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USS update

If you attended the AGM earlier this month, you will already know that there is going to be a ballot for further strike action this Autumn. The UCU position is one of No Detriment, and the decision to ballot for strike was proposed and accepted at Congress earlier this summer. In April, our pension contributions increased from 8% to 8.8%. The current proposals from USS will increase the total contributions of employers and scheme members by at least a further 1.4%, with our member contributions rising by at least 1.3% since the start of the dispute. If the employers do not agree additional contingent contributions, the increases will be even worse.USS is proposing rates that will increase our contributions to at least 11% after 2020.

Industrial action by UCU members led to the establishment of a Joint Expert Panel last year, comprising both UCU and UUK representatives. The Panel confirmed UCU’s belief that the pension scheme has a sustainable future, and made reasonable recommendations to USS. If applied, these recommendations would have resolved our dispute and would have resulted in no contribution increases or benefit cuts for members. Our employers however, instead of committing fully to the Joint Expert Panel recommendations, are proposing we should increase our contributions based on a pessimistic valuation of the scheme.

And a story came to light in the last week (featured in USS briefs on twitter and in the FT) that the Chair of USS trustees (David Eastwood) was rebuked by the Pension’s Regulator (tPR) for misrepresenting the tPR position on an issue key to that valuation. Currently VC of Birmingham University, David Eastwood was told in January that the USS report mistakenly suggested that the tPR insisted on using the most cautious of discount rates, which resulted in a larger projected deficit. Despite an email on the subject, he and the board have done nothing to correct their statements or acknowledge the potential impact on the valuation of the scheme. We also have to wonder what the effect on the negotiations would have been had this been made public to all parties at the time. You will also have seen this in UCU General Secretary elect Jo Grady’s most recent email (from Monday 24thJune).

This follows reports that a USS trustee (statistics expert Professor Jane Hutton) claims to have been prevented from carrying out a full analysis of the scheme valuation.

A further complication to the debate is the decision (confirmed 20thJune) of Trinity College, Cambridge to withdraw from USS – on the grounds that there was a remote risk that its assets would be required to bail out the scheme in a worst-case scenario. UCU has already called for a boycott of Trinity College – as outlined in the brief from Head Office on the 21stJune.

To keep up to date with USS developments you could follow FT journalist Josephine Cumbo on Twitter or visit the UCU USS pages.

Southampton UCU BBQ

We braved the weather and held a barbecue for UCU members and their families on Thursday 20th June on the Common outside of Avenue Campus. Alongside the feast of meaty and vegetarian hotdogs, it was an opportunity to chat, meet new people and recreate the very friendly and constructive atmosphere of the picket line last year. It was also the last appearance of the Dinosaur of Solidarity and an opportunity to thank Cathy Pope for all her work for this branch. We will miss her a lot but, as she wisely said, we are a very active branch, with lots of new people and ideas. The barbecue was the first in a long series to come, and more UCU social events will follow starting in September!

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day…

This is the first blog of the new UCU year and exec, so as incoming president I wanted to put in a short welcome on behalf of the branch and the new exec. I am very sad to see Cathy Pope leave the University this year but on behalf of the exec wish her the very best in Oxford and we look forward to her continued support as a Regional representative on the NEC. Our exec, reps and members will continue the good work that she has been involved in over the last 16 years!

You can see the full list of newly elected Southampton UCU branch officers for 2019-20 here – most were introduced at the AGM. We all very much look forward to working with you in the coming year, and want to hear your thoughts and feedback. Please contact us through your local reps, exec members or via the standard UCU email address.

Mary Morrison, President, UCU Southampton

 

AGM Report

The AGM took place on 5thJune at Highfield Campus – thanks to those members who attended to hear Christine Haswell of UCU give an update on USS. If you would like to read in detail about the latest USS news please see this link  . As things stand, it is highly likely that UCU will be balloting for industrial action in the Autumn.

We also heard Cathy Pope, outgoing UCU Southampton president, give a report of the main events of 2018/19. Cathy talked about issues that the branch has been working on where we have been representing members collectively or individually, in particular the amount of case work that the branch is handling, and some restructures, including the Health and Safety Committee restructures and other aspects of H&S work and other departmental / unit restructures. Broader issues included appraisal procedures and implementation of appraisal policies and the gender pay gap. The report will be summarised in the minutes of the AGM which will be sent to all members.

BBQ

Claire le Foll is taking the lead to organise this and you should all have had an invitation to the UCU barbecue on the Common on the 20thJune, starting at 4pm. We intend to give Cathy a proper send-off there and will be located somewhere near the top of the common near to the Avenue Campus (see invite in your inbox). Please bring something to drink and a re-usable drinking cup!

Two big issues discussed at the AGM were:

Appraisal

This remains problematic with members telling us they feel unfairly treated or that their appraisal was not conducted properly. There are ongoing talks to revise the existing policy on appraisal and we are aware of different approaches to implementing the policy locally. The senior management team have suggested further guidance on this and we will support them to try and reduce the number of problems that arise in appraisal. In recent weeks we have seen genuine commitment to solving some of these problems and desire to work with all the campus trade unions. As before please tell us about your experiences to help us inform this process.

Workload

We now have a team of trained workload reps and we need to hear from you about the problems you experience. Write to us at the usual address or approach your local reps if you have information to share now. We will come back to you soon with more details of what the workload reps will be doing.  Dario Carugo (Communications officer) and Claire Le Foll (Campaigns and Membership officer) are going to be working actively on this campaign over the coming months and we would encourage you to get involved by joining a working group.  Please email us if you are interested.  In addition, at JNC it has been proposed to develop some high-level guiding principles for workload allocation.

Environment

It was also discussed that UCU Southampton should support Southampton City Council’s proposals for a Green Charter to improve the working and living conditions in the City and to work towards a sustainable city. The Green Charter has yet to be published but it was agreed at the AGM that it was a good initiative. We still need to identify an environment rep for the exec to lead on this and related work – if you are interested or know another member who might be please get in touch.

Stop press: Members have contacted us this week (week beginning 10thJune) about press coverage of an industrial tribunal which took place in the first week of June, where the University was ordered to pay £2.5 million to an ex-staff member who made accusations of discrimination on race and religion. University management have made a short statement on SUSSED to the effect that there will be an independent investigation to understand what happened, and have confirmed to us that they are looking for the opportunity to present the considerable body of evidence that they had put together in their defence, as soon as possible. We will keep in touch with the senior management team and are confident that they will report back as soon as they are able.

 

 

 

Strike ready. An update on USS, and a warning.

Members of USS pension scheme are now paying an extra 0.8% into their pension scheme and have received a USS member letter explaining that there are more increases to come in October and next April. Our employers are no longer matching the additional 1% contributions that some members opted to make to try to restore some of the benefits they were promised.

Your pension is deferred salary. Against the backdrop of a below inflation pay rise these increases in contributions represent yet another cut in your pay.

The pension strike last year fought off threats of a Defined Contribution only scheme that would be much worse for all members. The strike also won independent scrutiny of USS via the Joint Expert Panel (JEP). At the time of the strike, UCU was in dispute with many employers (Southampton included) who, represented by UUK, were allied with USS to try to force detrimental changes to the pension scheme.

UCU responded with the longest and largest strike action we have ever taken. In the months following the strike, we have seen many employers shift their position, in the light of evidence presented to them and in consultation with staff and unions. Many employers have now accepted the JEP recommendations in full (sadly not this University). Frustratingly, at a time when UCU and UUK are in agreement, USS are refusing to listen and are insisting that the employers sign up to contingent contributions

The JEP was highly critical of the USS position and changes to the valuation of our pension. The JEP has more work to do regarding governance of the pension scheme, and the heavily contested valuation methodology. A new, 2018 valuation will be completed by the end of June 2019. The University of Southampton has invited Brendan Mulkern back to run a couple of talks on 29/4 and 2/5 to update staff (we note that Mr Mulkern is Senior Pensions Adviser to UUK, although this is not listed on the advert about these workshops.)

We are clear that increased contributions from members are unnecessary. We continue to support the recommendations of the JEP.

Members here, in a branch that does not make decisions to take industrial action lightly, were clear last year that reductions in pension benefits are not acceptable. The recent ballot also showed significant support for action on pay and equality, even though we did not quite achieve the 50% turnout required by anti-trades union law.

In the face of threats to our pension, and unnecessary increases in USS deductions from our pay and yet another derisory pay offer from our employers we may have to take action again. Reluctantly, we ask UCU members to start saving money (if they can) and to be ready for further strike action. We have had enough of cuts to pay, reduction in pension benefits and a system which casualises and overloads our staff. Our #DinosaurOf Solidarity may be sleeping, but we know that members here can, and will, “Rise Like Lions” when pushed.

 

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.

Settling in – new branch president but #WeAreStillTheUniversity

Thank you to members who attended the AGM on 15thJune.  It was good to see another high turnout and it was great to hear from Hedley Bashforth from Bath UCU about how their branch successfully used governance mechanisms and local campaigning to highlight excessive VC and senior manager pay at University of Bath. Our branch has been concerned about the University governance for some time because of the apparent silencing of academic and academic related staff voices from decision making processes.  We are worried that proposals to reduce the number of Faculties could cut our representation on Senate. See our estimates in the table below.  Just a few further cuts might tip elected staff representation to being in the minority.  For this reason, prompted by members, we have formed a group of UCU Senators who will be meeting to discuss these developments.

 SENATE COMPOSITION (paraphrased from the Calendar) 17/18 Possible 18/19
The President and Vice-Chancellor (Chair) 1 1
The Vice-Presidents 3 3 (4)
The Deans and Associate Deans 35 23
Dir iSolutions, Uni Librarian, Registrar,  Dir Student Services 4 4
Elected Representatives of the Academic Staff 50 < ? 30 ?
Elected Representatives of research staff (approx. 2 per Fac) 16 10
Elected Representatives of MSA staff 4 4
Chairs of Senate’s Committees not already members ? 2 ? ? 2 ?
Principals affiliated institutions 1 1
Five registered full-time students 5 5
 Total 121 83
Total Elected members 70 (58%) ? 44 (53%)

 

There is lots going on.  The process of fighting for a decent pension continues.  Locally we are busier than ever with case work, restructures and a series of issues, some arising from the project to reshape the University and some as a result of continuing problems we have experienced related to policies and practices instituted by senior management.

Our #BionicPresident Laurie Stras is a hard act to follow, but I will do my best and I thank Laurie and members of the exec who stepped down this year for all their hard work. We have a strong branch executive committee for 2018/19 and we will be meeting over coming weeks to plan the branch strategy for the coming year. If you want to input to this please contact me or Amanda Bitouche (ucu@soton.ac.uk)

We also want to participate in the wider debates about representation, activism and engagement in our union. The special national Congress about these issues will be on 18thOctober in Birmingham and once again we are asking for delegates from this branch to attend – please contact Amanda if you wish to volunteer.  As promised at the AGM we want to hold an extraordinary general meeting to gather your views  – this will be held on Thursday 6 September at 1pm in room 44/1057 Lecture Room B, Shackleton Building, Highfield.

Our plan is to continue to use this blog, in addition to all-member emails, and the branch Twitter and Facebook accounts to keep members updated.  I am acutely aware how busy everyone is, but want to ensure that members know what the branch is doing, and to alert you in a timely way about matters of concern.

A few reminders and notices

The list of all the matters of concern for our branch is quite long and senior managers appear bent on adding to it every day. The redundancies and severances of this year are unlikely to be the last as senior managers continue to enact further reorganisation. Below I highlight pressing concerns and national issues for members’ attention.

HE Pay claim 2018

Following the recent consultative ballot on HE pay, members voted to reject the employers’ pay offer of 2%.  Nationally 82% of members who responded voted to reject the offer with 65% saying they were prepared to take industrial action to defend their pay.  The turnout for this branch was over the 50%.  The next step in the campaign is a comprehensive Get The Vote Out campaign to ensure that members vote in the formal ballot which will open w/c 27 August and close in mid-October.  We really need volunteers to help with this – if you are interested please let Amanda know.

Special HE Sector conference on USS

The branch sent two elected delegates, along with Denis Nicole as NEC rep to the HESC. There will be a fuller report of business there in due course, but this meeting allowed further debate about USS. You should also have received updates from Headquarters about the Joint Evaluation Panel which we hope represents a step forward in defending our pensions.

Workloads, workloads, workloads.

The suicide of Malcolm Anderson at Cardiff University was a stark and deeply sad reminder what overwork can do. Colleagues at all levels are experiencing heavier workloads and many are finding it harder and harder to cope.  Rising performance expectations, coupled with reductions in staff and a continued belief that software systems replace rather than simply re-allocate labour, is having a negative effect on our mental and physical health.  Many members commented that working to contracted hours during the industrial action improved wellbeing – it certainly revealed that this University regularly benefits from many hours of unpaid overtime by staff. If our employers continue to erode pay and refuse to defend our decent pension they may well find that we decide that they do not deserve all this free labour and we remind you that you are free to work only your contracted hours at all times – we don’t need to be in a national dispute to prioritise wellbeing.

Misuse of appraisal

Unfortunately we are still seeing bullying and poor management practice in appraisals so we will continue to push senior managers and HR to keep to the agreements reached in the Reward project and provide a fair and meaningful appraisal system without bullying, bell curve moderation or misuse of student evaluation data to rank staff. We have recently set up a working group to look at the Reward policies, including appraisal, promotion and probation.  If you would like to get involved with this please let Amanda know.

New clarity travel booking system

We continue to receive complaints and examples of how this new system is costing more – in terms of staff time and inconvenience as well as financially – and so we are compiling examples and pushing senior managers responsible to listen and respond appropriately.  If you have more examples please send them to us.

If you’ve read this far thank you.  I know that we are stronger when we work together as a union, so I look forward to working with you over the coming year.

Prof Catherine Pope

Branch President

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#WeAreTheUniversity 3 – Report from Congress

Congress is the policy making body of UCU – each year we send delegates from our branch to this meeting which encompasses one day devoted to Higher Education sector business (with a parallel FE conference for delegates from colleges, prison and adult education branches) and two days of whole union business.

The format of the meeting includes updates from key officials and motions put forward by branches, national and regional committees. Motions are voted on in branches or relevant meetings and are included following review (and compositing – joining together similar motions) by the Conference Business Committee (CBC). Motions are proposed and seconded with short (5-3 minute) speeches and then debated with approx. 3 minutes per speaker followed by a vote. Motions that are carried become UCU policy to be enacted by officials, committees and members going forward.

This year approximately 300 delegates attended. This branch sent 3 delegates, and our past-president attended as a member of the national executive committee (NEC). The full list of motions can be found here: https://www.ucu.org.uk/Congress2018#motions

Some of you will be aware that congress was disrupted on Wednesday and Friday due to some controversial motions, notably motion 10 calling for the resignation of the general secretary (Sally Hunt) and other motions that called for debate about democratic structures, and which appeared to criticise national union officers. Union officials, who belong to the Unite trade union held emergency meetings in response to these, which meant that Congress business was suspended as we had no minute takers, legal advice or tellers to support the meeting. Congress was asked to accept orders of business prepared by CBC (there were 4 of these in all as late and reintroduced motions were added and the running order amended) and this provided a chance to decide which motions we would debate – in essence a vote about whether to debate the contentious motions. The CBC agendas were carried.

It was clear that some delegates from both HE and FE felt strongly that the national leadership of the union had not pressed hard enough in recent disputes (the USS action in HE, but also pay and redundancy issues in FE) and that there needed to be better communication and accountability to ‘rank and file’ membership. Some of the motions on these topics were debated and several of these were passed.

On Thursday there was a full day of business and a number of motions in the HE Sector conference were passed – such as HE14 asking for a campaign for all VC and Senior management pay to be pegged to the average wage in the institution, and for it to be, at a maximum, 10 times the lowest paid contracts within the institution, and a number of motions in the main congress relating to union strategy and equality issues.

On Friday we returned to main Congress business with the two motions (10 and 11) that had led to the withdrawal of staff on Wednesday. There was another further debate and a statement from the staff union but the plan to debate these motions was agreed. At this point the staff withdrew and Congress was subsequently closed. Following this, approximately 100 delegates decided to stay and hold an alternative congress. Your delegates decided that they would not participate in this, the status of this meeting being unclear.

There are a number of accounts of what happened already published on social media and some coverage in national media (see below for examples) and there was significant twitter traffic during the congress, some apparently from people not in attendance.

https://michael4hec.wordpress.com/2018/06/02/what-happened-at-ucu-congress-2018
https://exeterucu.wordpress.com/2018/05/30/exeter-ucu-delegation-response-to-events-at-ucu-congress-30th-may-2018/
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jun/03/unions-falling-membership-gig-economy
https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/sally-hunt-clings-ucu-leader-congress-curtailed

I have attempted to write the above as factually as I can, recognising that any account is subjective and influenced by one’s own position and views. What follows is a more personal view.

I had hoped that Congress would be a chance to celebrate the success and strength of our trades union which has grown nationally by 16000 members and, in the pre-92 Universities, has engaged in the largest and most sustained industrial action to defend pensions this year. I felt this was an opportunity to thank our national leadership – paid and voluntary officials – for these achievements. I was disturbed by the polarisation of some of the debates and upset by the failure to undertake Congress business. Whilst I agreed with the sentiment of some motions calling for more discussion of tactics, and I agree that there are lessons to be learned and criticisms to be made (and I am open to this myself as a member of your executive), I am less convinced that the nineteenth-century oppositional debate format of Congress is the best place for this. One motion that was passed was to set up a commission to review some of these issues which might be a better forum for such discussion.

Delegates to Congress represent particular kinds of members (often those more active in branches, many from smaller branches, and not least those willing or able to give up 3 days of a half-term week) and I therefore wonder if this group adequately represents our broad and diverse membership. As someone who has attended Congress on a number of occasions I was aware that, despite claims that there were more new delegates and ‘younger’ attendees, there were still a majority of speakers who might be regarded as ‘regulars’ who have been members and activists for many years. I also know that many members of this branch do not wish to be visible or active in the union in these ways. It seemed that much of opposition to the leadership came from members and supporters of UCULeft, a subscription organisation within UCU whose supporters include members of “ the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), the Labour Party, other left groups, and non-aligned activists in our caucuses” (quoted from their website). I have always been wary of factions in the union and have not joined UCULeft or other groups such as ‘UCU Independent Broad Left’ for that reason.

It is for our branch to debate our position going forward from this Congress. For myself I am taking to heart the comments offered by fellow activist Anya Cook who wrote recently:

I should be setting a precedent for how I want our members to engage and I, myself, must model kindness and gentleness if they are to be the benchmark for my own political and trade union engagement… I need to find a way to keep hold of the ‘non-politicised’ left; those who don’t identify with ideological frameworks and positions.

I hope we can use the upcoming AGM on 15th June to seek your views about some of the issues raised by the Congress motions and the events last week. I hope we can, as we usually do here in Southampton, find a way to do this that is constructive and collegiate. Finally, I want to reiterate my personal support for, and heartfelt thanks to, our regional and national paid officials who have provided excellent support and advice for our members and representatives for casework and local negotiations.

Catherine Pope

Collegiality and Communication

Several members have asked what has been happening to letters to the VC about the USS  pension.  Below is our correspondence to date.

 

From: UCU U.
Sent: 09 January 2018 11:05
To: Vice-Chancellor <vice-chancellor@soton.ac.uk>
Subject: USS pension

Dear Sir Christopher

Happy New Year to you.

Please find attached letter from UCU regarding the USS pension.  We hope that you are able to give your support to your staff and help protect their pensions.

We look forward to receiving a positive response from you soon.

With regards

Amanda Bitouche
Southampton UCU

 

 

 

From: Vice-Chancellor
Sent: 09 January 2018 15:37
To: UCU U. <ucu@soton.ac.uk>
Subject: RE: USS pension

Dear Amanda,

Thank you for your email and the attached letter from Professor Pope.

Kind regards,

Christopher Snowden

 

 

From: UCU U.
Sent: 26 January 2018 16:50
To: Vice-Chancellor <vice-chancellor@soton.ac.uk>
Subject: USS pension dispute

Dear Sir Christopher

Please find attached letter from Southampton UCU in relation to the USS pension dispute.

We look forward to receiving your response.

With regards

Amanda Bitouche
Southampton UCU

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From: Vice-Chancellor
Sent: 26 January 2018 18:13
To: UCU U. <ucu@soton.ac.uk>
Subject: RE: USS pension dispute

Dear Amanda,

Thank you for your email and attached letter.

Kind regards,

Christopher Snowden

 

 

From: UCU U.
Sent: 29 January 2018 10:58
To: Vice-Chancellor <vice-chancellor@soton.ac.uk>
Subject: RE: USS pension dispute

Dear Sir Christopher

Thank you for acknowledging receipt of our letter sent to you on Friday 26 January (copy attached).  Would you be willing to make a statement to members responding to the points raised in this letter?

I look forward to receiving your response.

With regards

 

 

From: Vice-Chancellor
Sent: 29 January 2018 17:55
To: UCU U. <ucu@soton.ac.uk>
Subject: RE: USS pension dispute

Dear Amanda,

Thank you for your email.

Recognising that their pensions are of great importance to all USS members at the University, I will be posting an item on SUSSED within the next few days which will  also address points raised in UCU’s recent letters.

Kind regards,

Christopher Snowden

 

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.

 

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