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UCU meets V-C to discuss current strikes

Officers from Southampton UCU met on the morning of 8 January with Vice-Chancellor Professor Mark E. Smith and Anne-Marie Sitton, Executive Director of Human Resources to hand over our petition (of 1242 signatures), asking for a proper settlement on the current pension and pay disputes. During a 45-minute meeting we discussed a range of issues relating to the ongoing industrial action, including casualisation/precarity, workload, and the Joint Independent Panel (JEP) reports. From SUCU’s perspective, the meeting was positive and productive. The VC and Exec Director of HR indicated willingness to consider a range of options for tackling casualisation and excessive workloads, and there was a clear recognition on the part of the VC that you as members had communicated to him on the picket lines that these issues need to be a priority. Both were open to address staff concerns. They are open to exploring ways of replacing future fixed-term contracts of more than two years with permanent contracts (triggering redundancy when the funding ends) and turning zero-hours contracts into permanent contracts with annualised hours, reviewed annually.

While we were not able to cover all aspects of the dispute within the time available, we took the opportunity to ask for the VC’s views on the JEP 1 and 2 reports. Speaking in a personal capacity, Prof. Smith indicated general agreement with the main recommendations of JEP 2, as well as recognising the importance to UCU and to the sustainability of the scheme of keeping individual members’ contributions to affordable levels. He has also agreed to take the issue of the University’s position on JEP 2 to University Executive Board very soon once an analysis and paper could be prepared. SUCU hopes that this will lead to a public statement of commitment to its aims on the part of the University. We also hope that the VC will take the concrete ideas discussed at the meeting to inform national discussions, in his capacity as chair of UCEA.

SUCU looks forward to further constructive engagements with Senior Managers to help turn these positive aspirations into concrete actions.

 

Campaigns Officer Dr Claire Le Foll hands SUCU’s petition for action on pay and pensions to Vice-Chancellor Prof. Mark E. Smith.

 

 

You can read more about the HE disputes on USS here and Pay & Working conditions here , and via the UCU Twitter account.

Strike Deductions

Members have raised concerns about strike deductions and there has been correspondence between UCU and the VC and senior management.  See below.

Email received from Anne-Marie Sitton, Weds 4 December 2019

Dear SUCU Branch Executive Committee

Thank you for your letter received 3rd December 2019.  As was stated in our correspondence on 21st November 2019, the University respects the rights of UCU members to take strike action, and appreciates the collegial manner in which the industrial action has taken place to date.

 In respect of withholding pay due to strike action, the University has taken the clear position that pay should be withheld in the first available payroll run following the action. On this occasion, given UCU set the strike dates ahead of our December payroll run, all eight strike days fall within December pay.  The dates on which payroll will be run this month have not changed at all and staff will be paid on the originally scheduled day.  Given the extra work for some local colleagues in needing to collect information on colleagues absent through strike action HR and Finance have worked to populate core information so that it does not put unnecessary strain on managers.

In your letter you state that some universities are spreading withheld pay over several months. Having spoken extensively to other universities it is clear that a significant number do plan to make all deductions in December, or all deductions in January. A few Universities have indicated they will spread deductions over two months, some due to the fact their cut-off dates for payroll fall on different days to ours and some due to changes they are making in their HR or payroll systems. A minority have decided to spread deductions over more than two month.

We are aware that UCU has  promoted the provision of hardship funds to support striking members. We trust, that given UCU set the dates for action, these payments will be made expeditiously to anyone with pressing needs.

We hope the local branch also recognises positively that the University has decided initially not to withhold pay for partial performance (although we of course reserve the right to change our position), unlike most other Universities who have, from the outset, taken a different line.

 We appreciate this is not the response your members would prefer, but it was the UCU nationally that called the strike and set these particular dates and not the University. If local UCU members have concerns over when pay should be withheld, we suggest the local branch influences national UCU on the duration and timetabling of strike action.

Kind regards

Anne-Marie Sitton

On behalf of UEB

 

Text of email sent by Southampton UCU Exec committee, Tuesday 3rd December 2019

Dear Vice – Chancellor,

We write in open correspondence following instruction from our General Meeting today (2/12/19). We want to convey our disappointment that UEB has decided to deduct both November’s and December’s strike days in colleagues’ Christmas pay packet.

We naturally accept that such deductions will take place – though we note that some employers have chosen to spread them over further months (Cambridge, Durham, Royal Holloway, Sheffield among others).

It appears to Southampton UCU that the University of Southampton payroll process is being expedited. We are concerned that the rush to push this quickly through payroll will cause unnecessary stress for HR business managers and the payroll team, given that we understand the standard deadline for payroll would be the 4th of December 2019. We are also concerned that the University putting pressure on line managers to rush through reports to enable swift pay deductions will put an unnecessary strain on staff which will further undermine collegiality in our University.  Indeed, many casualized members of staff have expressed dismay that the management is able to prioritize the processing of deductions, when their own routine monthly pay claims are, as the University knows, often held up by management or HR/Payroll delays.

We feel that the decision risks damaging the wider reputation of our University. We therefore urge you to reconsider it.

We note in particular the effect this deduction may have on some of our most precarious and lowest paid staff – coming at Christmas, and prior to the extended January pay period. Again, UCU members fully expected these deductions when we agreed strike action, but we did not (and do not) expect our institutions to alter their payroll processes in a punitive way.

All best wishes,

SUCU Branch Executive Committee

 

Email response from Anne-Marie Sitton , 21 November 2019

Dear UCU Executive,

Thank you for your e-mail dated 19th November on the matter of strike deductions to the Vice-Chancellor, I have been asked to respond to this matter on behalf of the Executive Board (UEB).

I would like to start by saying that we fully respect the rights of your members to take strike action, and we recognise that your members feel strongly about some issues.

The matter of strike deductions was raised at the UEB meeting held on Monday 18th November 2019. The outcome of the discussion was to deduct the strike monies as activities are undertaken.

This decision took into account the dispute in 2018, whereby some institutions, including the University of Southampton, ameliorated the impact of strike deductions on individuals over a number of pay periods. This action was met with a negative response by several elements of UCU across the country at the time, who made clear they had fully understood the potential impact on their members’ pay when determining the period of action. The decision by UCU to take strike action over a consecutive period of eight days commencing on 25 November 2019, was clearly therefore a conscious decision at a national level, and the impact and consequences will have been a known consideration of the UCU executive at the time it made that decision.

Payroll cut-off dates and operational objectives will have been a determination on the timing of deductions in other institutions, and it is clear that the majority of Universities affected by the dispute intend to collect contributions in one single pay period following the industrial action.

In line with the partnership agreement, we are keen to continue to have a constructive dialogue with you about those issues which are directly in our own control, to ensure that we continue to be a supportive employer who works together with local trade unions to improve the employee experience here at Southampton.

With kind regards

Anne-Marie Sitton

 

Email sent to Vice-Chancellor – 19 November 2019

Dear Vice-Chancellor

We are writing to express our concern about recent communications where we were informed that the University plan to deduct strike payments as soon as possible, with all 8 days coming out of the December pay packet.

From discussions with other UCU branches we have found that a number of Universities have already agreed to deduct payments across a number of months (and much like last time, it seems clear that many others will follow). We are therefore writing to ask you to spread the pay deductions across 3 months, in recognition that some of our most precarious temporary staff will be taking part in this action. We would also like a guarantee that pension contributions will not be withheld. An agreement to spread the deductions over a number of months would send a really strong message to all staff that our new University senior management is taking a constructive approach to the leadership of our University (especially in light of the recently signed partnership charter). During the last period of strike action senior management took a very inflexible approach to the strike, and were quick to condemn the actions of those taking strike action, even though the initial valuation that led to the strike was found to have many shortcomings and proved that staff had legitimate causes to take action. This resulted in increasing tensions between staff and management (as you will have no doubt seen in the recent staff engagement survey).

As you noted in communications to all staff and students, this dispute is a national dispute. However, strike action also has the potential to significantly disrupt local relationships between unions and management, and we would like to maintain productive working relationships with senior management through this difficult time for all of those in our University community. Clearly communicating to staff that deductions will be spread across three months would be a small concession to make, and one that would no doubt help foster mutual understanding and trust.

We really do hope this request will be considered.

Yours sincerely

Southampton UCU Executive Committee

 

 

 

 

Southampton UCU EGM – 2 December

Southampton UCU members are invited to attend an Extraordinary Members Meeting to take place on Monday 2 December from 12-1pm in room 2/1085 (L/T C). 

The meeting will discuss the current industrial action and plans for future action.  Your feedback will then be taken to the HE Sector Conference on 6 December, which is being attended by your three elected representatives.  This will be your opportunity to raise any concerns/voice your ideas about future action so we would encourage you to attend.

(apologies that the meeting is being held on campus.  Unfortunately, we were unable to secure any suitable meeting rooms off site – the University has granted UCU members permission to enter University premises whilst on strike).

 

 

UCU Strike Action – A letter to students from a member of staff

Many members have asked us to post the text of the letter to students from a member of staff that was read out at today’s rally. We have posted the text below. Please share widely, and particularly with your students.

 

Imagine there’s a toxin in the air on campus. You can’t see it or smell it or taste it, but with every breath more accumulates within you. Not everyone is affected, but almost everyone will know someone who is. The physical effects are subtle at first — accelerated heartbeat, headaches, nausea — but the real damage is in the mind. The toxin is known to cause stress, anxiety, and both fatigue and insomnia. It frequently leads to depression. At its worst, the toxin can be fatal.

Like all poisons, the first to fall victim are those who are vulnerable in other ways. But over time the numbers affected grow. They include not only students but staff. No one is safe — from freshers to graduates, from technicians to Professors Emeritus — victims present in ever greater numbers. One in five students is diagnosed. Some universities see a 300% rise in cases amongst staff. Researchers begin to talk of an epidemic.

Suppose it then emerges that the toxin was known about all along. Vice-Chancellors’, University Executives — even members of the Government — knew what you were breathing. And like the tobacco industry in the 50s, they said nothing. And suppose we find out that they not only knew, but it was they who introduced the toxin to the airstream — milligram by milligram — in the knowledge of what it would do. Perhaps to you, perhaps to your friend, perhaps to your tutor. What do you do when you find this out?

The toxin in our air is marketization — the transformation of education from a social good, into a product. The move to administer centres of learning as businesses, within a competitive marketplace. Marketization is not a chemical, and it is not strictly in the air, but it may as well be. Marketization is the reason your degree costs £27,000. It is the reason universities must compete for funding, students and reputation or go bust. It is the reason your essays are marked by staff on zero hours contracts. It is the reason your lecturer works a 50 hour week. It is the reason you’re thinking about how you’ll make a living, not how you’ll change the world. It is the reason you cannot afford to fail. It’s the reason everything we all do is monitored, measured and turned into metastasizing targets. It is the reason you, I, we are all so tired.

All the research into mental ill-health — and stress in particular — highlights three culprits. These are financial insecurity, pressure and working hours. These factors are not side effects of marketization — they are its M.O. The story of the last decade of Higher Education has been the demand — year on year — for university staff to do more and more with less and less. But at a certain point, the only fuel left to burn is the health of the people in the sector. There is only so much a mind can juggle. Students and staff experience marketisation in different ways — but we suffer the same symptoms, from the same source.

The epidemic of mental ill-health in Higher Education is not a problem that can be fixed with yoga, or mindfulness, or awareness raising. It was important to raise awareness of asbestos when its toxic properties became known. But it was far more urgent for us to demand that it be ripped out of our homes, our schools and our workplaces. Before all else, we had to refuse to keep breathing it. And that’s what we’re doing with this strike.

It is also why it is not easy to explain. It is not one just thing — not only financial loss, not only working conditions and insecurity and not only the way these weigh on younger, female and minority staff disproportionately. It is the deeper sense that things cannot go on as they are. That there is something bad in the air around us. And that far, far too many of us — the people we work with and the students we teach, — are falling sick because of it.

On some level, we suspect all staff and students feel this. And so while we know acutely how much pressure you are all under, and how no one needs this disruption right now — we hope everyone can understand why we are not in our lecture halls, our offices and our seminar rooms. The reason we’re out in the cold is because of what happens to people who stay inside.

UCU Southampton strike action – branch guidance

UCU’s 8 days of strike action begin on Monday 25th November. Please support the strike and please come to take part in our pickets (see our email from last week).

You will find Branch guidance at this link on our local website at this link http://southampton.web.ucu.org.uk/local-documents-and-info/strike-action-and-action-short-of-a-strike-some-members-tips/

You will find UCU generic guidance at https://www.ucu.org.uk/he-action-faqs and more information about the strikes on linked pages.

Please ask if you still have questions!

Climate strike rally – thanks for supporting our event

 

Thanks to all who attended the rally in Jubilee Plaza, to our excellent speakers who gave the gathered crowd plenty to think about, and to others who tweeted images, pledges and requests for action.

Also thanks to the Sustainable Energy Research Group (SERG) who planted a tree close to Jubilee Plaza directly after the rally.

 

We are of course only at the beginning of a journey and we intend to work closely with SUSU, other Union colleagues and the University Executive Board (UEB) to ensure that the University achieves the commitments in Southampton City Green Charter (see earlier posts for links).  Any suggestions for activities or actions in the future are welcome, but watch this space…

#climatestrike 20th September, 1200-1230, Jubilee Plaza

Friday will be a major day of global action for the Climate Strike and last week the TUC passed a motion (tabled by UCU) to support the school student Global Climate Strike on 20th September and has called on TUC affiliate unions to organise a 30 minute work day campaign action to coincide with the school students strike on 20th September.

Please come along, if you can, to demonstrate your support. There are a range of speakers confirmed – all will be saying a few short words on #climatestrike and they are:

  1. Bea Gardner (UCU Postgraduate Representative and SUSU link)
  2. Emily Harrison (President, SUSU)
  3. Rachel Mills (Dean of the Faculty of Environment and Life Sciences)
  4. Simon Kemp (Professorial Fellow in Education for Sustainable Development)
  5. Roger Tyres (Research Fellow, Faculty of Social Sciences)

Come to pledge your support for the school strikers, and make practical suggestions to help the University as a whole fulfil the Southampton Green Charter commitment to be carbon neutral by 2030.

Climate Strike – 20 September 2019

In our blog of the 22nd July we said that we would be offering public support for the next ‘Climate Strike’ organised by the Student Climate Network.  This is to confirm that there will be a lunchtime event for staff and students between 1200 and 1230 on Friday 20th September at Jubilee Plaza, Highfield Campus. The University is fully supportive of this and hopes to offer speakers, and is involved in planning the event and communications. We have yet to confirm exactly what will take place but please check back on this blog for more details.

On the same day there are other events – for instance there will be a city-based event between 1100 and 1600 in Guildhall Square, and October Books in Portswood are hosting a range of activities between 1300 and 1700.

If you are unable to get to Highfield Campus on that day, but would like to explicitly offer your support we encourage you to do something locally at your campus or wherever you are at the time. You can publish a photo of you and your colleagues via the hashtag #ClimateStrike using @SouthamptonUCU and @unisouthampton.

More information to follow… suggestions also welcome!   Send these to the UCU office 

You can find more information about how  UCU is supporting the Climate Strike here

 

 

 

 

UCU letter to employers’ assertions about the USS dispute

The date for the opening of the ballot on USS pensions is fast approaching (opens 9 September – look out for your ballot paper!).   UCU national negotiators have set out the demands to our employers in the letter below, a copy of which was sent from our branch to the VC, Professor Mark Spearing, today.  We hope for a positive response which we will share with members.

 

 

Support the climate strikes

Following the publication of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report late last autumn, there has been a renewed drive from environmental campaigners to see meaningful action to halt climate change. The report warned we have less than 12 years to cut carbon emissions by 45% to avoid the most catastrophic effects of global warming. Leading the call to action have been thousands of inspiring young people, who have been taking monthly strike action to protect their futures. As part of the student climate network, they have highlighted that, without action, they will face a runaway greenhouse effect in their lifetimes. 

Many staff and students here at Southampton share this commitment to protecting the environment, and we have seen several protest actions on the issue at Highfield campus in recent months.   Southampton UCU branch is pleased that the University was a founding signatory to the Southampton Green City Charter, which was launched in June. The charter includes the commitment to be carbon neutral by 2030, and we look forward to hearing how the university plans to meet this substantial, but necessary, commitment.  In addition, following discussion at our recent AGM, Southampton UCU branch has endorsed the Southampton Green City Charter and will follow these principles in our future activities. 

 Meanwhile, school students have appealed to the trade union movement to support their next strike action. UCU proudly responded to this call by unanimously passing a motion to take solidarity action with young people, including a 30-minute work stoppage on 20th September.  The national UCU will submit a motion to the upcoming Trade Union Congress (TUC) to support this action. UCU Southampton Branch has officially backed it and you can declare your individual support for the solidarity stoppage and read more about the TUC motion here.

 In liaison with the student union and the Southampton Trades Council, Southampton UCU plans to hold a lunchtime rally on the 20th.  We will keep members updated as plans develop in the coming weeks. We are still looking for a UCU environment rep to join the executive and to lead on this and related work – if you are interested in getting involved, please let us know.