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Half time report – how are the senior managers doing with their response to the staff survey?

Southampton UCU have been collating feedback from colleagues about the senior management responses to staff survey. We learned that Arts and Humanities had a good feedback session, led by their Dean, as well as drop in sessions. It seems these were characterised by listening and recognition of the seriousness of some of the negative feedback provided in the survey. It was disappointing to hear staff in some other Schools/Faculties report less positive responses to feedback sessions. One member said their event consisted of “the senior team doing all the talking and no action plan”.

The problems identified in the survey are clear – and are predominantly about a lack of confidence and trust in the top team. The engagement plan, which appears to be designed to restate the survey results to ever smaller groups of frontline staff appears to be slightly missing the point. UCU continue to be concerned that senior management are not listening to feedback, or to frontline staff or students. We have again heard senior managers using the narrative “it was the VCs fault” and “the survey was last year and is out of date” as excuses to negate the important messages – which are consistent across surveys in previous years – about senior management failings. We think it is time that senior managers took responsibility for the problems created by the strategy and policies they have introduced.

We understand that one Dean has undertaken an alternative analysis of the text comments from the survey (which can only be circulated within the UEB due to ethics and data protection) and that this has produced helpful insights. We hope that all of UEB will look at this analysis to understand and respond to the comments so that these responses to the survey are not wasted.

One of the big challenges for senior managers here is the organisational culture in which staff still do not feel supported to speak up. Feedback about problems and constructive criticism are often ignored or punished. UCU would like to know what the senior managers are planning to do to restore trust.

Bullying

One interesting response that some senior managers have made to the survey results concerns bullying. It has been suggested that ‘the problem’ is academic staff bullying of Academic related professional staff (ARPS). This is not our reading of the survey results, or our experience from casework with members who have been bullied (who include ARPS and Academic staff at different grades). We are aware that the loss of frontline staff, and poorly managed organisational change has increased the stress and pressure on all staff, and wonder if addressing these problems might reduce poor interactions and improve working relationships. But beyond this we also believe that all staff need better anti-bullying training. More work needs to be done to find out about the nature of bullying and harassment at the University, especially to understand why some places (e.g. WSA) appear to have higher reported rates of bullying, but this needs to be approached carefully and cannot be done in the large or focus group format of the current engagement meetings.

Improved communication from the interim VC and UEB

We have been reading with interest the new UEB blogs and this is a step in the right direction, making senior management activity more transparent. However some of the current content is rather superficial and has been derided as ‘pretend communications’. Staff here would welcome UEB reports that provide more than an annotated agenda and tell us what is being done to respond to staff and student concerns. UCU also welcome the new all staff emails from Mark Spearing as interim VC although we note that the subject line could be better labelled to prevent these emails from becoming lost in the daily avalanche of emails. (Perhaps instead of ‘My Monthly Email’ it could say ‘VCs update’?).  Communication between senior management and staff  has been highlighted as a problem area in the survey, and information sharing is one response to this. Staff here would welcome more self-critical reflection by UEB and the interim VC about management decisions that have led to the distrust and lack of confidence identified in the staff survey – this would show us that they have understood the results of the survey.

To address the question posed in the title of this blog. How are our senior managers doing? We feel there are few moves in the right direction, but sadly still a lot of evidence that the messages from the survey have not been understood, so there is still a way to go.

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.

 

Branch action plan update

Thank you to all of you who came to our well attended General Meeting last month, and to those who also came to the Workload Reps workshop. We are delighted to have established our new group of H&S workload reps who will take forward our actions to address workplace stress and work overload. Please save the date for our AGM which will be held on June 5th, starting at 12:30 (room tbc) where we can update you on this campaign.

The nominations for General Secretary of UCU will close on 8th April and we are hoping to arrange hustings to give members here a chance to meet and hear from all the candidates. Please look out for details of this.

Below is the update on local branch activities and our plans for the coming months presented at the GM. This action plan is very much an evolving document, supported by your branch exec, departmental reps and caseworkers, and individual members who bring concerns to us. If you can help the work of your union or want to find out more about local and national campaigns please do get in touch (ucu@soton.ac.uk).

Appraisal guidance – a welcome pause

On behalf of members we have raised several concerns about new appraisal guidance and performance expectations documents that have been appearing in different Faculties and Services. Members and reps in Arts and Humanities recently had a very constructive meeting with their Deanery team and reached agreement that the guidance document issued recently is to be considered ‘paused’ at present. We are looking forward to further discussions with senior managers across the University about improving how we appraise, support and develop staff.

As a reminder, UCU recently got senior managers to confirm that Weekend open day/visit work by level 4 and above staff is voluntary and should not be set as a performance expectation. We continue to push back on other unreasonable expectations creeping into appraisal processes. We also note your continued concerns about excessive workloads for academic and academic-related professional staff and we are delighted to announce that we have recently trained our first group of Health and Safety Workload reps. These new reps will be focussing on using the support offered by H&S legislation and the collective power of our union to address workplace stress and work overload. This work is part of the national campaign on workloads, and more details of our involvement in this can be found here.

No place for racism at our University

We are sad to have to use this blog to remind members about the distribution of potentially offensive/intimidating posters on our campuses. Our Estates and Security teams are aware of this and are doing their best to remove these.

Staff and students should not approach anyone seen distributing these posters, but should report this to Security on ext 22811 and email Diverse@soton.ac.uk with details. Please don’t attempt to remove the posters yourself.

These posters appear to be from Generation Identity, a far right and white nationalist movement. This movement and these posters have no place on our campuses.

The TUC developed the Migration Messaging project with Hope not Hate and Migrant Voice as a way to promote progressive messages which shift the blame for workplace and social problems away from migrant communities. Some of the case studies supporting the TUC work were taken from the campaign in Southampton against the screening of the Channel 4 documentary ‘Immigration Street’ in 2014, and some of our members were involved in this work. The appearance of vile posters on our campuses is a reminder that our community cannot and must not stop fighting racism. So please do let Security know if you see any of these posters around campus.

We also remind members that there is a stand up to racism march in London this Saturday 16th March linked to the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. 

Following the news on 15 March we have added the following link to the NEC statement on the New Zealand terror attack.

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International women’s day: when do women start working for free?

The theme of this year’s International Women’s day was ‘balance for better’. Here at the University of Southampton we still have a lot of balancing to do. The majority of our highest paid staff are men (62% of all staff in the upper quartile of pay).

UCU is holding the University to account to ensure that they take sufficient steps to eliminate the gender pay gap and to create a more diverse leadership team. (We note that research has suggested that quotas for diversity might be a way to ‘weed out incompetent men’ and this could be a strategy for a University where 75% of staff do not have confidence in a largely male senior management team).

For International Women’s Day your UCU reps hosted a stall on Highfield campus to highlight some of the work the branch is currently doing to fight gender inequality at the University. We asked people to take part in a quiz to ‘guess the date from which female staff will work for free?”

After lots of hard thinking, and some sneaky use of calculators, you cast your votes. The answer: this year women at University of Southampton will start working free from 18th October 2019.

The people we spoke with were shocked that our gender pay gap is so high (20.2%, which is above the average for the Higher Education sector), and wanted the University to have a stronger plan to tackle this pay gap, especially as other Universities appear to have made more progress in eliminating their gender pay gaps (e.g. University of Essex).

As we’ve previously noted, there seems to be a ‘glass ceiling’ or promotion bar for women at our University. Senior managers and HR have tried to overcome this by encouraging women to take up training courses to help improve their success rates at promotion. Underpinning such strategies is the idea that women need to change: they need to become bolder, more confident, more self-promotional, more career driven. Yet in order to ensure gender equality in our workplace we don’t need women to change, we need the institution to change. Gender inequality stems from workplace cultures that value over-work, competition and long working hours. Ideas of ‘excellence’, ‘esteem’, and ‘meritocracy’ are never neutral—they uphold values that are often associated with masculine ideals. UCU have been working hard to try and improve the appraisal process at the University, in order to create appraisals that give value to the demanding but de-valued roles that many women play in this institution—such as pastoral roles, mentoring, and other forms of emotional labour. Above all we need to change the culture here for everyone.

For International Women’s Day our University celebrated women who are ‘everyday superheroes’ ‘who hide in plain sight’. But women should not have to be superheroes to receive recognition or equal pay. Furthermore, UCU recognises that many of our everyday superheroes are on the most precarious contracts. Women make up 67.5% of those in the lowest quartile for pay and their over-representation on casualised, fixed-term contracts exacerbates gender inequalities.

 

Gender inequality cannot be addressed in isolation, it is entwined with other forms of discrimination about disability, race, trans, age, and class. Inequality can only be tackled by working together, all the more reason to join UCU in fighting for equality & better rights in the workplace!

International Women’s Day 2019 – our embarrassing gender pay gap

Another one bites the dust (but the top team is still the problem)

Staff and students here at University of Southampton say goodbye to another VC this week. This one didn’t last as long as the last, but managed to oversee a period of great turbulence, poor morale, and cuts to frontline staff.

We are not alone – University of Leicester announced this week that their VC Paul Boyle is departing. Reading their branch blog we feel, again, that sense of déjà vu. As at Leicester, one of the first acts by Sir Christopher was to rename his role ‘President and VC’. This led, naturally, to the creation of Vice-President roles, and not long after, to the expansion of their number and the senior salary pay bill.

While we were promised no more destructive organisational change it took a mere 18 months for a series of projects to unfold – each with more *hilarious* monikers: we had the Wellington Project – the voluntary severance scheme that accompanied – yes, you’ve guessed it – the reorganisation of the University (from 8 Faculties to 5). We wondered if the senior management were having a laugh (Wellington being a type of boot, and so many staff being ‘given the boot’). We also had a Hartley project that entailed, what we considered to be quite heart-less, voluntary redundancies. Like so many other Universities, we endured these losses from a live building site. The slogan “Buildings not Brains” seems to accurately summarise the situation.

The delayed staff survey results, discussed in a previous blog, confirmed what most already knew, that this University has some serious problems. The survey showed that staff lack confidence and trust in the highest levels of leadership here. Staff feel that senior managers are not honest or open, and do not respond to feedback. Southampton UCU and our Senate have responded robustly, calling for serious and meaningful action by senior managers to address this disastrous staff survey.

With Sir Christopher’s departure there is a danger that the organisational narrative will become “It was the last guy’s fault”. We feel a need to push back on this, now, before it takes hold. Yes, Sir Christopher was part of the problem; he oversaw and agreed to many of the negative changes and processes enacted in recent years. But he was not alone. The University strategy, the direction of travel and the tactics employed, are owned by the senior management team. This group, all earning excessive salaries, seem out of touch with frontline staff and the real work of higher education. They have consistently failed to listen to staff and students. Instead of working collectively and supportively with us to defend higher education they have been seduced by metrics, league tables, bonds, and marketization.

With the VC’s departure we have a chance to reclaim the university. We ask the senior managers, especially the Vice-Presidents and Deans, who will be ‘in charge’ in this interim period to remember what higher education really is.  This is their moment to engage properly with frontline staff and students to address the real problems we face.

Visa concerns, and pushing back against the hostile environment

Southampton UCU has been responding to concerns from members this week about University communications with staff and students about the UKVI audit and visa status. We are well aware that many in our community are negatively affected by national policies on migration, as well as the Brexit process, and we have been urging senior managers to ensure that the University does not follow the Government’s ‘hostile environment’ agenda, or feed people’s stress and anxiety about these issues.

We asked the senior managers what the VC has done to support our international colleagues and students, and we were directed to the press statement from the Russell Group, and told that the VC has helped influence the debate through this group and UUK. We were also informed that “the VP International, Winnie Eley has plans to engage this issue systematically in the coming months as an integral part of our international strategy.” We welcome moves by the VC and senior managers to support our diverse community and remind members that UCU has teamed up with Thompsons Solicitors to publish this guidance for EU workers applying for settled status which explains the current legal rights of EU workers and how this might change post-Brexit.

It doesn’t mean we aren’t angry.

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

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

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

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

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

Our employers should take note.

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

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

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