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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

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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

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