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November 19th, 2020:

Results of Southampton UCU survey of PGR and Hourly Paid staff

Southampton UCU surveyed PGR and hourly paid members from 26th October to 12 November 2020. In total, 38 postgraduate researchers (PGR) or hourly paid members responded to the survey. The purpose was to gather information on how our most precariously employed members have been affected by the pandemic and return to campus activities. We will use these responses in our negotiating meetings with management and to inform local UCU strategy moving forward.  The following document comprises a summary of the main findings and includes strong statements of dissatisfaction by casualised workers at the University of Southampton about their treatment during this time, summarised in the statement below.

“The University attitude towards PGRs has been cynical and reckless in this situation. We are taking much of the risk, and we’re even getting lower pay in real terms (before, 45-minute time slots, now 60-minute time slots for the same nominal hourly pay)”
Southampton PGR.

Effect of COVID-19 on work offered

We wanted to know how casualised members’ work allocation has been affected this year. In total, 74.36% of survey respondents have been offered work this semester. Of those offered work, all of the survey respondents accepted the work offered. When asked to explain the reasons behind this decision, the vast majority noted the need for money, to pay bills or secure their income during a period of uncertainty. Members also reported:

  • Needing the experience of teaching
  • Wanting to help out staff and students in their department
  • Feeling able to accept the work as it was mostly remote or virtual but wouldn’t have done so if it was in-person.

Two reported having to do teaching as part of studentship conditions. Of these, they were both undertaking in-person teaching, which raises further questions about the exploitative nature of these studentship contracts.

Question six focused on how the offer of work has been affected by the COVID-19 response. As the bar chart below shows, our members report a mixed impact.

 

In total, 38.24% have had less work offered than expected this year but 20.59% have had more work offered, meanwhile 41.18% have the same amount of work. Of those who had less work offered, the majority came from the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, but at least one respondent from each of the five faculties reported having less work. Meanwhile, of those offered more work these were almost entirely in the Faculty of Engineering and Physical sciences.

Of those who have had the same work offered, members reported being offered work very late. For example, one member wrote “I had originally been told that there was no teaching budget this year. It was only with a week’s notice that I was asked if I could teach on the module.”

Nature of work

We wanted to know whether PGRs and hourly paid staff are doing a disproportionate amount of in person teaching relative to their permanent counterparts. We also wanted to know how safe members felt doing in person teaching and whether their status as hourly paid workers affected this.

Overall, 81.4% reported their teaching was mostly online and only 3 respondents (11.11% of survey sample) had mostly in-person teaching.  On the whole, respondents reported they did feel safe to do in person teaching, though there were only 12 responses for this question as it was intended for those undertaking in-person work and not all respondents are.  Those who didn’t feel safe reported:

“There was no H&S Consultation with staff, we were not asked if we or our families belong to vulnerable groups, both hand sanitizers in the main corridor on Avenue campus are empty (the were there before Covid and they were also empty then),”

“The workshop doesn’t need to be delivered in person, and is supposed to be delivered in groups. But I will have to keep the students apart realistically. Would be easier to facilitate this on Teams given the current situation.”

One member who voted they did feel safe, commented “Perhaps safe is too much, but I cannot say I feel unsafe. I acknowledge the university has made an effort”. This captured the written responses, with members who reported feeling safe listing some of the measures taken by the university in connection with the specifics of the members teaching obligations. Reasons included:

  • The small number of students in the class
  • That the member was only teaching a limited number of seminars (2 in total)
  • The screen arrangements and wearing of facemasks
  • Good supply of PPE in a clinical environment

In response to question 12, 63.16% felt that in-person teaching has not been equally distributed across staff profiles at the university.

When asked to explain their answer, there was a mixed response. Members reported no consistency within the health and safety strategy of the university. Several members expressed frustration that PGRs are being asked to do the majority of in person teaching. One member stated pressure of PGRs to do the work and another stated:

“Absolutely not, at least in my faculty. A big part of the in-person teaching has been left to PGRs. Most academics have been comfortably teaching from home or even releasing pre-recorded stuff.”

However, a significant number of respondents said this didn’t know and an error of this question was not to include a “not sure” option. Additionally, some members interpreted this question as asking whether work as a whole had been allocated equally and expanded on question 6, discussing how casual workers have lost work during the pandemic and the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on them.

Health and safety

In total, 66.67% of respondents have registered for the Southampton COVID-19 testing program. Two members (9.52% respondents) were not aware of the scheme and five have not enrolled for another reason that was not specified. The majority report being registered under their student not staff status and 61.54% answered they did not feel the inclusion criteria adequately includes colleagues needing to be on campus.

When asked about the level of health and safety guidance hourly paid workers had received 57.14% reported they do not feel that have been offered the same level of health and safety guidance as permanent colleagues.

 

The reasons members gave for answering no to this question ranged from having no guidance at all sent on in-person teaching, to only receiving guidance via the graduate school after in-person teaching had already started. One member reports having to ask for information about in person teaching and when it was sent there was no training or guidance, just a generic risk assessment sent. Furthermore, unlike permanent colleagues who have had individual risk assessments, hourly paid members report not being asked if they have any health concerns or if they care for a vulnerable person. Consequently, hourly paid staff describe taking on a higher share of the risk than permanent colleagues. This is exacerbated by the lack of sick pay for casual workers, something we expand on below.

Concerns regarding health and safety guidance was not limited to in-person activities but also arrangements for working from home. Members report inadequate information on home working and no eligibility for equipment to support home working.

An error in the wording of this question was omitting an unsure or N/A option. Those who skipped this question report not being sure or not having enough information on what permanent staff have been told to make a judgement.

Finally, we asked members if they can self-isolate if required and asked members to explain their answer. 96.88% of respondents said they were able to and only one respondent said they weren’t. In their explanations members focused on the practical aspects of self-isolation such as whether they had friends who could deliver food. While it is positive the majority said they can self-isolate, we are still unsure whether the lack of sick pay means hourly paid workers will self-isolated if required to.

As one member said “If I become sick, I face financial hardship – there is no support scheme that I am aware of and I cannot claim sick pay”.

The issue of sick pay was discussed in our final question on what our members want UCU to fight for on their behalf. The majority of respondents want SUCU to fight for guaranteed sick pay for hourly paid workers.

Pay and workload concerns

We asked if members had anything else to add regarding COVID-19 and the University of Southampton. Members raised a number of significant issues regarding pay and workload as a result of the University of Southampton covid-19 response, which we discuss below.

On pay, respondents expressed multiple issues with pay which have been exacerbated by covid-19. The change in allocated teaching from 45 minutes to 1 hour has increased the amount of teaching time worked and preparation time needed with no increase in pay or hours of work claimable to reflect this change. Additionally, members report that online teaching takes longer to prepare, which has not been considered in the calculation for claimable preparation time. Some departments continue not to allocate preparation time for PGR demonstrators at all.

Members are also incurring additional costs as part of the move to online teaching, which they report being unable to claim back. For example, one member stated “I got myself an ethernet cable to help with connectivity, that cost an hour of my pay”. Finally, members reported having increasing pastoral and welfare roles with undergraduate students this year and they do not feel supported in this or paid for this additional workload. All this is compounded by the continued lack of paid training for PGRs and limited training opportunities for hourly paid staff. Those seeking to provide quality education in an online environment are spending a significant amount of unpaid labour hours learning and preparing for classes. Combined, this leaves PGR and hourly paid staff unsupported and undervalued as summarised by the comments below:

“We are all are highly educated and highly skilled workers, what we get is a third world hourly rate. It shows how little the Uni value us, although without us the whole system would collapse in a blink of a eye…”

“casual staff are the lowest of the low. So, I don’t expect the university, as an organisation, to do anything for me. The university only respects its permanent staff”.

“Overall it feels like the university management doesn’t care about us but neither does it care about the undergrads- surely everyone can see that being taught by a PGR with very little training, less than a weeks notice and who isn’t getting paid sufficient to cover all the prep time is not a good educational experience?”

 

Hourly paid members and PGRs also report feeling generally uninformed about critical departmental policies and decisions. This is hard when students ask questions and tutors have no idea on what to say. As one member commented:

“We feel really out of the loop. I have no real idea what is going on in the wider course or department decisions, the students come to us with questions and I have absolutely no idea because we are as much in the dark as them”.

All of the issues discussed in this report exacerbate feelings of anxiety and stress and poor communication from the university was discussed by respondents as a contributing factor to this.

Members expressed “I feel communication has been poor and we are expected to just “carry on as normal”.

“While the financial caution of the university is understandable, the response of freezing new hiring and the uncertainty around the number of students for deferred international programs makes it very difficult to feel secure about the fact that there will be work available at all. It does not feel that the university takes into account the stress that these circumstances cause for casual staff especially, or how difficult it is to plan your life around such circumstances”.

What hourly paid & PGRs want from their UCU branch

We asked members to tick which actions they want the Southampton UCU branch to prioritise out of five options. Of these:

  • 88% of respondents want SUCU to campaign for guaranteed sick pay for any isolating member of staff, casual or otherwise
  • 82% want all information on health and safety to go to casual workers, including PGRs (whether they teach or not).
  • 64% want SUCU to campaign for paid training for casual workers
  • 42% want SUCU to campaign for a review of workload for hourly paid staff considering the new timetable.
  • 33% want SUCU to set up regular meetings between PGRs and management

Other priorities identified by members include:

  • SUCU should campaign for more marking to be given to PGRS to make up for lost teaching time and pay which will also benefit permanent colleagues by alleviating workload.
  • In line with the decision of our Higher Education Sector conference, one member commented that “UCU must fight for PGRs to be classified as workers. This is the first and only priority. Once this is obtained, the rest comes almost automatically”.
  • Members also want us to review the workload for online teaching and marking, alongside the review of an extra 15 minutes of teaching time per class.  As one member wrote “this takes significantly more time to prepare and conduct than face-to-face teaching, however this is not at all acknowledged in the hours that are offered”.

What SUCU will ask from managers

  • UCU would like assurances that vulnerable staff, including PGRS and those on hourly paid contracts, are able to have individual risk assessments put in place, regardless of contract type.
  • UCU would like management to ensure that PGRs and hourly paid staff have the appropriate and necessary equipment to carry out their teaching. These essential staff members are some of the lowest paid on our campuses and should not be expected to finance this themselves.
  • UCU would like assurances that studentships are not being used to require some students to undertake in-person activity disproportionately, and that they are not being pressured into taking on teaching they would not do otherwise.
  • UCU asks that management commits to ensuring any hourly paid workers unable to teach in person or online due to sickness is guaranteed sick pay, for the protection of all and the financial security of our members.
  • UCU asks that management implement a workload review based on the substantial extra preparation time required for online teaching and the decision to increase teaching slots from 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  • UCU asks for recognition by senior management of the contribution hourly paid staff and PGRs make to the delivery of teaching and learning in the institution and a commitment to improving their terms and conditions of work.