and the representatives of staff at this University and look forward to further meetings and discussion with members of Council.

If you can’t stand the heat?

Your branch continues to be busy with lots of casework and more redundancy threats but last week we had a new kind of firefighting to do as several members asked us about regulations for workplace temperatures.

SUSSED offers helpful advice for staff and students about staying safe in the sun, but some of us found the lack of guidance from senior management on staying safe and well within overheating buildings disappointing. We asked senior management to address this lack of information and support but were told that they believed that line managers were dealing with this appropriately at a local level.

The recent thunderstorms and rain have reduced the temperature but we urge colleagues who experience uncomfortable work environments to report the issue as a health and safety concern. The University ‘Adverse Weather policy’ promises that the University “Will ensure that they take additional care during adverse weather and don’t do anything which may put themselves at risk”. Managers should make sure staff are aware of this policy. The HSE also provide useful advice about heat stress on their website. Incident reporting can be done on-line and if you find a room too hot to work in this can be reported to Estates and Facilities call x27474 or email efhelp@soton.ac.uk with the room number and state it is a Priority One call.

Some managers signposted actions we can take when our workplaces become too hot and we’d like to give a shout out to the fab managers in Chemistry who circulated helpful advice and allowed staff to alter working patterns, and alerted them to adaptations required to ensure sensible and safe working conditions.

Adverse weather conditions – hot or cold – are of course not under the control of University, but the University does have a duty of care to staff and students. We continue to push them to support our wellbeing, and as ever UCU are here for you – rain or shine – to help make your working lives better.

Hands off our money – fight to defend our pensions

With a single casting vote in the pension joint negotiating committee the financial security of current and future academic staff has been jeopardised.

Sadly this means that our strike action must go ahead. https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/9235/UCU-says-strikes-now-look-like-a-reality-as-pension-talks-end

Academics and academic related staff don’t like striking. We are here because we care about education and research. Most of us work longer hours than we are contracted for because we believe in what we do, because we chose service rather than profit.

But strike we must.

Here at Southampton UCU we are regarded (and regard ourselves) as a pretty moderate bunch. The turnout for the vote and the overwhelming support for strike action indicates that we have been pushed too far. This attack on our financial futures cannot be allowed to succeed.

The move to defined contribution pension with its frighteningly individualised risks (the value of investments may go DOWN as well as up) and attendant administrative charges, is nothing less than a pay cut. It is pay cut of between 10-40%, taken from our deferred salary. What is more, it is a pay cut supported by the members of the UUK side of the JNC who are most likely to be financially secure (http://www.ucea.ac.uk/en/empres/pensions/uss/governance/).

Not all VCs backed the UUK side or these damaging changes to USS. On Thursday last week, Warwick’s VC wrote that “there is a need to maintain a meaningful defined benefit scheme for those members of staff, present and future, who perceive pension provision as a key factor in their choice entering or remaining in higher education”. https://warwick.ac.uk/insite/news/intnews2/vc_letter_to_uuk.

Alongside him, the VC of Loughborough also stated his opposition in a letter (partially reproduced here https://twitter.com/sheffielducu/status/952873826475528192 ) .

Colleagues at Bristol reported that their employers had been keen to find a middle ground and planned to revise how much the institution was willing to pay in contributions.

Sadly our own VC, one of the highest paid senior academic leaders in this country, did not stand with us against the proposals. The senior management here have continued to support the move to defined contributions.

Members can expect more emails in coming days about the strike action. What we can say now is that we must strike to show our employer that our deferred salary is not theirs to bargain away.

Your executive committee will meet on Friday 26th Jan to plan the action here. In the meantime here are some of the things you can do now to help defend your pension.

  1. Volunteer for our picket lines.We will picket areas across our university campuses and need up to six on each picket line. Please email Amanda with contact details (ucu@soton.ac.uk)
  2. Pass the message on. Tell those who are not members that these changes could wipe £200,000 from their pension. See https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/9093/Overhaul-of-university-pensions-could-leave-staff-200000-worse-off-in-retirement. Urge non-members to join UCU https://www.ucu.org.uk/join and join us in action to defend our pension.
  3. Bookmarkhttps://www.ucu.org.uk/strikeforussfor updates on the action.
  4. email the VC vice-chancellor@soton.ac.uk and ask him why he did not defend your pension

Finally remember we are your branch. You are UCU. Send us your comments and ideas about how to make this strike effective. ucu@soton.ac.uk.

We may be reluctant to strike, but strike we must. We cannot allow this assault on our retirement security to go unchallenged.

 

the photo used is from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cardboard_ballot_box_-_Smithsonian.jpgorm  and depicts an early US ballot box which of course is not related to the USS vote in any way but is instead a rather lovely piece of history.