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“And all for Love, and nothing for Reward”

“They for us fight, they watch and duly ward…. And all for Love, and nothing for Reward” (The Faerie Queene, Bk 2, VIII/2).

Southampton UCU have been concerned about the implementation of appraisal, probation, and promotion – the collection of policies called ‘Reward’ – for many months.  We have raised our concerns repeatedly at JNC meetings, but have found senior management reluctant to engage, either claiming that our concerns are unfounded or saying that the issue involves only “individual cases” that we may not discuss in the meeting.

This past academic year, we have seen a huge increase in casework around appraisal, probation, and promotion, with members at all levels – from new lecturers to distinguished professors – feeling aggrieved about the initial process with their line managers or, frequently, the moderation of their agreed appraisal scores. In some cases, unsatisfactory moderated scores have led to members facing performance management/capability processes.

All the ERE Reward Policies were negotiated with UCU, and ratified by our National Ratification Panel, in 2014. According to the agreed terms, these policies should have been jointly reviewed on an annual basis, but this has not happened.  Moreover, the implementation of these policies, both in the broadest sense (the appraisal moderation guidelines) and in some individual cases, has been outside the terms agreed in 2014.   Up to this point, management has refused to recognise this to be the case, but at the October JNC, HR finally admitted that the policies’ implementation was not in accordance with the negotiated agreements.

Having agitated for a review of the policies for many months, we are relieved that this review is now going to take place, commencing at the end of the month.  We have requested an analysis of last year’s results, for probation and appraisal, focussing on moderated scores, analysed against protected characteristics (gender/race/age/sexuality/religion) and by department/AU/professional service. We deeply regret, however, that we have been told that because the appraisal window for Level 7 has already opened, no changes to the policies can take place in this academic year.  We take the view that since moderation – by far the most damaging and contentious element of the process, and the one that sits largely outside the agreed policy – will not be taking place until January at the earliest, we should be able to make progress on making this part of the process fairer.

We would like to remind members of our view on module evaluation questionnaire scores. These MEQ results have been shown to inherently biased against lecturers with protected characteristics, and thus have no place in performance review or management. This view is supported by the Module Survey Policy, which does not list performance review as an aim for MEQs. We will seek clear guidance for line managers and appraisers on the appropriate use of student module evaluation.  We also will continue to press for a fit-for-purpose learning and teaching CPD programme for all staff, that can help both teaching staff and managers respond to any fairly identified needs.

 

USS pensions update: a conversation and a quote

Last week, I wrote urging you to vote in UCU’s consultative ballot on whether you would be willing to take strike action to safeguard our pensions.   At that time, Southampton UCU had not had any indication from senior management regarding the University’s position on the USS valuation. I hoped that the University would take its responsibility seriously, and perhaps take a position like the University of Sheffield, critically evaluating the methodology and inputs for the valuation.

I have now met and discussed the University’s response with the Vice-Chancellor and President and fellow SUCU exec members met with the Director of Finance and HR team last week. I asked Sir Christopher if he would be willing to give me a quote that I could share with members.  He kindly responded with the following:

Pensions are extremely important to colleagues, and as a University we wish to be able to offer pension schemes which provide the best possible benefits to employees and which remain sustainable well into the future to provide the income we all need in retirement.  We are particularly keen to ensure that employees throughout their career are able to participate in a long term sustainable pension and to be aware of the importance of joining a scheme as early as possible. The current USS scheme is heavily in deficit and the University along with all other institutions who participate in this scheme are making substantial payments to address the huge deficit in addition to the pension contributions, currently of 18% of salary, together with 8% from employees in the scheme. The University has responded to the consultation on the pension scheme and after careful consideration has supported the proposal for a defined contribution (DC) scheme for future benefits because it would provide greater certainty in terms of benefits and would be sustainable whilstgiving more flexibility to all our staff. The scheme’s Trustees will have to satisfy the Pensions Regulator that the scheme is sustainable and that the sector is able to address the growing deficit.  Further increases in employer pension contributions and any increase in deficit payments by employers are simply not affordable and would threaten both the future of the University and that of the pension scheme.

Sir Christopher shares our frustration with the current situation, and so I urged him to work with both the UCU and UUK negotiators to interrogate the valuation methodology and the investment strategy proposed by USS.  I suggested that UCU members here wanted our senior management to take the consultation seriously, and to give serious consideration to the materials made available by UCU.

There are academics who, in the Financial Times, on WONKHE, and elsewhere, have closely criticised USS’s methodology, voicing serious concerns about USS’s flawed assumptions underpinning its valuation. UCU commissioned an independent report from First Actuarial that leaves the USS Trustee’s proposed approach in tatters, concluding:

The USS does not have negative net cash flow and is not likely to have in future (subject to dealing with increasing longevity, as already noted). Cash and short dated investments are not needed to meet net outgo and to protect against forced disinvestment. … Investing to achieve a lower return than indicated increases the probability of requiring further employer contributions, indeed, it makes it certain that more contributions are needed, in direct conflict with Test 2 and the wishes of the employers (p. 15).

I remain troubled by the role of the Pensions Regulator in the process. It would be a travesty if the entire consultation was invalidated by the Trustee’s capitulation to the Pensions Regulator’s views: this would suggest that there was no point to consultation in the first place.  First Actuarial state:

the law does not give TPR a role in the decision making process of an incomplete valuation. We note with concern the comment [in the Valuation] that ‘the trustee has shared its emerging proposals throughout the process with the regulator as well as stakeholders.’ TRP’s objectives are not aligned [my emphasis] with the objectives of the trustee and the employers…. the trustee’s role is to act in the interests of the members and the employers (p. 7).

At the root of the employers’ concerns are the implications of contribution rate rises. While employers are absolutely within their rights to run their business according to their best interests, the First Actuarial report argues that there is no need for contributions to rise – and we would wish both the University and UUK to take this seriously.  Although we understand that the decision has not been made without consideration we feel it is regrettable that the University supports a move to a completely Defined Contributions pension, which seems at odds with its desire to recruit and retain quality staff. First Actuarial has also prepared a report comparing the benefits of USS with TPS, the scheme available to employees in post-1992 universities: in all tests, TPS already outperforms USS. EU universities, too, have occupational pension schemes which hardly make employment in a USS university seem attractive.

Ultimately, members need to bear in mind that USS is a private pension scheme. Its existence depends on participation by its members, and, if we really want it, we now have a choice to leave.  The scheme’s employees are paid for by our pension contributions, and the vast salaries on offer to them make their arguments about the need for prudence and the funding deficits seem frankly distasteful: see the Annual Report, Report and Accounts (scheme), p. 25 – a mean average base salary of £63K pa, 113 members paid over £100K pa, with the top earner taking home in excess of £1.6m pa.  We know that the employers are just one of three sides negotiating in the room – well, four, if you count the éminence grise of The Pensions Regulator – but we have no direct way of putting pressure on USS, so we must put pressure on the employers, instead.

There is no doubt, either in my mind or in that of the Vice-Chancellor, that a dispute would be damaging – but that is in the nature of industrial disputes.  We want UUK, USS, and The Pensions Regulator to be in no doubt that we abhor the devaluation of our pensions – what we used to call our deferred salary. They represented a covenant between the sector and its workers that we could accept lower wages than could be commanded in the private sector on the understanding that we would be looked after well in retirement.

We will be holding a General Meeting on 24 October, after the UCU consultative ballot has closed.  In the meantime, we continue to urge you to vote in the ballot: if you have not received your ballot email, or have lost it, you can get another here. We strongly recommend that you vote YES, that you are prepared to take industrial action to save our pensions.  Let those who will decide our future hear our voice.

Sincerely,
Your UCU branch president,
Laurie

A very busy week, and lots of progress to report

The Penguins of Solidarity re-enact our Strategy Day with Tony, the AUT Brain

I had not anticipated writing another blog quite so soon after the last, but some important things have happened this week, and – accepting the risk that members might get blog-fatigue before the autumn term has even started – I thought it was a good idea to update on the many positive outcomes of all the intense activity.

Tuesday we held our Strategy Day, and it was wonderful to welcome so many people – executive committee members, caseworkers, departmental reps – to what was a very productive session.  On the morning agenda were some important national issues, particularly changes to membership terms and pensions.  Briefly:

  • From 1 October, PGR students who teach during their doctoral studies are to be offered free full membership, valid for four years, or until the member achieves a more secure job. PGR students are already offered free membership, but not with all the benefits of full membership.  This is a very welcome change, and we hope you will advertise this to your PG teaching fellows and assistants. https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/8916/Future-of-the-profession-free-membership-FAQ  Other changes from the union are in the pipeline, including CPD provision, help for international staff, and some significant adjustments to benefits. We’ll keep you updated.
  • Pensions: While we were discussing the problems of the 2017 USS valuation and the continued and growing threat to our pensions, the University of Sheffield decided in the interests of transparency to publish the valuation documents, something that UCU activists have been demanding for months: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/hr/thedeal/pensionupdates/ussvaluation At branch and at national level, UCU is very concerned that the valuation methodology is inappropriate and damaging, and will leave scheme members increasingly worse off, potentially putting us into renewed conflict with our employers.  We have requested a meeting with the Finance Director to discuss USS, and we will be blogging about that in the near future.  You can follow the thoughts of Mike Otsuka, Professor at LSE, here.
Southampton UCU 2017 Strategy Day

Southampton UCU 2017 Strategy Day

In the afternoon, we discussed six related areas of concern that I have outlined in previous posts:

  • workload
  • misuse and abuse of the appraisal process
  • misuse and abuse of student evaluation
  • performance management
  • restructuring/redundancies/settlement agreements
  • the upcoming review of Statutes and Ordinances

From the feedback and ideas raised in the session, we are devising action plans for both negotiation and campaigning on all of these points.  We plan to set up some FAQ pages in the very near future: one in relation to appraisal concerns, and another with some points about settlement agreements.  We are, as always, keen to hear about your experiences, good and bad, in relation to first five; if you think you have expertise or experience that will help us with the sixth, we’d love to hear from you.

Wednesday was also a full day, this time with a number of meetings with HR and other professional services.  The general feeling at the end of the day was encouraging, having achieved some progress towards clear lines of consultation and negotiation on policies (to include principles, procedures, and guidelines) in the morning, and having addressed some points of concern directly with HR representatives in the afternoon. We had a valuable lessons-learned meeting, subsequent to a complex restructuring last academic year, that has helped us establish good practice for what we hope will be more effective and compassionate consultations in the future, with better outcomes for all concerned.

Finally, the statement below is a very positive outcome from our afternoon meeting with Andy Cast, Interim Director of HR Business Partnering, in relation to settlement agreements and protected conversations:

Under Employment Law a mutually agreed exit is achieved using a settlement agreement to ensure that contractual, common law and most statutory claims are settled, including claims of discrimination.  The discussions leading to the employee’s departure are conducted via a protected/without prejudice conversation to terminate the employment contract on terms mutually agreed between the employer and employee.  On occasions the University would like to be able to offer an opportunity for colleagues to leave under these voluntary terms.  Normally there will be a workplace dispute, relationship breakdown or an ongoing performance issue which initiates such action.  A settlement agreement can be requested by the employer or employee.  If the University wishes to offer one of these settlement agreements to a colleague, it will ensure 5 working days’ notice is given for any protected/without prejudice conversation, along with the opportunity for the staff member to bring a Union Representative or companion with them if they wish to do so.  For more information about settlement agreements, please see the ACAS guidance here.

This statement will be added to our FAQs on settlement agreements, but we wanted you to have the text as soon as possible, as it has reassured us of the university’s commitment now to give notice to employees if it wishes hold such a meeting, giving the employee the opportunity to arrange representation, if they wish.

Wishing you all the very best for the weekend, and the coming weeks leading up to the beginning of the autumn term

Laurie

 

September update: Pay and priorities

As many of us descend into the long Sunday night that is September, preparing for the first Monday morning of the new academic year, Southampton UCU are putting together our own “syllabus” for 2017-18.*  We are having our annual strategy day next week (12 September), at which we will set our priorities for the coming year. If you are interested in coming along and still haven’t let us know – do it now (so we can make you welcome and feed you lunch).

More of that in a minute, but it would seem remiss of me not to at least mention the brouhaha in the press this week about top salaries in the university sector.  Most of us can only sit back in bewilderment at the insensitivity of comments made by a variety of leaders in HE.  On Monday, we witnessed the VC of Oxford University admitting that her pay is very generous in relation to the vast majority of her academic staff (but not in comparison to footballers and bankers, so that’s alright then). Today, the government has stepped in, with Jo Johnson set to tell UUK that senior management salaries should be curbed, with fines if excessive salaries cannot be justified. UCU has responded to Johnson’s proposals, underlining the need for transparency.

In the same report, the head of the Russell Group trots out the “global market” argument (“At the same time, our members are operating in a fiercely competitive international market for the best research, teaching and leadership talent. Ultimately this pays huge dividends, adding tens of billions of pounds to the economy every year and helping to maintain the UK’s position as a world leader in science and innovation”), weirdly forgetting, it seems, that senior management don’t actually deliver the research, teaching, and leadership all by themselves:  all staff in all universities contribute to the sector’s importance and position, sometimes despite the conditions in which we are asked to work, and the terms under which we are remunerated.

The national issue of pensions is also ever-present, and we expect that there will be further erosion to our benefits proposed.  We will keep you informed of national campaigns.  As a first action, you could consider signing a petition demanding that USS shows the way it has arrived at its dubious valuation:     https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/uss-must-show-its-workings.

Back to priorities:  as I have outlined previously, there are a number of important and intersecting concerns that have risen to the top of our agenda over the summer.  These are (in no particular order, because intersecting…): workload; abuse and misuse of the appraisal process; abuse and misuse of student evaluation; the upcoming review of the University’s Statutes and Ordinances (which form part of our terms and conditions); performance management; restructures.  I anticipate that these issues will inform the basis of our negotiations with the university, along with the ongoing work of policy review, contractual negotiations, and casework.

We already have a working group looking at workload issues, and we have volunteers who are helping with the Statutes and Ordinances review. But we still need your help: while our team of caseworkers are dedicated and efficient, the casework load is ever increasing, and we are always grateful for more volunteers who are willing to support colleagues.  We will provide you with training and support, and will not give you more than you can handle: sometimes, a member just needs advice or someone to help them consider alternative courses of action in any given situation.  Our more experienced caseworkers and our regional support officer and regional official, Scott Alexander and Moray McAulay, are on hand to deal with the difficult or sensitive cases.

Reports back from members show a variety of approaches to performance management, which range from the supportive and reasonable to the downright alarming. Please keep the reports coming: we will do all we can to keep information confidential.  We are continuing to press management into action on these points: keeping in mind the university’s published values of quality, sustainability, and collegiality, we want to work with management to ensure that all measures taken to improve performance, in whatever part of the university, are proportionate, fair, and should respect the legal rights of the employees and the university’s duty of care.

Saving the most important to last, we are now negotiating in restructures in a number of different areas in the University.  We do not expect that this activity will decrease.  We are also handling individual cases for members who are being offered settlement agreements to leave the university, with no warning, often at meetings that have been called under the pretence of a different matter.  Please be aware: if you arrive at a meeting at which an HR partner is in attendance without prior notice, you can request an adjournment until you have sought advice from UCU, and leave the meeting.  You can also request union representation if you are informed HR will be present at any meeting to which you are called.

We don’t want to alarm staff unnecessarily, but we want to make sure that you are supported, and that you know we are here to support you. We are so much stronger when we act as a community.

Wishing you all well

Prof Laurie Stras
President, Southampton UCU

*And if you are one of our colleagues that has been teaching or providing support for students throughout the summer, or working in professional services doing urgent tasks that cannot be completed in the main teaching semesters, we salute you.

Mid-August briefing from the Branch President

Middle-of-August greetings to all members, and to those who are interested in UCU activity at the University of Southampton.

I am going to try to blog relatively frequently about what the union is doing in university: the executive committee is busy year-round, but it is not always obvious to members what we do, and how, when, and why we do it.

First, many thanks to everyone who responded to my recent email. Your responses helped me immensely in my first meeting with Sir Christopher.  The VC was generous with his time, and the conversation felt productive. I was able to articulate your deep concern about the misuse/abuse of the appraisal process, student evaluation, spiralling workload, and the effects on the community of the pressures of external metrification. We agreed that we should identify areas in which we could make some progress: these were the issues that were at the top of my list.

We are exerting increasing pressure for a meaningful review of the appraisal process: the annual review (according to our negotiated agreement) is a year overdue, and it is also urgent. The Level 7 appraisal round begins again in only a few months. We are still keen to hear your stories if you feel your appraisal was conducted unfairly, or in breach of the agreement: some advice on what to do is here.

Branch executive members and our branch administrator Amanda have also been very busy with a number of consultations across the university. There is no easy way to gloss this activity: we are currently facing restructures and potential redundancies in a handful of areas, and we fully expect that we will be asked to represent members in further exercises in the coming year.

There is no doubt that the entire HE sector is in turmoil, and it is neither wise nor possible to pretend that Southampton will escape the effects of a shrinking market.  The Regional Office and Executive Committee will do our utmost to ensure that measures taken will be proportionate, fair, and in the best interests of the university as a whole. We will not settle for what is doable, but will work to get the best outcome we can – we will always do our best to support our members.

As the new academic year gets into swing, activities increase: branch executive members will be involved in policy reviews, health and safety consultation, individual casework, and – very importantly – an imminent review of the Statutes and Ordinances, initiated by senior management.  We cannot stress how important this review will be, as the Statutes and Ordinances form the basis for our terms and conditions of employment. The more members we can enlist to take part in working groups – especially those with legal or drafting expertise – the better we will be able to protect our terms and conditions, and our academic freedom.

The branch executive will be having a strategy planning day on 12 September.  If you are interested in getting more involved in union work, you are welcome to attend for some or all of the day: please get in touch with Amanda on ucu@soton.ac.uk or 023 8059 2364.  Further details will be circulated in another email.

Prof Laurie Stras
SUCU Branch President

Claim Tax Relief on UCU subscriptions

You might be interested to know that due to UCU’s status as a professional organisation, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) gave approval for members to claim up to 67% tax relief on the total annual subscription they have paid to UCU during the last four years, and on an annual basis thereafter.  Further guidance can be found at:  https://www.ucu.org.uk/taxrelief .  Please complete this template tax relief claim form ucu_taxclaimform_Apr16  and return it to the tax office on completion.  The University’s tax office details are:

West Hampshire Area HM Revenue & Customs
Trinity Bridge House
2 Dearmans Place
Salford 
M3 5BS 

The tax office reference number is 663/U1.  

If you need further information please contact the UCU office.

 

Anti-fascist demo – 11am 2 July

On 2 July the Southampton Trades Council are organising a demonstration against the Pie and Mash Club (the South Coast Resistance) a fascist and racist group intent on littering the streets of Southampton with their “Refugees not welcome here” hate fest.   

If you are interested in going along to this, to show solidarity and to celebrate the multi-cultural communities in which we live, please meet at the Bargate, Southampton at 11am on Saturday. 

The attached leaflet provides further information and you’re welcome to print off copies for distribution to colleagues, friends and family.  

You can find out further information about SCARF here: 

We have set up a Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/897401817056016
We have written several blog posts about the group and their history:
https://southamptonantifa.wordpress.com
Twitter: @sotonantifa

The Big Workplace Meeting – 12.30pm 9 February

Please come and join the campus trade unions at our Big Workplace Meeting in support of the TUC heartunions campaign.  The meeting will be addressed, via live videostream, by Frances O’Grady, TUC General Secretary, who will discuss the progress of the trade union bill and its implications.  Further details of the campaign can be found here: http://heartunions.org/

It will take place on Tuesday 9 February at 12.30pm in room 54/8031, Highfield campus.  Please do join us.  Why not download a poster/leaflet to display and encourage your colleagues to come along.

The Big Workplace Meeting poster A4

The Big Workplace Meeting flyer A5, printed 2 up

Also please take the time to sign the petition against the Bill here: https://campaign.goingtowork.org.uk/petitions/david-cameron-don-t-threaten-the-right-to-strike

 

Academic Related Professional Service staff news

We are delighted that local officer Mark Dover has joined UCU’s national committee for ARPS staff.  Mark will be attending meetings with colleagues from across the country developing policy and strategies for supporting and improving the working rights of ARPS staff.  If you have anything that you would like Mark to address please let us know.

The latest version of the ARPS newsletter has just been published.

https://www.ucu.org.uk/media/7412/…and-related-winter-15/pdf/ucu_andrelated_arpsnews_winter15.pdf

Mark has written an excellent piece about the PWC review – you should read it!

We are looking to develop our network of Academic Related Professional Service staff at the University and ask that you consider being a part of this.  With the arrival of the new VC and the outcome of the PWC review due shortly, we envisage their to be some changes that may affect staff, particularly in this group.  Please get in touch with Amanda at the local office (ucu@soton.ac.uk) to offer your help.  Even if you can only offer a limited amount of time, that would be great – every little helps!

 

 

 

 

 

University Induction

The university held its induction meeting today. Here are the slides I used for the 5-minute talk from UCU.

I hope they motivate you to join us in UCU; you can join here.

Denis Nicole