Southampton UCU Rotating Header Image

Position statement: COVID-19 Safe return to Campus

We write in our capacity as your branch executive committee to state that we do not feel that Southampton University has yet demonstrated a plan which is clear and comprehensive enough to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission on campus to a safe level. Since students mingle freely with the wider community on buses, in cafes, bars, shops and other public spaces, and since they often travel home at weekends, any increase in infections in University settings will quickly spread among the wider community.

We believe that the safest way to reopen our campuses is to follow the guidance of the Independent SAGE report and recommend that all teaching should be online by default, unless it can be demonstrated that in-person teaching is pedagogically essential. Our view is informed by the Independent SAGE report on universities (20 August), the BMJ editorial ‘Re-opening universities is high risk’ (1 September) and the SAGE paper on SARS-CoV-2 transmission in higher education (4 September) and recent research, discussed in WonkHE. from Bristol University. We also note Warwick UCU’s call to move teaching online (18 August), UCU’s national call on reopening campuses (29 August), the UCU event on reopening universities and colleges (1 September), UCU Fund the Future and internal statements we have seen from other unions. We have also taken account of moves towards all-online teaching provision next term at other universities, including St Andrews, QMUL, UCL and Birkbeck.

Following expert advice, UCU identified 5 tests that must be met to make a return to campus safe for staff and students. Our appraisal of Southampton’s status vis-a-vis these tests follows:

Test 1: Sustained reduction in numbers of Covid-19 cases and infection rates

Not met: Government statistics suggest that cases of Covid-19 in the UK are rising at a substantial rate, particularly amongst those aged 17-20. We appreciate the University has limited power to affect this national picture, but these facts affect the risk and our ability to mitigate it nonetheless. We are extremely concerned that bringing students back prematurely poses a significant risk not only to staff, but to these students, their families (some students commute and some frequently travel home) and the wider community in Southampton.

Test 2: Coherent planning for social distancing

Not met: The university has put in place various control measures to encourage social distancing such as community messaging, signage, one-way systems, additional communal spaces. However, these steps do not adequately reduce risk to a safe level.  There remains no way to make in-person teaching within a shared breathing space safe. We do not yet know what degree of adherence students will demonstrate to these guidelines, nor what the University will do in the event of non-compliance. Furthermore, it is inevitable that students will mix when they are off campus, meaning transmission on campus – particularly via asymptomatic students – is extremely likely. In particular, we cannot see a coherent rationale for the University’s refusal to make mask-wearing compulsory on campus (with the standard medical exemptions)

Test 3: Comprehensive testing and contact tracing

Partially met: We welcome the recent announcement about the use of saliva testing for staff and students and are proud to have colleagues who have worked to produce this testing method. We note, however, that this project does not follow the BMJ recommendations that testing should be mandatory. We understand that the university has limited scope to enforce this, but while testing remains voluntary, we are concerned about the level of uptake. Many uncertainties remain.  We believe that test results will be received via text message, but we do not yet know what steps will be taken once positive tests are returned to trace those who have been in contact with the testee. What plans are in place to support students and staff who need to self-isolate and how quickly these arrangements can be made? Until these questions are answered, it is our view that testing and tracing cannot be said to be ‘comprehensive’.

Test 4: University- wide strategies for safe returns and continuing health and safety

Partially met: In a recent letter written by Health and Safety representatives from UCU, Unison and Unite, which we published on our blog, significant concerns were raised around consultation. We remain concerned that expert advice from unions is not being sought or taken into account sufficiently in the university’s planning and that there are significant gaps in terms of planning for the future. For example, what are the university’s plans in the event of an outbreak? What action will be taken in case of an outbreak in student halls? What will be the trigger for a return to online teaching in all or part of the University? What steps are being taken to prevent a potential on-campus outbreak from becoming an all-Southampton outbreak, amplified through shared public transport systems and facilities such as cafés, bars and shops? Is air-borne contamination being taken into consideration and how is it mitigated?

Test 5: Protection for those most vulnerable to COVID-19

Not met: The UCU’s national position is that “Staff who are themselves more vulnerable to Covid-19, and staff who live with people at heightened risk, must not be required to work on campus.” Throughout the summer, Southampton UCU has raised concerns with senior management about clinically extremely vulnerable staff, vulnerable staff and staff who are living with or caring for vulnerable people. These discussions are ongoing. Senior management continue to reassure us that the health and wellbeing of staff and students is their main priority, but we have received reports  of vulnerable staff and staff living with vulnerable people whose requests to work from home have been declined or are still to be decided. We have advised members in this position to ask the University to reconsider or respond to their requests; unless and until we hear that all such requests have been granted, we cannot state that Test 5 has been met. Further, we reiterate that we cannot support the University’s current policy of requiring vulnerable staff who feel unable to return to campus to take unpaid leave in cases where the University has decided that they cannot work from home. We call on the University to grant staff in this position paid disability leave.  We are also concerned that the University has declined flexible working agreements for parents/carers who have faced considerable challenges finding childcare during the pandemic.

In addition to the five tests not being met in full, we have registered serious concerns regarding the safe return to on-campus working.  These are addressed in the joint trade union health and safety letter which was sent to the Chief Operating Officer on Monday 7th September and is published on the SUCU blog. We are happy to work with senior management to seek solutions to these issues, but time is now extremely tight, and unless sufficient progress is made in reducing the risks on campus, we do not feel able to recommend these plans to our members.

Southampton UCU Executive Committee

 

 

EGM motion – Return to campus and in-person teaching plans 

The motion below was passed by a quorate Extraordinary General Meeting of UCU members held on 15 September 2020

Motion 3Return to campus and in-person teaching plans 

Southampton UCU do not believe that the University’s return to campus plans in their current form are clear and comprehensive enough to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission on campus to a safe level.  

This branch notes: 

  • The University’s position that all students must receive some in-person teaching. 
  • The recent British Medical Journal and Independent SAGE reports highlighting the high risk of in-person teaching. 
  • The University is not yet committed to making use of all the control methods set out in the Government guidance of 10 September [link], such as the segmentation of students and ventilation requirements. 
  • UCU’s 5 tests for safe returns to on-campus working in HE.  
  • That cases of Covid-19 in the UK are rising at a substantial rate, particularly amongst those aged 17-20. 
  • That students will mix when they are off campus. They have jobs, use public transport and may live in HMOs. Their circumstances increase the likelihood of transmission on campus, particularly if they are asymptomatic. 
  • The joint letter from Unite, Unison and UCU Health and Safety reps (7/09/20) noting that we have been excluded from the high-level decision-making forums such as Active Campus and stating that they have not been adequately consulted on Health and Safety issues, particularly in relation to in-person teaching. 

This branch believes: 

  • Bringing students back prematurely poses a significant risk to staff, students, their families and the wider Southampton community. 
  • That control measures put in place by the university are insufficient, particularly as we do not know what degree of adherence students will demonstrate, nor what the University will do in the event of non-compliance.  
  •  That there is no way to make in-person teaching completely safe within a shared breathing space. Moreover, for many courses there is limited direct educational value in the style of teaching necessitated by maintaining social distancing and wearing masks.  
  • That clinically extremely vulnerable staff and those caring for vulnerable people have not received adequate advice, reassurance and protections, despite the University stating that the health and safety of staff and students is its main priority. Furthermore, poor communication around the return to campus plans have added to workloads and increased stress and mental health problems.   

This branch calls on management to: 

  • Ensure that all staff members with health vulnerabilities (or household members with vulnerabilities) are permitted to teach and work remotely for the duration of the pandemic without detriment. 
  • Agree that no staff member should be compelled to return to campus until the 5 tests set by UCU’s expert panel are met 
  • As advised by the Independent SAGE report, online teaching must be the default until these 5 tests are met. 
  • Make the wearing of masks on campus mandatory in all enclosed spaces (with standard health exemptions). 
  • Take all steps available within the law to ensure a comprehensive  testing regime that covers all staff and students (with standard health exemptions) following the BMJ’s recommendations of 01/09/2020 https://www.bmj.com/content/370/bmj.m3365 
  • Publish its procedure and timeline for collecting and reporting confirmed cases amongst staff and students, including contact tracing for positive cases 
  • Publish its contingency plans listing what trigger points for University and community transmission the University has identified, and what responses these will activate on campus. Restate and uphold its commitment to fully consult trade union Health and Safety representatives on all its Covid-19 contingency planning. 

This branch resolves to:  

  • Publish resources to inform members’ decision-making regarding the safety of return to campus.  
  • Support members if they use their rights under Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996. 
  • Launch a campaign, in collaboration with other TUs and local authorities to ensure the health and safety of our community is prioritised over financial interests. 
  • Refuse to endorse the return to campus plans until these issues are addressed.  

Proposer: Lucy Watson 

Seconder: Claire Le Foll 

Motion passed

 

 

 

COVID-19: Health and Safety correspondence with University management

This week Health and Safety officers from UCU, Unison and Unite wrote to the COO informing him of their concerns around the return to campus plans. Your exec have also written to the COO asking senior management to address these and other unresolved issues urgently. You can read the correspondence below. We will update members on developments when we can.

 

 

 

SUCU Requests for information: Active Campus and University Finances

Over the past month SUCU has been asking for trade union representation on the high-level decision-making group ‘Active Campus’. The knowledge and expertise of TU H&S reps are invaluable and can help direct senior leaders in their discussions about how to open up our campuses safely. Our H&S officer, Adam Dunn, wrote to the Chief Operating Officer on 21st July to request, once again, for representation:

Loader Loading...
EAD Logo Taking too long?

Reload Reload document
| Open Open in new tab

Download [128.73 KB]

SUCU received the following response from Richard Middleton on the 23rd July: 

“Dear Adam

Thank you for your letter of 21 July seeking representation of a UCU Health and Safety representative on the Active Campus Group, and in turn seeking representatives from the other trades unions.

This is a group of Executive Directors in Professional Services – my direct reports – meeting as a group of senior managers to make plans for the operation of the campus from September onwards, ensuring that we meet our obligations to students and fulfilling our managerial roles.   In doing so we are naturally utilising the experience of University staff working in Professional Services.  It is not a group to which I would invite trade union representation.

As you will know, I and the HR team and Health and Safety Director have been meeting regularly, mostly weekly, with representatives of all the campus trades unions for several months and I have committed to keeping those regular meetings informed of how plans for the Autumn term are developing.  I believe that regular discussion has been working well and is consistent with our mutual commitments to improving relationships.

Trades union representatives participated in the development of guidance and protocols for returning to work during May and June.  Those groups were very successful and I am grateful for the trades union contributions and the positive spirit with which that work was undertaken.  It was a good example of our cooperation.

The University consults with trades unions consistently on health and safety and of course most comprehensively at the Health and Safety Consultative Committee.  I am confident also that there are good daily working relationships between University staff, especially those working in health and safety, and the trades union health and safety representatives.

With best wishes,

Richard”

In a recent meeting, the COO agreed to share with SUCU officers a precis of the discussions which are taking place on Active Campus. While this development is welcome, we do not feel that this is equivalent to having TU reps actually present for these discussions.

SUCU has also been asking for more detailed financial information to be shared with the executive committee in order that we can be fully informed about the University’s financial situation. We are asking to see concrete evidence that there is a case for the ‘cost savings’ measures the Vice Chancellor has informed us might be required. On the 21st July we emailed the Chief Operating Officer again about this:

Dear Richard,

We are holding an EGM tomorrow to discuss UCU’s national Fund the Future campaign and we will be discussing the VC’s recent email. I am writing to follow-up on a request made at JJNC 25th June to provide full financial disclosure so that unions have a complete understanding of the parameters of the university’s financial decision-making. The actions state that this was fulfilled on the 8th July but in the finances meetings we have attended since then we have pressed for more detail. Specifically, SUCU would like data on the following:

  • The full overall budget for 2020/21 and predicted scenarios (not just the summary that has been submitted to Council for approval)
  • A breakdown of the projected loss to income, making it clear how much of this drop in income is offset by originals plans to run a surplus.
  • Full figures on the cash reserves the University has which may be able to absorb any projected losses.
  • Full figures on any liquid assets the University has which could be turned to into cash if needed.
  • What percentage of offsetting measures are being levied against staff costs, and have the University fully considered making cuts elsewhere?
  • What budget for capital expenditure is planned for 2020/21? Is this work essential?

We would also like answers to the following questions:  

  • Are management worried about breaching agreements made with lenders about how to run the institution? Do we have any covenants that stipulate that the institution should meet a certain level of business performance each year?
  • Has management considered how the proposed cuts will affect the ability of our institution to bounce back in future years? Have management modelled any changes to future income?
  • Has management researched the government business loans scheme to see whether the university if eligible for this support? 

More detailed information is essential if we are to contribute fully to discussions around cost-savings. We urge you to share this crucial financial information with us as soon as possible.

Many thanks,

Lucy Watson (SUCU President)”

On 23rd July, we received this reply:

“Dear Lucy

Thank you for your email.  I regret that I was not able to reply within the day of your request, but of course I want to respond before we meet this afternoon for our regular discussion.  I will address each of your questions in turn

1.       Full overall budget for 2020/21.  There isn’t yet a full budget for 2020/21 because of the uncertainty about our income for 2020/21. We expect to take a final budget to Council in November.  This will likely still retain a level of uncertainty because of the January international PGT intake.  We don’t have “predicted scenarios” – we model scenarios following the same sort of approach at IFS and London economics. The VC’s email of 1 July gave the headlines of this scenario work.

2.       Breakdown of projected loss to income.  The baseline budget is an internal planning document worked up according to our strategic plan which is to deliver a surplus each year to generate cash for investment.  In the VC’s email he referred to a drop of £70m in income, in a moderate to severe scenario.  We think it is prudent to prepare plans consistent with that figure; but, as I say in the first point, we also expect that to change as we gain more information about actual enrolments.

3.       Full figures of cash reserves – are available in 2018/19 financial statements, which are published and those have not changed materially.  The extent to which these “may be able to absorb any losses” depends on their intended use – capital investment remains a strategic priority.

4.       Liquid assets – this information is also available in the financial statements, represented by cash and investments.

5.       Offsetting measures levied against staff costs – We are looking at offsetting potential losses against non-staff and staff costs as well as cash.  Until we understand the actual impacts of student recruitment and the length of the challenge we have not yet got firm plans yet on any specific percentage in each of those areas.  We are as you know maintaining very strict controls on non-pay spend and are holding down recruitment and replacement of staff.  As we have shared with you, we hope to achieve further reductions in staff spend through voluntary measures if at all possible. 

6.       We also have not currently set a budget for capital for next year, again we are awaiting November.  Nevertheless planning for capital investments, especially in the estate, continues, consistent with the University’s strategy.

As the VC said in his email:

“This loss of income would need to be mitigated in three ways: through significant reductions in our planned operating expenditure by maintaining the same level of rigorous control and scrutiny as we have done since March, including scaling back our planned capital expenditure; through reducing our staff costs – our single largest investment; and through careful use of our cash reserves. Our intention will be to use a balance of all three in order to maintain our prospects for recovery, which is likely to take more than a single year.

“I know there is a considerable appetite for information and detail. I want to be open with you about what we are doing, and why. The levels of uncertainty are immense, and I know that is frustrating for all of us. However I am confident that our approach is sensible, and that we will ensure we regularly test our assumptions against what turns out to be reality and adapt our planning accordingly, and that we will neither take action before we need to, nor leave it too late to take action.”

In response to your final three bulleted questions:

We do have covenants on borrowing which we are monitoring and modelling.  We are looking at longer term impacts and the VC email makes clear the high-level principles we are using to govern our decision making. We are exploring actively all the options Government is making available and assessing their benefit to our long-term sustainability.  

Best wishes

Richard”

SUCU will continue to press for more information on the current and projected financial situation at the University so that we can better represent all staff in our discussions with senior management.

 

Motions passed at Extraordinary General Meeting 22nd July 2020

The branch held a well-attended Extraordinary General Meeting on Wednesday 22nd July at which the following motions were passed.

Local Branch Motion 1: Safety of colleagues, students, and visitors during the COVID-19 outbreak

This meeting notes the results of the openSAFELY study recently published in Nature:       https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2521-4_reference.pdf which convincingly show that the hazard associated with being aged over 50 outweighs almost all other risk factors; those of us over aged over 60 are at far greater risk than any other identified at-risk group.

We also note the current US CDC advice that, for example, people in their 50s are at higher risk for severe illness than people in their 40s.  https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/older-adults.html

We contrast this science  with current UK government advice which associates no age-related risk factor to being clinically extremely vulnerable and only places those over 70 in the clinically vulnerable group:
      https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-on-shielding-and-protecting-extremely-vulnerable-persons-from-covid-19/guidance-on-shielding-and-protecting-extremely-vulnerable-persons-from-covid-19
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/staying-alert-and-safe-social-distancing/staying-alert-and-safe-social-distancing-after-4-july

The meeting also notes that the university does not currently require the wearing of face coverings for the protection of colleagues, but will do so when the students return for AY 20–21:       https://www.southampton.ac.uk/~assets/doc/Safe%20at%20Southampton.pdf  Inappropriately, for such an essential piece of safety equipment, no standard for “face coverings” is specified by the university. The  correct standard is BS EN 14683 type I. These, as the standard says, are used “to reduce the risk of the spread of infections particularly in epidemic or pandemic situations”; they can “be effective in reducing the emission of infective agents from the nose and mouth of an asymptomatic carrier or a patient with clinical symptoms”. The same paper also shows that non-white ethnicity is another risk factor which must be taken into account by H&S planning.

In these circumstances it is essential that the university introduces safety measures guided by the science; this has now moved far ahead of the UK government.

This meeting instructs the UCU branch safety officer, executive committee, and negotiators to seek:

  1. That the university’s planning ensures that at-risk colleagues visitors and students, including everybody aged over fifty, are properly protected from COVID-19. Formal age-related risk assessments must be prepared and agreed with Trade Unions before anybody over fifty is required to attend the workplace.
  2. That all persons using indoor university spaces with multiple occupation (even if not simultaneous) be required to wear face coverings to BS EN 14683 type I or better, at all times (notwithstanding any disabilities or illnesses that may prevent mask wearing). Sufficient quantities of such masks must be made available to all staff, students and visitors to allow single-use wear.

Proposer: Denis Nicole                                                  Seconder: Roger Ingham

MOTION PASSED

Local Branch Motion 2: Protecting casualised workers

Casualised workers make up approximately 70% of researchers nationally in HE, and between 25-30% of the teaching staff in many Universities. Women and BAME colleagues are disproportionately more likely to be employed on a casual contract. Like everybody, casualised University workers are struggling with the global crisis brought on by COVID-19, and are particularly likely to see their contracts terminated, or their hourly paid work vanish. While this crisis continues, casualised staff members across the university—often the lowest paid on campus—must not be forgotten, and should receive guaranteed income along with permanent staff.

This branch recognises that:

  • Departments will need increased capacity as a result of the crisis, given potential illness of colleagues and the switch to remote working, making the work done by casualised staff even more essential.
  • The threatened loss of casualised staff would exacerbate existing workload issues for all staff, including permanent staff, which would also impact on their research capacity and career progression.
  • That the crisis has exacerbated conditions in an already troubled job market, resulting in the potential for ‘CV gaps’ to irrevocably damage the career prospects of current and recent PhD graduates.

We retain a preference for permanent, possibly fractionalised, contracts, and against fixed term and casual employment. While we strive towards these goals, we must protect existing casualised and fixed-term colleagues.

This branch calls on the University’s management to:

  • Transparently (i) disclose financial models upon which decisions about contract non-renewal are predicated, and (ii) ensure all other cost savings are properly explored before considering cuts to staff, including fixed-term and casualised staff.
  • Support the principle of extending the contracts of all fixed term staff for a minimum of two years and guarantee clarity for hourly-paid contracted hours
  • Guarantee that any proposed redundancies or cuts in casualised staff will not result in an increase in the already unmanageable workloads of permanent members of staff.
  • Protect access to paid teaching and demonstrating work for postgraduate students, ensuring that they receive adequate training and work experience.

This branch calls on members to:

Proposer: Lucy Watson                                                 Seconder: Eleanor Wilkinson

MOTION PASSED

Local Branch Motion 3:   Authorisation of a Branch Donation to the National UCU Fighting fund

This Branch notes the email received by Jo Grady, UCU General Secretary, on 3 July 2020 to ask for a Branch donation to help replenish the national fighting fund, and reduce the need to apply the levy to lower-paid UCU members in Further and Higher Education across the sector. As the General Secretary has emphasised, replenishing the fighting fund is important to honour Strike Pay commitments to members who took part in industrial action in support of the Four Fights and USS industrial disputes in February and March.

While the Branch is shocked that HEC chose to offer strike pay that UCU could not afford without a secret levy, whis must never happen again, n order to help reduce the burden of the levy on lower-paid members both at this Branch and across the sector this Branch proposes:

  • To change the rules of the local Hardship Fund to permit the fund to reimburse the levy charge to members earning below £30,000.
  • To make a one-off donation of £4,500 to the UCU national fighting fund from General Branch Funds.

Proposer: Marianne O’Doherty                                                                 Seconder: Lucy Watson

MOTION PASSED

 

 

 

 

Correspondence with University management re postponement of sabbatical leave and promotions 2020-21

RESPONSE RECEIVED FROM THE CHIEF OPEATING OFFICER, RICHARD MIDDLETON, ON 25 JUNE 2020

Dear Mary,

Thank you for your email of 18th June 2020.  Please accept this as a joint response from both Alex and I.  As you will recall we commented on and explained the urgency of the decision made at the University executive concerning sabbaticals and promotions when we met at our regular weekly meeting.  We acknowledged that the announcement of the decision did not match the spirit and intent of the joint statement we are drafting.  I still hope and expect that we – University and trades unions – can sign the joint statement very soon.  I will take each of your numbered points in order:

  1. I can confirm that the changes (to both sabbaticals and promotions) that were  announced last week relate to 2020/2021;
  2. I can not predict what actions will be required in a year’s time to sustain the University’s financial position.  I can confirm that a decision about sabbaticals and promotions in 2021/22 has not at this stage been taken and that interrupting sabbaticals or promotions in 2021/22 would require a new decision.  The University will want to consider when it is appropriate to re-introduce both sabbaticals and promotions within the overall framework of the finances and economy of the University;
  3. In respect of sabbaticals, the possible impact on research expectations and outputs is acknowledged.  Deans will provide advice to line managers and staff affected within the faculties who had been relying on sabbatical leave  to deliver their objectives and outputs in 2020/2021;
  4. There were not formal prior EIAs in respect of this decision concerning suspension of sabbaticals and promotions, which would have involved consideration of the equality impact status quo in respect of sabbaticals and promotions arrangements.  EIAs can not be done retrospectively. We will consider equality issues in implementing the decisions; and we will review EIAs on other cost saving plans we may have in the future.

More broadly, you will be aware that a separate meeting with the Trades Unions has been set up and diarised by HR for early July to consider the University’s projections of probable income in 2020-21 and to discuss possible mitigations.  I asked trades unions at the recent weekly meeting to bring proposals for mitigation to the meeting so that we can fully understand our options.

Best wishes

Richard 

Richard Middleton

Chief Operating Officer (Interim)

—————————-

LETTER SENT TO THE CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER, RICHARD MIDDLETON, AND ALEX NEILL ON 18 JUNE 2020

Dear Richard, dear Alex

We have been attending the regular TU/COO meetings with you both, as it is at least a means of regularly discussing COVID-19 related items of interest to our members.  I had assumed this meant that there would be a degree of transparency regarding decisions which would impact UCU members and enable some advance discussion of the implications and possible alternatives.

Our members are, understandably, utterly appalled to read in the 17th June UEB blog (now followed up in letters from Deans) that sabbaticals and promotion rounds for 2020-21 have been postponed. We do recognise that COVID-19 poses many threats and the University needs to retain a degree of flexibility to allow for a possible resurgence in cases. However, it is very unfortunate that these latest drastic measures were not raised with UCU in advance of the announcement of these decisions with time for proper discussion. Giving us forewarning (of a few hours) is not consultation, and barely allows us to assess the situation.  

At our TU/ COO meeting last week on 10th June we raised the question of sabbaticals, as there had been reports of postponement by some members. I sought clarification and asked at a minimum that if this decision were to be taken that there would be a corresponding reduction in research output expectation. I also asked for confirmation that this was only for 2020/2021. You indicated you would need to seek the input of UEB, but then went straight to announcement.  

The additional decision to suspend the promotion round for 2020/2021 came completely out of the blue and will be a severe motivational blow to staff, particularly those who have also lost their sabbaticals. 

We would like to have constructive discussion and are confident that exploring a range of options may have enabled a fairer and more nuanced set of solutions to be developed and considered. After a long period in which many staff have made great sacrifices on behalf of the University (and will continue to do so), we wish to register our strongest possible objection to your course of action, and to your failure to consult with or even inform us as the recognised TU for affected staff before taking this action. 

In order to reassure members we would like to make the following requests: 

  1. Please confirm that these changes (to both sabbaticals and promotions) are for 2020/2021 only;
  2. Please confirm that sabbaticals and promotion rounds will return as normal in 2021/2022;
  3. Please confirm that research expectations will be adjusted accordingly for those staff who had been relying on sabbatical leave in 2020/2021;
  4. Please share with us the Equality Impact Assessments relating to both decisions (sabbaticals and promotions) that have been carried out for all grades of staff.

Last year, we signed a partnership charter which committed all parties to treating each other with respect and consideration, and to be transparent in communications and behaviour. I know that the current VC was very supportive of this initiative so I have copied him in here, to remind you all that we are prepared to uphold our side of the charter and ask you do to the same. And in addition to the specific requests above, and in the light of the partnership charter, we would welcome the opportunity for a full and open discussion about University finances to engage more effectively with the reasons for these decisions.

We will be sharing this email with our members later this week.

Regards

Mary Morrison

President

On behalf of Southampton UCU

UCU support for #BlackLivesMatter

In recent weeks, peaceful protests have taken place around the world calling for justice and equality following the brutal murder of George Floyd. Here in the UK people have taken to the streets in their thousands in all major cities under the banner of ‘Black Lives Matter’. The parallels between the murder of an African American man by law enforcement in the US and our violent colonial past and racist present are clear. In Bristol, protests culminated in a statue of Edward Colston, which had long been a controversial landmark and the subject of numerous petitions, being pulled down and thrown in the river. Britain’s colonial history is being taught via these acts of resistance and there is a sense that something different is happening. 

There is hope that honest and difficult conversations about racism in the UK are happening at last. On social media, people have been calling for recognition of the UK’s own record of police brutality (Christopher Alder (1998), Sean Rigg (2008) and Mark Duggan (2011)). Black people account for 3% of the population, but 8% of deaths in custody. Articles in major newspapers by black public intellectuals, politicians and activists have called out the hypocrisy of claiming that the UK’s racism is more ‘subtle’ and less violent. Although many people have voiced concerns about protesting during a pandemic, the connections between Black Lives Matter and the current health crisis are also being brought to the fore. BAME people in the UK are dying in far greater numbers from Covid-19, not because of genetics but because of socio-economic inequalities and racism. These same inequalities were brought home by the Grenfell Tower tragedy, which saw its 3rd anniversary this week – 72 deaths and still no prosecutions

For our part, universities around the country are showing their support for Black Lives Matter through public statements, hashtags and even by illuminating their buildings. But the suspicion remains that such expressions of solidarity are often nothing more than window dressing, and form part of a broader strategy within UK higher education where universities speak of ‘promoting diversity’ whilst failing to challenge the systemic racism that is embedded into the very heart of our institutions. The fact remains that across UK Higher Education institutions fewer than 1% of professors are black, and there are even fewer black female professors. Additionally, the race attainment gap in education continues throughout higher education. 

Student groups have being drawing our attention to racism in universities through campaigns such as #RhodesMustFall. Students at Manchester University painted over Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘If’, which adorned the newly refurbished Students’ Union, with Maya Angelou’s ‘I Rise’.  At Southampton, the Black Students Solidarity Network have called upon senior management to do more to address systemic racism and have written their own anti-racism charter for student clubs and societies. We are grateful to the Black Students Solidarity Network for supporting SUCU’s recent industrial action. They saw that two of the ‘four fights’ which called on universities to end casualisation and pay inequality were explicitly linked to systemic racism and the disproportionate number of BAME staff who are on casual contracts. During the action, the Disputes Committee and the Black Students Solidarity Network organised a teach out with SOAS in support of their #preventingprevent programme. We are aware that as a branch we need to better support BAME staff and students and fight against institutional racism in our university and HE more broadly. To this end SUCU pledges to support our colleagues in Shine BME Staff Network in furthering their anti-racism work, including their commitment to the Race Equality Charter. We also support the Black Students Solidarity Network in their initiatives to end discrimination at the University of Southampton. 

This branch reiterates UCU’s stand against racism. We stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, but we do so whilst recognising that so much work still so urgently needs to be done.  We stand in solidarity against everyday acts of racism, microaggressions and harassment that black staff and students face across UK Higher Education institutions, including our own. We stand in solidarity with movements seeking to resist hostile environment policies on our campuses. We stand in solidarity with the disproportionate number of black workers at our institution who are paid only slightly above the living wage. All our members have a role to play in eradicating racism. Messages of solidarity are not enough. We need to do so much more.

DONATE:

We encourage our members to donate to the UK Black Lives Matter fundraiser: 

https://www.gofundme.com/f/ukblm-fund?utm_medium=referral&utm_source=unknown&utm_campaign=comms_h4hk+ukblm-fund

LEARN:

We encourage members to learn about anti-racism work already being done:

https://www.stephenlawrence.org.uk/

https://www.runnymedetrust.org/

https://www.ucu.org.uk/action-against-workplace-racism

https://www.southampton.ac.uk/diversity/how_we_support_diversity/harassment_contacts.page

FOLLOW:

Members who want to learn more can follow these social media campaigns:

#BlackintheIvory

#decolonizethecurriculum

#BlackLivesMatter

COVID-19 Communications with the University

Loader Loading...
EAD Logo Taking too long?

Reload Reload document
| Open Open in new tab

Download

Motions passed at General Meeting 10 March 2020

The branch recently held a wel- attended members’ meeting at which the following motions were passed:

Local branch motion: Covid-19 and Casualised Workers

SUCU notes the advice offered to staff and students on the University of Southampton COVID-19 information and guidance webpage though it urges the University to accelerate its rate of updates. However, SUCU is concerned about the financial impact on hourly paid staff and those on casual contracts who may not receive sick pay or paid leave to care for dependants in the event of sickness, quarantine or institutional closure. SUCU calls on the University to immediately clarify its policy towards its casual workers in the event of sickness, quarantine or institutional closure, and to offer parity of rights in terms of sick pay (from day one of isolation or sickness) and paid leave to care for dependants, across all staff. SUCU resolves to defend all staff from being pushed into financial hardship, or feeling unable to follow public health advice in the forthcoming period.

Proposer: Lucy Watson

Seconder: Megan de Bruin Mole

Passed unanimously

 

Local branch motion: Future of the dispute

This branch notes the sacrifices that members have made so far during this period of strike action over the Four Fights and USS dispute and thanks them sincerely. This branch also notes the support of students, the Southampton University Students’ Union (SUSU) and several student societies, and thanks them too. It also notes that UCU’s negotiators have made concrete proposals to employers’ representatives. This branch believes that our action so far has been effective in pushing employers (and the wider public) to take the Four Fights and USS disputes seriously. This branch believes that universities cannot be allowed to evade action on these problems any further, and that tangible and measurable commitments must be secured for our colleagues and the future of the sector. This branch resolves (i) to think creatively about how future action can be planned and targeted to have maximal impact, and to feedback this to national UCU; (ii) to encourage members to vote in favour of further industrial action in the re-balloting period, and (iii) to support the call for a National Education Demonstration to rally our forces and coordinate action – to be organised in conjunction with the National Education Union and any other education union, and the National Union of Students.

Proposer: Bea Gardner

Seconder: Claire Le Foll

Passed overwhelmingly

 

Motion for Congress: The Climate Emergency

Congress notes with gratitude the support of NUS, other student unions and societies in the Four Fights and USS disputes. Congress believes that UCU should build on its positive relationship with students by advocating for joint action on the most pressing issue of today: the climate emergency. It further believes that trade unions have a vital role to play in bringing about urgent climate action and a worker-led transition which is rooted in workers’ rights and social justice. Congress resolves to (i) pressure the senior management of Universities to make firm and binding commitments to meaningfully reduce the carbon footprint of Universities, to divest from carbon intensive businesses, and to record the climate impacts of their collaborative projects with businesses within their sustainability reporting. (ii) To continue UCU’s active support for the youth climate strikes taking place, building on the UCU’s work stoppage for earth strike, and calls upon other unions to do the same. Congress also supports the notion of working more closely with NGOs and environmental groups to exchange ideas and implement solutions.

Proposer: Lucy Watson

Seconder: Dario Carugo

Passed: Overwhelmingly

OPEN LETTER TO MUSIC STUDENTS ON UCU INDUSTRIAL ACTION – Southampton, 19 February 2020

Dear Music Students,

We, staff and PhD students in Music, are writing this letter to explain our position in the upcoming University and College Union industrial action. Many of us will be striking. Some will not, or not the whole time. All of us sympathise with what the UCU is asking for in the disputes, which involve 74 UK universities.

First, we know that this means trouble for you. None of us who are striking take this lightly. Indeed, we are not getting paid for the days we strike. We believe that strikes are a last resort. Unfortunately negotiations have not yet achieved a result that the UCU and its members feel they can accept, for themselves, for you and for the future of higher education in this country,

You recently received a communication from the university claiming that the strike is over “pay and pensions.” Actually it is about more than that:

  1. Casualisation. In our department most classroom teaching is still done by staff on full-time contracts. The national trend, however, is for universities to use more “casual” teaching staff on yearly, academic-year only or even zero-hours contracts, despite the introduction of £9K+ home and large increases to overseas student fees. The effect, especially on younger academics, has been impossibly high levels of stress. We know that some of our own graduates, top students who went on to do PhDs, now earn less than the “living wage” as lecturers at prestigious institutions.
  2. Workload. Compared to ten years ago, before the increases in fees, British universities spend less on people. There have been significant cuts to crucial front-line administrative staff and widespread hiring freezes. The result is more work for fewer workers. It is no surprise that academics and academic-related colleagues across the country are reporting record levels of stress, and increasingly stress-related illness. Most of us will tell you that the price of giving you the education you deserve is longer hours, frequently in excess of the 48 hours per week laid down by the European Working Time Directive, which remains British law. All of us want to do our very best by you, but the price is getting higher every year. Our working conditions are your learning conditions.
  3. Pay equality. At many British universities, including ours, there is a disgraceful gap in pay between men and women, and between White British colleagues and members of racial and ethnic minorities. At the University of Southampton across all subjects men earn 16% more than women on average. For years our employers have agreed with us that this is unacceptable–and not enough has changed. We demand action.
  4. Pay. Senior academics earn good money. But many of us did not find secure employment until we were older, and when we did we worked for low entry-level salaries. We accepted these conditions because we were deeply committed to our work, and knew that pay would improve with seniority. Yet in the past decade, since the increases in student fees, by conservative estimates our average pay has fallen 15% behind inflation, and behind compensation for similar work in the private sector. We ask that this loss be made up.
  5. Pensions. Academic pensions are attractive, roughly comparable to those of teachers or local government employees. But they are under pressure. In 2015 we accepted a significant decrease in our pensions to make them more affordable (we understand that people are living longer!). The result for all but the most senior of us was a substantial loss (£100s per month) in future pension income. In 2018 our employers tried to impose a “defined contribution” (instead of “defined benefit”) model, which would have resulted in losses of up to £1000 per month for mid-career and even more for junior colleagues. As a result there were strikes at many universities, including this one. These strikes ended when the employers withdrew their plans. They have yet to offer an acceptable alternative.

Some of us took action over all of these issues in November and December. Since then there has been some movement on casualisation, workload and equal pay. The UCU are happy that employers now recognise these as national issues, and have made specific suggestions to address them. But union negotiators cannot accept these without mechanisms of enforcement. On pay the offer currently on the table (1.8%) is not acceptable because it is below most measures of inflation and does nothing to address the many years of relative decline. Employers have made a series of alternative suggestions about pensions, but are refusing to agree to pay for what these would cost.

Negotiations are in a critical phase. Those of us who are going on strike do so because we believe that only pressure on employers will convince them to move the short distance that separates us. If they do, and the UCU accepts their offer, those of us who plan to strike will return to work immediately.

What you can do if you support us:

  • Write to the Vice Chancellor, Prof Mark E. Smith (emailvc@soton.ac.uk). Although he has not been here long most of us have experienced him as a friendly and open person. Let him know, politely, and in your own words, that you are on the side of your teachers and the staff who support your learning, and that you would like him to use his influence to end this long and draining dispute.
  • Talk to your friends and family. Educate yourselves and them about what is at stake here: your learning conditions, and those of the students who come after you.
  • Come out and support us. This Thursday, 20 February, Music staff will be picketing near Building 2 from 10-11 and then attending a rally in Jubilee Plaza. Show your support. Bring your instruments. Come and sing with us!

Yours sincerely,

 

Tom Irvine

David Bretherton

Dan Mar-Molinero

Valeria de Lucca

Ben Oliver

Richard Polfreman

Drew Crawford

Francesco Izzo

Mark Everist

Bastian Terraz

Matthew Shlomowitz

Jane Chapman

Diana Venegas

Kate Hawnt

Ryan Ross

Peter Falconer

Catherine Fabian

Jeanice Brooks

Anisha Netto

Clare Merivale

Gintaré Stankeviciute

David Alcock

Clarissa Brough

Mary-Jannet Leith

Jamie Howell

Andy Fisher