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UCU motion on returning to face to face teaching – a response from UEB

Further to our recent email to UEB forwarding on our recently passed motion that raised members’ continued concerns about returning to face to face teaching, we have received a disappointing response from Richard Middleton, Chief Operating Officer.
From: Chief-Operating-Officer
Tue 05/10/2021 16:59
Dear Lucy

I reply to your email dated 30/09/21, sent to all members of the UEB.  I reply on their behalf.  Also thank you for sending me the notes of your EGM which took place on the 24th September.  This was before our regular meeting on Tuesday 28th September which did provide an opportunity for you to raise these and any other points.  I am disappointed that you chose not to discuss these in the forum set up for that very purpose.  I also note that union H&S representatives have continued to meet with Cathy Day (Director Health, Safety & Risk), using that appropriately as an opportunity to raise and resolve such issues.  Indeed Adam George Dunn (UCU Health & Safety representative) reported at the meeting on 28th September that he would not follow up the issue of ventilation at the meeting because he was having extensive and detailed discussions with Maurice Woodcock (Director of Estates Operations) that were making good progress.

In response to your 10 points:

  1. Clinically extremely vulnerable staff, or staff living with or caring for clinically extremely vulnerable people, must be allowed to work/teach from home, without detriment, for the 2021-22 academic year. 

The terms Clinically Vulnerable and Clinically Extremely Vulnerable were developed by the NHS during lockdown to help prioritise health services and to advise on shielding for those who had clinical conditions.   Since all shielding and the lockdown have now ended, Government  ‘Guidance for those who were previously considered clinically extremely vulnerable from COVID-19’ states ‘As a minimum, you should continue to follow the same guidance (provided to all) on staying safe and preventing the spread of COVID-19. You should consider advice from your health professional on whether additional precautions are right for you’.  

The University is very mindful of its duty of care under Health & Safety legislation and as such has strongly encouraged the uptake of full vaccination and regular testing.  We have developed guidance for vulnerable adults which enables employees to request a person specific risk assessment carried out in collaboration with their line manager.  This assessment will help to identify and implement additional control measures, where relevant to the specific vulnerability, which enable the employee to fulfil their role and meet organisational needs.   

  1. No staff member with concerns about the safety of their working environment should be compelled to work on-site until the University has satisfactorily addressed their concerns.

Throughout the pandemic the University has followed Government guidance to make the workplace as safe as reasonably practicable.  If employees have concerns about their workplace health and/or safety they should raise this in the first instance with their line manager who should work with them to identify their concerns and address them if they are able.  Employees can consult with their union appointed staff representative in addition to reporting incidents and near misses via the Health & Safety Incident Reporting system. 

3. Southampton UCU have not seen detailed data about ventilation in classrooms, despite numerous requests. Our H&S representatives need to urgently be supplied with quantitative data on each room cleared for teaching and shared occupancy.

As mentioned in my first paragraph I understand from our meeting on 28th September that Adam George Dunn as UCU rep is meeting with Maurice Woodcock to discuss this matter thoroughly.

4. If anyone feels that a room is not well-ventilated, they should be able to ask for it to be checked by Estates. UCU asks the university to provide portable CO2 monitors so colleagues can check rooms which may be unsafe and to regularly monitor ventilation in rooms.

 Maurice Woodcock addressed this issue at the meeting on 28th September.  The University is considering the potential contribution of CO2 monitors in teaching rooms.  Government guidance on this, from the DfE does not encourage this for universities and I am not aware of guidance on how to interpret CO2 monitor data in respect of Covid transmission risk.  We therefore continue to investigate the potential benefits of CO2 monitoring.

  1. Mask wearing should be mandatory in teaching spaces and other indoor shared spaces, and crowded outdoor areas, except for those with medical exemptions. Sufficient spare masks should be readily available. The University must ensure its communications around mask wearing are clear and consistent.

In July this year all legal restrictions were lifted included the use of social distancing and face coverings.  The University continues however to strongly encourage and expects staff and students to use face coverings indoors when moving around and in crowded spaces.   A crowded space is likely to include lecture theatres and seminars or any space where physical distancing affords a greater challenge. 

The University continues to provide face coverings for those who may have lost or forgotten theirs.  These are and will be available in teaching rooms.  The Government has made it very clear that some people will be exempt and that proof of such exemption should not be requested.  

Guidance on face coverings is available from the Health & Safety SharePoint site as it has been throughout the pandemic and there have been consistent and regularly repeated communications provided to all staff and students via Sussed and other communication channels.

  1. Clear guidance must be issued immediately to staff about what happens if a student or staff member in a class tests positive. If a staff member has to isolate, or care for isolating people, or they have numerous students in their class isolating, they must be allowed to switch to online.

From early 2020 the University has developed clear processes for line managers to report and manage local cases of COVID-19.  We also have an Outbreak Control and Response Plan for dealing with multiple cases which has been endorsed by the Directors of Public Health from both Southampton City Council and Hampshire County Council.  The plan and process are focused on the prevention of infection spread.  The need for self-isolation is no longer required for close contacts who are fully UK vaccinated (with the exception currently of students from overseas).  If someone does need to isolate they should speak with their line manager so that alternative temporary measures can be take e.g. substitution.  

  1. The University must commit to an active public campaign to encourage vaccinations and weekly testing for staff and students, and share anonymised data gathered through vaccination surveys with unions.

Vaccination and testing is already strongly encouraged, nationally by Government, locally by the Directors of Public Health and within the workplace by the University, including a video campaign used on all our digital channels. Vaccination data is held by the NHS and as such is subject to legal confidentiality which means it’s not readily available to the University.   A vaccination survey of students has recently been undertaken and anonymised results are available.

  1. Maintain social distancing by lowering room capacity where necessary to allow 1m+ to remain in place.

As mentioned at 5. above all legal restrictions were lifted in July, including social distancing.  The University chose to take a more cautious approach initially in line with our local authority partners by gradually removing social distancing, signage and one-way systems.  Our Principles document includes the following statement for the local management of shared spaces –  ‘Try and aim for 2 metres space between each person if at all practicable’.

  1. Ensure all managers are aware that a blended model of teaching is permissible in order to reduce the number of students and staff on campus at any given time.  

    This issue is addressed in the email from the Vice President (Education) circulated on 23 September.

  1. If a member of staff feels a classroom situation is unsafe; e.g. students are refusing to wear masks, the number of students exceeds the listed room capacity, or the ventilation is poor (windows will not open, for example), they should cancel the class and reschedule it online.

As stated at 2. above if a member of staff feels unsafe they should in the first instance inform their line manager.  It is quite possible that some people will not be wearing face coverings either because of exemption or another reason, but this doesn’t automatically make a space intrinsically unsafe.  All those attending should however be encouraged by the staff member, to wear a face-covering if at all possible.  Room capacity identified for the purpose of fire safety and emergency evacuation should not be exceeded.  

Room ventilation is extremely difficult to assess without full understanding of the ventilation type and how to measure it.  The Estates team have checked CLS and teaching spaces to ensure they meet the standards recommended by CIBSE and the HSE.  Any spaces which did not do so have been taken out of use.  Rooms which only have natural ventilation should have opening windows that the attending staff member can check and open if not open already.

Richard Middleton

Chief Operating Officer

Southampton UCU – motion on returning to campus and our comms with UEB

We have today (30/9) sent the below email to UEB, following overwhelming support of our motion discussed at the recent EGM.  You can read the full motion at the bottom of the thread.

——————–

Dear UEB

On Friday 24th September, UCU organised an EGM to discuss the back to campus teaching plans. This was in response to a large number of concerns raised by our members about the COVID mitigations being proposed by the University. UCU drafted a motion in the meeting, which outlined the main areas of concern and set out some clear expectations from the University. This motion was then voted on via survey monkey. There was overwhelming support from members to accept the motion (77% for, 13% against, 10% abstain). The motion is attached.

We hope it is clear from this motion that large numbers of teaching staff are very uncomfortable with the University’s position on masks, physical distancing and ventilation. Induction events which have taken place this week have shown that there is not the level of compliance on mask wearing we would hope to see, and staff taking part in those events are reporting overcrowding in rooms which are ‘stuffy’. We are deeply concerned that the survey of all rooms to be used this semester has not yet been completed. Timetabling has been under enormous pressure and many staff have not yet received their correct timetable so they are unable to check their rooms for suitability. In the final days of preparation before teaching staff are coming to campus, all of this feels very chaotic and does not reflect the ‘careful planning’ which university communications state has been taking place over the summer.

As things stand, without the University addressing the concerns outlined in this motion, UCU cannot endorse the University’s plans. We request a response from UEB which can be shared with members at your earliest convenience.

——————-

SOUTHAMPTON UCU EGM – 24 SEPTEMBER 2021 

MOTION – RETURNING TO CAMPUS

Southampton UCU notes:

  1. The high rate of Covid-19 infections across the country
  2. The low vaccination rates of people between 18-24
  3. The increased risk of transmission as a result of the highly contagious Delta variant
  4. That, although covid-19 rarely kills young adults, ‘about 10% of infected people at any age can develop long covid’ (BMJ, 2021).
  5. The lack of robust covid mitigation measures recommended by the government in educational settings

Southampton UCU also notes:

  1. The University of Southampton’s commitment to continuing with its saliva testing programme
  2. Its guidance for Clinically Extremely Vulnerable (CEV) staff, which has been publicised
  3. The willingness of many line managers to conduct individual risk assessments for vulnerable staff that request them
  4. Its commitment to support students who test positive and need to self-isolate.

However, this branch believes that the measures the University has put in place are not sufficient to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of all staff and students and the wider community.

This branch calls on the University to immediately agree to implement the following safeguards for the 2021-22 academic year, which have been formulated with reference to the Independent SAGE report and research published in the BMJ, and following numerous expressions of concern from members and reps:

  1. Clinically extremely vulnerable staff, or staff living with or caring for clinically extremely vulnerable people, must be allowed to work/teach from home, without detriment, for the 2021-22 academic year.
  1. No staff member with concerns about the safety of their working environment should be compelled to work on-site until the University has satisfactorily addressed their concerns.
  1. Southampton UCU have not seen detailed data about ventilation in classrooms, despite numerous requests. Our H&S representatives need to urgently be supplied with quantitative data on each room cleared for teaching and shared occupancy.
  1. If anyone feels that a room is not well-ventilated, they should be able to ask for it to be checked by Estates. UCU asks the university to provide portable CO2 monitors so colleagues can check rooms which may be unsafe and to regularly monitor ventilation in rooms.
  1. Mask wearing should be mandatory in teaching spaces and other indoor shared spaces, and crowded outdoor areas, except for those with medical exemptions. Sufficient spare masks should be readily available. The University must ensure its communications around mask wearing are clear and consistent.
  1. Clear guidance must be issued immediately to staff about what happens if a student or staff member in a class tests positive. If a staff member has to isolate, or care for isolating people, or they have numerous students in their class isolating, they must be allowed to switch to online.
  2. The University must commit to an active public campaign to encourage vaccinations and weekly testing for staff and students, and share anonymised data gathered through vaccination surveys with unions.
  1. Maintain social distancing by lowering room capacity where necessary to allow 1m+ to remain in place.
  1. Ensure all managers are aware that a blended model of teaching is permissible in order to reduce the number of students and staff on campus at any given time.
  1. If a member of staff feels a classroom situation is unsafe; e.g. students are refusing to wear masks, the number of students exceeds the listed room capacity, or the ventilation is poor (windows will not open, for example), they should cancel the class and reschedule it online.

This branch resolves to:

  1. Continue to engage with the University in improving the working conditions for all staff during the pandemic
  2. To inform SUSU of UCU’s branch position and seek support for the recommendations outlined above
  3. Support members if they use their rights under Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996
  4. Provide caseworker support for members who challenge the safety of their teaching environment
  5. Refuse to endorse the return to campus plans until these issues are addressed

Proposer: Lucy Watson

Seconder: Claire Le Foll

For:                        77%

Against:                13%

Abstain:               10%

 

Feedback from Special Higher Education Sector Conference (SHESC) on 9th September 

SHESC on the 9th September was organised to decide the next steps in UCU’s campaigns on USS and the Four Fights. The SHESC was contentious from the outset given the strong views represented in the union about the best strategy for industrial action. Additionally, the decision of HEC to delay acting on motions at June’s HESC, including motion HE12 which had proposed a summer ballot over USS was perceived by some as having lost us time. Since the last HESC, UUK has submitted their proposals to the USS JNC, which have been accepted and will cut the retirement benefits of members in USS. UCU had not been able to submit counter proposals because UUK refused to offer the same covenant support as they would for their own.  

Southampton UCU shared the motions with members prior to voting at conference and asked for feedback, and we also canvassed members through our survey conducted in May prior to HESC. We gathered important feedback on USS and the Four Fights, primarily focusing on whether members would support industrial action on pay, USS and/or Four Fights, the timing of any industrial action, whether IA should be aggregated or disaggregated, and whether Four Fights and USS should be fought for together or separately. The feedback we received from branch members was mixed but there was a steer for delegates to vote: 

  • Yes, to industrial action on USS 
  • To allow branches time to gain momentum for strike action – not to strike in the autumn 
  • To continue to campaign on the Four Fights and pay, but not to ballot on these for now
  • There was no clear steer on aggregation or disaggregation. 

In the lead up to SHESC on September 9th, there was a lot of information being shared by pensions negotiators and experts, including Sam Marsh and Michael Otsuka. The following blogs were also made available and clearly illustrate the differences between the views of UCU’s members: 

Our advice for HE Special Sector Conference 9th September | ucuagenda 

If we don’t fight, we lose – UCU Left 

At the conference itself, the discussion was detailed and informative despite the usual restrictions of the webinar format which has become the norm for large UCU meetings during the pandemic. Here are the motions which were debated: 

UCU2001 

Overall, delegates were convinced of the need to take action on USS sooner rather than later, although it was acknowledged that HEC would make the final decision. We believe that we need to ballot on USS now, notwithstanding all the difficulties that presents to branches in terms of launching a successful get the vote out campaign. We also voted against disaggregated strike action because we believe that may weaken our action. Branch delegates acknowledged that there were strong reasons to ballot for Four Fights, not least because another below inflation pay award has been imposed, but also to show solidarity with post-92s and to stand with precarious and junior colleagues. The arguments presented that Four Fights and USS are linked, that pensions are deferred pay, and that inequalities in pay continue through to retirement were compelling.  

Nevertheless, the two disputes will be resolved via different negotiating groups and it would be difficult to communicate what would constitute a win on both. Additionally, while we were convinced that there are strategic reasons to ballot for industrial action over USS now, coordinating the two disputes forces Four Fights onto the same timescales as USS which could be counterproductive to building a sector wide strike mandate timed to have the most disruptive impact. In the end, our steer from branch members was that we should separate Four Fights and USS so delegates voted in line with this. However, on motion 10 ‘what a win looks like’ there were clear instructions for branches to continue to campaign in the issues of the Four Fights ‘with vigour, determination and all means possible, bar strike action for now’. Your delegates voted in favour of this motion. Equalities, anti-casualisation and workload are issues that we will (continue) to fight hard for locally and we need members to help shape specific, measurable aims for making improvements for all staff at Southampton.  

One of the more controversial motions of the conference was B4, which committed UCU to ‘initiate exploration of the feasibility and promise of Conditional Benefits (or Conditional Indexation)’. While it was understood that investigating was never off the table, delegates voted in favour to show our willingness to explore all avenues available to protect pension benefits. 

You can read the results of votes online here: 

HESC_09.09.21_voting_results.pdf (ucu.org.uk) 

A bonus for some…… further response from University management

We have received a response from the University regarding the COVID bonus. UEB only responded to one of our concerns and it was to confirm that UniWorkforce staff did not receive the bonus which was awarded to frontline staff at the beginning of the pandemic either. This clearly underlines the fact that the University is operating a two-tier workforce, where some members of staff are treated less favourably than others. UCU will continue to challenge this system and work hard to address the inequalities that casualisation causes in our institution.

The branch has an insecure contracts organising group, which we would really like members to get involved with. We need as many people as possible to get behind our anti-casualisation campaign in order to successfully challenge this two-tiered system and win better employment terms and conditions for our insecure colleagues at Southampton. If you want to be part of the campaign for fairness and equality in our community, then please contact us on ucu@soton.ac.uk.

 

Date: 9/9/2021

Dear UCU,

Further to your email on 25 August following the University’s response to your concerns regarding the ‘Staff bonus payment’ and our subsequent discussion with local representatives and the Chief Operating Officer on 9 September, I can confirm that the University will not be reconsidering its decision on this matter and consider it concluded.

I can also confirm that nobody engaged via UniWorkforce was in receipt of the payment made to key frontline workers in June 2020. More details on the payment can be found here.

Best wishes,

Luke Kelly

Industrial Relations Business Partner

A bonus for some ….. further update

Following the recent response from Anne-Marie Sitton to our earlier email, we have written again to the Vice-Chancellor and UEB.

 

Dear Vice Chancellor and members of UEB,

Thank you for your response to our email complaining about the decision not to award the covid bonus to workers employed on casual contracts. We were extremely disappointed by your reply and take issue with a number of points, as outlined below:

  • UEB replied: ‘[We] made a conscious decision in drawing a firm distinction between employees and casual workers’

UCU believes that this underscores what we stated in our letter to UEB (21/07/21); that the University has a two-tier workforce operating and is not serious about addressing the problem of casualisation, which harms staff and students and damages the reputation of the institution. The work carried out by hourly paid lecturers and PGRs who teach is indistinguishable from much of the work done by permanent staff. They should not be treated any differently.

  • UEB replied: ‘On the basis that there is no contractual entitlement or commitment between the University and casual workers, no way of clarifying thresholds for payments or fairly applying any form of proportionate payment it was determined that the exclusion lines had to be drawn between such workers and employees.’

UCU questions why a simple calculation of how much a staff member had earned during the period stipulated by the bonus scheme could not be applied. Had we been engaged in a consultation on this proposal we are confident a fairer arrangement could have been found and regret that, once again, the campus trade unions were not properly consulted over a matter impacting our members’ pay and conditions. We note that Cardiff University was able to agree to a much fairer mechanism of recognition which included PGRs in their COVID bonus scheme. This was done because University management discussed their plans with unions in advance and a better, fairer system of distributing the award was found.

  • UEB replied: ‘We also took the view that our casual workers are paid by the hour for the work done, and so are far more likely to have already been recompensed for any additional hours they may have worked, than our core workforce.’

UCU formally raised at February’s Joint Negotiating Committee that teaching staff employed through Uniworkforce were not being appropriately compensated for the additional time worked as a result of COVID-19 measures. UCU representatives requested that the rate of hourly pay be increased to recompense staff who were now teaching a full hour while still being paid for 45 minutes. We additionally requested a review of claimable preparation time considering the additional workload associated with online learning, including increased preparation time and queries from students. Our request was refused. We therefore believe it to be factually incorrect that hourly paid workers had already been recompensated and UEB should already have been aware of this.

  • UEB replied: ‘For example, early in the COVID pandemic we agreed to honour all UniWorkforce commitments (and overtime commitments of staff at Levels 1-3) up to 19th April 2020 which was then extended further to 31st May 2020. Your note did not make any reference to this point.’

UCU believes that this is missing the point. Of course the University should honour its UniWorkforce commitments. The work these staff were assigned had already been budgeted for. The covid bonus is an entirely different category of payment, which is a payment in addition to existing commitments. The University’s reply implies that UniWorkforce staff should just be grateful that they were not left without any income at the beginning of the pandemic without notice, which is an extraordinary position to take. In addition, the response of UEB implies that hourly paid workers were not carrying out work for the University during this period when many were integral to the delivery of online teaching and marking at the end of the 2019/20 academic year. In a lot of cases, they carried out this work remotely, with inadequate equipment, and often at very short notice.

  • UEB replied: ‘In terms of our PGRs, when UKRI provided a funding package for doctoral students in their final year of funding, who were in need of a COVID-related extension to submit their thesis, the University responded by committing significant sums to match the UKRI extension scheme.’

UCU believes that this is irrelevant. The covid bonus was awarded to staff who have carried out valuable work for the University during a pandemic, the fact that these members of staff may also be students in receipt of grant money or funding from other sources is beside the point.

  • UEB replied: ‘It is also worth noting that the University recognised the essential contribution of key frontline workers of staff at the lower end of the pay scales, who were required to attend campus to maintain essential institutional services and support for students during the initial COVID-19 lockdown, by awarding them a fixed maximum value payment of £500.’

UCU would like to know whether UniWorkforce staff were included in this payment as your response does not make that clear.

To summarise, UCU is not at all satisfied with the University’s response to our request that all workers, regardless of their contract status, are appropriately rewarded for their contribution during the pandemic. We once again urge the University to reconsider its position and agree to award a bonus to all staff on casual contracts. In addition, we ask that the University commits to engaging with UCU and tackling the damaging culture of casualisation within the institution and ending its reliance on UniWorkforce staff to deliver core activities.

 

Southampton UCU

 

 

 

 

A bonus ….. for some – update

Further to our recent blog post of 23 July detailing our request to UEB to reconsider their decision not to award the one-off COVID bonus to workers employed on casual contracts, we have  received a disappointing response.  See the full text, and our original request, below.

 

Wed 28/07/2021

Dear Southampton UCU Executive Committee

Thank you for your email to the Vice-Chancellor of the 21st July 2021 regarding the staff bonus payment. I have been asked to respond on behalf of the executive.

The University Executive Board wanted to recognize the incredible amount of hard work, discretionary effort and professionalism demonstrated by our staff, under extraordinarily difficult circumstances, over the last year. By doing this we had to decide who should qualify for such a payment and the cutoff points. This is always the most challenging part of developing an award of this nature, but on this occasion we made a conscious decision in drawing a firm distinction between employees and casual workers. This decisions in no way underplays the significant contribution other staff groups have made, but was made in recognition of the very significant financial support we had already provided to casual workers, PGRs and key frontline workers.

UniWorkforce/casual workers are widely used within the University for a whole range of activities including one off lectures, exams support, temporary administration, front line cleaning support, and many more, and on average PGRs make up about 6.5% of those workers. On the basis that there is no contractual entitlement or commitment between the University and casual workers, no way of clarifying thresholds for payments or fairly applying any form of proportionate payment it was determined that the exclusion lines had to be drawn between such workers and employees. We also took the view that our casual workers are paid by the hour for the work done, and so are far more likely to have already been recompensed for any additional hours they may have worked, than our core workforce.

 It is simply not true that we do not understand or value our casual workforce. We absolutely do, as we have demonstrated throughout the year. For example, early in the COVID pandemic we agreed to honour all UniWorkforce commitments (and overtime commitments of staff at Levels 1-3) up to 19th April 2020 which was then extended further to 31st May 2020. Your note did not make any reference to this point.

In terms of our PGRs, when UKRI provided a funding package for doctoral students in their final year of funding, who were in need of a COVID-related extension to submit their thesis, the University responded by committing significant sums to match the UKRI extension scheme. This was considered important since 73% of our doctoral research students are not funded by UKRI. Both schemes have been in operation since the summer of 2020 and Phase 3 will run until 2023 which is also a very significant financial commitment from the University.

It is also worth noting that the University recognised the essential contribution of key frontline workers of staff at the lower end of the pay scales, who were required to attend campus to maintain essential institutional services and support for students during the initial COVID-19 lockdown, by awarding them a fixed maximum value payment of £500.

In terms of the qualifying date, we applied the principle that if the employee was employed on the day of the announcement, they get the bonus and if they are not employed by the University on that day they don’t get it. Unfortunately, some people will always fall on the wrong side of a dividing line, wherever it’s drawn, but picking anything other than 14th July would be completely arbitrary.

With best wishes

Anne-Marie Sitton

Executive Director of Human Resources

—————————————————

Sent: 21 July 2021 13:55

To: Vice Chancellor and UEB members
Subject: Staff bonus payment

Dear Vice-Chancellor

We were pleased to see the dedication and commitment of colleagues recognised in your end of year email. However, we were dismayed by the qualifying criteria for the announced bonus. We seek urgent justification for why valued colleagues paid by UniWorkforce, including PGRs and hourly paid teaching staff, have not been included. Additionally, why those whose contracts finished on 13 July also do not qualify. 

We firmly believe that these colleagues have provided essential contributions to the university this year and should have been included in the bonus payments, on a pro rata basis where appropriate, and urge UEB to reconsider their position on this matter.  

This decision to exclude members on casual conditions of employment is indicative of UEB’s lack of understanding of the key role our casualised colleagues and PGRs perform at the university, including providing core teaching and essential student support. Our experience is that UEB also underestimates the length of time colleagues can be on these conditions of employment, which can be several years. Most permanent members of staff could not do their jobs without these colleagues, and they deserve to be recognized.  

The decision not to include casualised colleagues is also indicative of University of Southampton’s approach toward maintaining a two-tiered workforce. By the nature of their employment, casual workers have the least financial security and are already some of the lowest paid members of our university community. We note that hourly-paid teaching staff, including but not exclusively PGRs, still do not have contractual rights to sick pay as was requested by UCU this year. They saw teaching slots increase this year from 45 minutes to 60 minutes with no increase in pay, something we also requested to be rectified but was not. Many of these invaluable staff have experienced increased stress regarding the status of employment given the recruitment freeze and the financial caution implemented by the university at the start of the pandemic.  

We at Southampton UCU recognise and value the contribution of all University of Southampton workers this year, and indeed every year. Without such dedication from all staff, the University would not be in the position it is. We urge UEB to review the eligibility criteria for the bonus payments and to work with UCU to improve the uniformity of employment conditions for all staff at the University of Southampton.  

We look forward to hearing back from you.  

Southampton UCU Executive Committee

A bonus……for some

Southampton UCU Executive Committee has written to the VC and University Executive Board, urging them to reconsider their decision not to award the one-off COVID bonus to University of Southampton workers employed on casual contracts or whose fixed-term contracts ended before 13th July.

We are, of course, pleased to see that the hard work of colleagues has been recognised in this one-off bonus of up to £600. We know that it has been an exceptionally difficult year for many of our members, who have often gone above and beyond to carry out their duties in the face of huge uncertainty and upheaval. We are sincere in saying that the bonus is a significant gesture for a sector that is prone to recognising staff contribution in words rather than action. However, we are compelled to highlight a fundamental inequality in the bonus as structured — specifically, the decision to exclude casual colleagues from receipt of the payments.

Since the announcement, many of our hourly-paid members have contacted us to express their disappointment and anger about their exclusion from the bonus payment. They have pointed out that their work over this period is often indistinguishable from that of staff on more secure contracts. Additionally, like their permanent counterparts, they have stepped in to take on additional duties as part of the COVID-19 response. This is to say that they have taught, marked, enabled, supported and administered in the same way as their colleagues. In fact, they have seen their workload increase with the extension of teaching slots from 45 to 60 minutes, with no accompanying increase in pay. They have worked even when sick, because of the shameful policy that leaves Uniworkforce employees with no contractual sick-pay entitlement. They have also been unable to access many of the schemes of Government support made available to more formalised employees during lockdown.

The hard work of staff on casual contracts deserves no less recognition and reward than that of other staff.  We appreciate that there may be added complexities in identifying and quantifying the work histories of casual workers — and we are happy to work with UEB to seek solutions to these.

Actions you can take

Those who share our sense that this situation is unjust are welcome to join us in the following actions:

  • If you are active on social media, share examples of the important tasks carried out by casual workers in your team this year and why these contributions deserve to be recognised. Remember to tag @SouthamptonUCU in any tweets.
  • If you are on an insecure contract, either employed through Uniworkforce or on a fixed-term contract, join UCU (if you’re not already a member) and come along to a meeting of casualised members on 17 August at 12pm (invitation to follow). We will discuss a further response to the decision and our campaigning priorities for the year ahead as part of our insecure contracts working group.
  • If you are a PGR member, you can join our active PGR UCU Teams page for updates from UCU where we will also be coordinating the PGR as staff manifesto campaign. Contact UCU@soton.ac.uk to join.
  • If you are a staff member that has received a bonus and would like to donate a portion of it toward insecure colleagues, unfortunately, there is no general hardship fund for PGRs at University of Southampton (we are working on that). Please consider donating to Education Support, a partnership initiative with UCU that provides a variety of support to all members. Given the strong likelihood of industrial action in the upcoming academic year, you might also consider contributing to the  UCU national fighting fund or Southampton UCU’s local hardship fund, both of which provide financial support to members taking part in industrial disputes.

What else is Southampton UCU doing?

As well as lobbying for a reversal of this decision not to include casual workers in the bonus, Southampton UCU remains committed to improving the long-term employment conditions for all our members, including those on casual contracts. Under the new definition of a casual worker being introduced by HR, we hope to see all colleagues engaged with Uniworkforce for more than 12 weeks move over to fixed-term contracts. We will push for equality of these contract terms with those currently offered to permanent staff members.

In line with the recently launched PGR manifesto, we will be campaigning for uniformity across the University of Southampton in the way PGRs are treated: concerning both research work, and paid teaching work. In addition, for those PGRs who teach, we are seeking to negotiate a Graduate Teaching Assistant Contract based on the principles of employment laid out in the recently launched UCU PGR manifesto and in the 2021/22 JNCHES pay claim, which includes the principle that PGRs who teach should be included in any reward or recognition schemes run by the employer.

 

UCU Congress 2021 – Motion Results

https://www.ucu.org.uk/Congress2021

UCU Congress 2021 took place over the May Bank Holiday and into half-term. Thanks to Marianne O’Doherty, Bea Gardner and Denis Nicole for representing the branch alongside Claire Le Foll and Lucy Watson. Again, it really was a team effort.

In full conference (29th and 31st May) 270 delegates were sent a unique voting link. 231 delegates voted. In HESC (2nd June) 191 delegates were sent a unique voting link. 164 delegates voted. The Conference was held online, but this time there was added security and the webinar mode was used. This meant that no spontaneous interventions could occur, and all speakers had to be invited in. Although we understand the challenges of holding such large meetings online and the UCU staff and elected officers chairing the meetings did a fantastic job, it must be acknowledged that managing conference in this way stifles debate and makes for a very ‘dry’ experience for delegates. There is also the added complication that voting is not synchronous. Separate voting links for amendments and motions were sent out after the close of conference.

Our branch was able to canvass members’ view in advance on the key issues surrounding the Four Fights dispute and USS, and we had extensive discussions within executive committee around the more controversial motions, including ones which focused on the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. All delegates voted in accordance with the views of the branch where there was a clear steer from members.

Congress motions

Delegates voted for most motions which carried, except for the IHRA motions (12, 13 and 14) where these motions appeared to contradict each other. Delegates voted against 13 and 14 but for motion 12, with 12A.1. Motions 12 (as amended) 13, and L3 carried and 14 was remitted to be considered at NEC. Motions 13 and L3, carry references to BRICUP and thus, to an Israel boycott.

A full report of Congress motions may be found here:
https://www.ucu.org.uk/media/11576/Congress-Motions/pdf/Voting_report_Congress_29and31.05.21_1.pdf

HESC motions

The motion on electronic voting was lost. The motion to reject the UCEA offer for 21-22 (HE3), enter into dispute, and ‘organise towards the possibility of balloting’ passed. The motion to develop a timetable to ballot for industrial action over the unfinished ‘four fights’ campaign (20-21 claim) (HE5) passed. A number of USS motions were passed, some of which cancel parts of the others out, and some of which may or may not have much of an impact (replace USS as trustee; initiate legal action against USS). The key one which passed and was mentioned in the branch AGM (23rd June) is HE12, which commits branches to a summer ballot for escalating industrial action in the autumn if employers won’t join UCU in calling on USS and the pension regulator to cancel the 2020 valuation. Since then, HEC have agreed to hold a special conference on the 9th September where important decisions will be made about the future of the campaign. We will contact members with more details when we have them.

By a margin of 62 to 56, HESC also carried motion HE13 to scrap two of the principles for negotiation on USS from the report accepted in HE11 (explore conditional benefits and additional covenant support); this also instructs negotiators to focus on demands to set aside the valuation and preserve members’ benefits and contribution levels. HESC also voted to declare all current industrial disputes to be of national significance (HE 21), remove requirements for consultative ballots before industrial action, and allow academic Boycott and Censure to be declared immediately on request of the branch.

A full report of HE Congress motions may be found here:
https://www.ucu.org.uk/media/11578/HE-Motions/pdf/Voting_report_HE_sector_conf_02.06.21_2.pdf

Future Ways of Working – UCU concerns

UCU  has raised concerns with senior management about the potential changes to terms and conditions of staff as part of the Future Ways of Working project.  As the recognised trade union for staff at L4-6, any changes to staff contracts are subject to negotiation with UCU under our recognition agreement with the University.  Please see below our recent email communication and response from the Chief Operating Officer.

 

From: Chief-Operating-Officer
Sent: 28 June 2021 09:02

Dear colleagues,

As some of you heard at our latest meeting on Thursday 24 June, the Future Ways of Working (FWOW) project is still very much in its infancy. I believe during the meeting, Mandy reiterated that the desire of the project is to consult effectively and hear from all colleagues across the University, including the trade unions. However, at this time the mechanisms and timelines for doing so are yet to be established.

The project is currently in the process of recruiting a dedicated Programme manager, as well as a post focusing on communications. These posts are likely to be in place between August and September and once recruited their priority will be establishing the next steps. As explained, the project encompasses many elements and will consist of different work streams, some of which will naturally lead to more discussion and input than others. Our communication to present has been focused on providing both unions and colleagues with an early overview of the project, given these are questions many colleagues are soon to be asking, if not already.

In the past when there has been a specific and fully-described goal, we have engaged more directly at the beginning.  With this project the level of change has yet to be determined and therefore needs a different approach. We envisage that this starts with co-design, which then leads to some overarching goals. Once the project goals begin to take shape we would expect a similar level of union involvement and engagement as previously experienced.

I note and understand the points UCU raise in this email and I assure you that the University will of course adhere to its recognition agreements and negotiate and consult where appropriate. The sole purpose for setting up a standing agenda item at our regular meetings, which was welcomed at the time, was to ensure a constant link between our meetings and communications and that of the overall project. As above, once Mandy and the project team identify and develop their thinking and approach, the mechanisms for effective communication and consultation will become clear for the various work streams across the project, which will of course include appropriate and meaningful consultation with the unions.

For now, I suggest that we keep communication lines open on FWOW within our regular meetings.

Best wishes,

Richard

Richard Middleton

Chief Operating Officer

—————————-

Thu 24/06/2021 13:11
To: Chief-Operating-Officer
 Mandy Fader

Dear Richard (cc Mandy),

Thank you for your recent communications in response to our enquiries about the Future Ways of Working project. Your most recent all-staff email (15/06/21) mentions a desire to proceed ‘to consider the longer-term change and support framework required around our people […] in discussion with our campus trades unions’. We have also received a response to our enquiry from Luke Kelly, indicating how you propose to proceed in this regard: to have ‘a standing agenda Item at our regular meetings to update and allow union input and discussion with project representatives’. We had the first of those updates at a meeting this morning (24/06/21).

We welcome the initiation of a project dedicated to thinking through future ways of working. However, we are concerned about the ways in which working with campus trade unions is referred to in these recent communications.  As I mentioned in the meeting this morning, the statements from University of Southampton do not seem to fully take into account the University of Southampton’s existing agreements with UCU which cover all matters affecting the terms and conditions of our members:

  1. A project dealing with future ways of working will inevitably, if it is to have any effect at all, impact upon our terms and conditions of employment. As I stated this morning, the University is obliged to negotiate with UCU on changes to terms and conditions of employment. UCU has a clear recognition agreement with University of Southampton, and it is established practice that University of Southampton negotiates terms and conditions of level 4+ staff with UCU.  We are concerned that no reference to these existing agreements is included your recent message.
  2. Luke Kelly’s email seems to indicate that making this project a ‘standing agenda item at our regular meetings to update and allow union input and discussion with project representative(s)’ is sufficient. This is not the case where changes to our ways of working are under consideration. We would draw your attention to the University’s prior practice in managing large projects of this kind. Prof. Fader, who we understand will be leading this project, will remember Project Wellington in 2018, in which the University consulted much more extensively with Trade Unions for its ‘Reshaping the University’ organisational change programme through a series of dedicated meetings. One standing item in the more informal setting of the regular TU meetings will clearly be inadequate to allow for meaningful consultation on the issues raised by such a project.
  3. We further note that the Future Ways of Working project has the potential to impact on the contracts of employment for some or all of the staff, for which University of Southampton recognises UCU as the sole agent for collective bargaining.  It is also a matter of record that the last significant change made by University of Southampton to contracts of employment in 2016 was negotiated and agreed with UCU.

We suggest that, if this is an important project, it is surely important enough for the University to convene a dedicated meeting with all three campus trade unions to discuss it, including setting out a schedule for dedicated consultation meetings with campus trade unions on matters that affect our terms and conditions of employment.

Any changes that may be proposed at the end of this process, will need to be tabled at a full meeting of the JJNC or JNC that is a part of our established employment relations processes.

Any agreement that UCU enters into that could amend the terms and conditions of our members’ employment will be subject to a full ballot of UCU members, before UCU can approve of any changes.  UCU has worked with University of Southampton on a series of large projects, in areas under which University of Southampton is obligated to negotiate with UCU.  The successful conclusion of these projects provides a clear demonstration that the university honouring its agreements with UCU should not prove to be an impediment to University of Southampton making changes to terms and conditions.

Can you please confirm that University of Southampton is happy to proceed on the basis that we have suggested?

We look forward to hearing from you.

With regards

Lucy Watson, President

Cuts to Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) Funding – response from senior management

At the UCU JNC meeting on 11 May we tabled a paper outlining our concerns about the cuts to ODA funding and the implications on research staff employed at the University.  Our initial letter and the response from Mark Spearing, VP Research and Enterprise can be found below.

 

3 June 2021

Dear UCU Colleagues

Thank you for your queries on the effect on the University of Southampton of the Government’s decision to reduce significantly the overseas development assistance funding that was directed through UKRI funding schemes such as the Global Challenges Research Fund and the Newton Fund, and the University’s response.  This is a very difficult situation and is still very much under discussion.  We only received the notification of our proposed allocations at 4.25 pm on Friday 28th May, and it will take a few more days to understand what these proposals actually mean in practice, and we will be continuing to work closely with our lead investigators at the University of Southampton to minimize the damage caused; although given the scale of the cuts this will be challenging.  The interaction with UKRI up to this point has been to help them understand the likely effect of the proposed cuts on the individual projects and to make the case, wherever possible for additional funding.  Everyone involved is aware of the very difficult decisions that this involves, and the consequences for staff and students at the University of Southampton as well as on valued partners in low and middle income countries, where the effects of these cuts are likely to be even more severe than they are here in the UK.

In response to your questions, see below:

Questions:

  1. What effects did these cuts to ODA/GCRF-funded projects have on staff at Southampton? The cuts have not been implemented yet, and now that we have recently received notice of our proposed allocations, we will be working with the Southampton investigators to minimize the effect. The overall reduction for fiscal year 2021/22 is from £3.0M across ten projects to £1.8M, against the original UKRI proposal of a reduction to £1.0M.
  1. What attempts did the University make to prioritise the protection of jobs?  We have been making every attempt to protect jobs and people in this process. This will continue to be the focus as we work through the implications of the revised allocations that we have just received.
  2. What is the estimated number of fixed-term contracts that will have to end early because of these cuts? It is too early to make this estimate as the proposed final allocations have only just been issued.  Although we should stress the overall impact will not be as severe as originally feared, but this will vary by individual project.
  3. Did the UoS conduct an Equality Impact Assessment? If so when will this be published? Since we have only just received the proposed allocations it would be premature to do this. Each investigator, on each of the ten projects will need to assess the equality impact, but also, importantly the longer term impact on our partners in LMICs.
  4. Has the University taken any steps to challenge these cuts? Why has there been no public discussion / leadership on this? We have been working very actively through our representative groups, particularly the Russell Group, and with our partners to challenge these cuts.  There has been considerable public debate on the matter, and Prof. Louise Richardson, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Oxford, spoke eloquently on the matter on behalf of the Russell Group on the Radio 4 Today programme, shortly after the initial announcement was made.  In my capacity as Vice-President for Research and Enterprise, I spoke directly to the Chief Executive of UKRI on the matter, on 25th March 2021,  to convey our collective dismay at the decision to make these cuts.  Along with the interventions of many others this has resulted in a significantly improved settlement from that which was originally proposed.   It is also important to note that at the same time there were also threats to the budget for the UK’s association in Horizon Europe, which is about six times the budget for ODA research, both nationally and for the University. It is a great relief that this budget seems to have been satisfactorily agreed.

Thank you for your suggestions of actions to take. See comments below.

  • More open consultation and discussion would have been helpful in the early stages. For example, it would have been useful for senior management to reach out to all PIs to discuss options early on in the process so that they could understand possible options and decide on priorities. I wrote, by email, twice, personally to every UoS PI.  Once when the overall scale of the cut was announced and a second time when the specific proposals for individual projects were known. The great majority responded directly, thanking me for making the effort to engage with them directly.  I spoke to several investigators via Teams following the second of these emails, at their request.  I have worked closely with the Associate Deans Research throughout, who have been liaising on a very close basis with the investigators. I am under no illusions as to how difficult this has been for all involved.  It is an unprecedented move by government and UKRI.
  • Communications could be clearer, and more compassionate, recognising the stress and uncertainty these staff are facing. In some communications it was announced that the University would support them, but it was not clear what this support would look like. I very much recognise this.  In all our communications we have aimed to make clear that we understand the levels of stress and uncertainty that this situation has caused.  We have tried to provide the greatest reassurance that we have been able to support, but given the uncertainties that still exist regarding the situation, we have been limited in terms of the assurance that can be provided.
  • The decision to not allow moving budgets between DA and DI was seen as extremely disappointing, especially as many other institutions have allowed this. Moving money from DA to DI could have saved some fixed term contracts for the upcoming year.

Unfortunately, this is not true.  It just shifts the problem from one part of the University to another.  Given the overall University financial situation and the additional costs incurred due to Covid mitigation, and a reduction in other income streams due to reduction in halls of residence revenues and international student fees, we are quite constrained in the actions we have been able to take.  We have applied some underspend on GCRF QR funding to the projects that have been particularly badly affected by the cuts, which has helped to mitigate their effect.  In talking to colleagues at our peer institutions the great majority have found themselves in a similar situation to us.

  • Finance needed to be better prepared to engage with PIs quickly. Some reported that finance were unable to meet with them until very close to the deadline, this caused a lot of additional anxiety and uncertainty.

I am aware that the initial response was requested very quickly by UKRI, with notification being issued in late March and a response being required by 17th April, with the Easter closure period constraining the time available to respond.  I understand the difficulties that this caused, but the timescale was not of our choosing and I know that colleagues in Finance were working very hard, with ADRs and colleagues in Research and Innovation Services to provide as accurate and timely a response as possible.

  • University management could have taken a proactive stance at contacting external partners to explain the situation, rather than leaving this responsibility to PIs.

We did discuss this, at an early stage, but felt that we needed to be guided by the PI’s who understood best the detail of the relationships.  Where they have guided us, we have followed up with higher level communications.  As a result of a meeting with the CEO of UKRI a cover letter was also provided from that organisation to explain the situation to our partners.

  • Reassure and ensure that these cuts do not have an impact on career trajectories: how will this time-consuming and demoralizing process be taken into account in future appraisals?

The effect of this, and many other extraordinary circumstances that have occurred over the past year, will very much be part of appraisal conversations over the coming year and beyond.  This is very much the point of having annual appraisals; they have a vital role in allowing the individual to articulate difficulties encountered and to reset expectations for the future.  We are also working to ensure that as the ERE promotion process resumes, that we make full and fair use of the existing provision for candidates to declare their particular circumstances and ensure that these are taken into account in promotion decisions.

I very much hope that the responses provided above address your concerns. I will be able to give a further report once we have worked through the consequences of the proposed settlement that UKRI informed us of last Friday.

In the meantime, should you wish to discuss further, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Yours faithfully

Mark Spearing

Vice-President, Research and Enterprise