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September, 2021:

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 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: 


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 ( 

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


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