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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





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