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Equalities

UCU’s concerns about equality during the current (3rd) lockdown – response from management

Further to UCU’s meeting with Richard Middleton and Mark Spearing on 26 January to discuss our equality concerns about the impact of home working during this third lockdown, we have received the following response from the University.  We are pleased to note the commitment of management to address the valid concerns of our members.

“We recognise that some staff are in situations of real difficulty, in respect of their caring responsibilities in particular, which makes “attending” work problematic at some times of the day, on some days it can be difficult to attend work at all.  We also recognise that staff will want to  “be there” fully attentive for their children home-schooling, or for others for whom they are the carer.

We are working hard to find ways to communicate to all managers the University’s expectation that they will find ways to be flexible in their response to members of their team(s), whilst overall managing workload and delivery expectations and standards.

In 2020 during the first lock down we kept track of the use of the additional leave available for carers, and only 10% of the approximately 300 employees that used this form of leave used the full 10 days (or pro-rata) available to them. Generally the additional carers’ leave taken was well below that total.  We will on this occasion also monitor closely the use of this leave and respond accordingly, which could include reviewing and revising the total amount of additional carers’ leave available while schools are closed and parents are home-schooling, in particular.

We confirmed that if a person takes additional UNPAID leave then the saving from their salary not being paid is retained within the budget of their unit [i.e the most immediate organisational unit with devolved budgetary responsibility).  The key concern which can be clearly addressed is that the salary saving is NOT returned to a central University account.

We are committed to working with UCU, and have begun discussions, on our plans for ensuring that the impacts of Covid-19 are actively considered in all aspects of the promotion process, when it resumes, and in the years ahead”.

Richard Middleton

Chief Operating Officer

UCU equality concerns during the 3rd lockdown – correspondence with management

Email response received from Mark Spearing, 14/1/21, to UCU equality concerns during the 3rd lockdown.  Our initial email outlining the key issues can be found in the thread below.

I have read your email carefully, and appreciate the concerns that you articulate.  However, your assessment of the situation is not accurate, and in particular we have not changed our guidance and policies.   Our approach is exactly the same as it was for the first lockdown and period of school closure last March.  As the Vice-Chancellor made clear again last week, we understand and are very sympathetic to the challenges of juggling working from home with caring responsibilities. We encourage all staff, and particularly those with concerns such as those you raise, to talk to their line managers about their individual circumstances and needs, and we are encouraging – as the Vice-Chancellor did –  all line managers to allow staff, where possible, to manage their working life flexibly around their care obligations during this period of lockdown. We are equally conscious that it is not just those with school-age children who may be under pressure – others will have caring responsibilities for more vulnerable family members and friends, for others lockdown can be very isolating.

Regarding the particular questions that you raise, I do not believe that these are specifically EDI matters, although I recognise that there is an EDI component, so I would encourage you to raise them in the regular meetings with Richard.  If there are specific EDI issues, I would be happy to join you at one or more of these meetings.

My final comment, is that this is an exceptional time, and I feel very strongly that this requires us to work closely together and with understanding.  At the heart of this is looking after the people in the organisation, many of whom are your members.  I know that all members of UEB are committed to supporting our colleagues and mitigating the effects of Covid on them and our institution.   I think that it is very important that, as far as possible, we are working together to this goal, rather than in an adversarial fashion.  All decisions, including some of your suggestions, have consequences, which may have a negative consequence on staff.  Developing a shared understanding of the overall picture, including the financial aspects, was one of the key items we agreed when we developed our joint working charter in 2019.  I think that it is particularly important to keep this in mind at the moment.

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Email sent on 14 January 2021 to Mark Spearing, Executive Champion for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, cc’d to Richard Middleton, Chief Operating Officer.
Dear Mark 

We are writing to you in your role as the University’s Executive Champion for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. 

Southampton UCU are deeply concerned about the additional strain that the new lockdown will have on all staff. In particular, many of our members are once again combining work, family life, childcare and home-schooling. 

While we acknowledge that the University has increased the domestic leave to which staff with caring responsibilities are entitled, this is not sufficient, given the length of the current lockdown. The proposal of allowing staff flexible working hours, whereby they may be expected to work in the early mornings, late evenings and weekends, while home educating during the working week, is not physically or mentally sustainable. The alternative proposal of a temporary reduction in working hours is inequitable, as it transfers the costs of the pandemic onto individuals (it will have an impact not only on pay, but also on pension contributions, annual leave and other benefits).  

SUCU are disappointed that the positive and supportive line UEB sent out in the first lockdown, of ‘do what you can’, has now been replaced with ‘take unpaid leave and reduce your hours if you can’t manage’. Indeed, we are saddened that the University considers it appropriate to promote its voluntary salary-reducing measures to hard-pressed staff at such a difficult point in the pandemic. Asking parents and carers to take unpaid leave is insulting to their hard work and commitment throughout the duration of the pandemic, which has already involving the sacrifice of family time, rest, leave and research.  

Furthermore, many members are also reluctant to reduce their hours, as they realise this will have a knock-on effect on their colleagues, at a time when all staff are overloaded with work and struggling to stay afloat. We are at a time when people’s reserves are already low after the impact of the first two national lockdowns, and staff are beginning to feel the impact of recent staff departures via voluntary severance.  The approach therefore has serious implications for health, safety and wellbeing of all staff, not just parents and carers. 

Ultimately then, without adequate intervention this crisis will result in serious long-term and profoundly unequal detriment to the careers and prosperity of all staff who have caring responsibilities.  This impacts particularly although not exclusively on women.   

We would appreciate an urgent response to the following questions so we can share this information with our members: 

1.     Why is the University not offering a part-time furlough option for those with caring responsibilities, as other institutions are? (e.g. see the following policy from the University of Oxford– https://hr.admin.ox.ac.uk/the-job-retention-scheme) 

2.     If a member of staff chooses to temporarily reduce their hours, where will this money go? If we had a commitment that it would be used to bring in temporary replacements then some members may be more inclined to take up this offer. 

3.     Will UEB reconsider their policy of asking staff to take unpaid leave if they cannot manage with existing workloads due to parenting/caring commitments? Staff in this position are doing the best they can and should be able to continue to receive full pay. 

4.     Can UEB send a clear urgent message to all line managers that staff should be able to prioritise those aspects of work that are essential and set aside activities that are non-urgent? 

5.     We ask that UEB provide clear reassurance that the impacts of COVID-19 will not have a detrimental impact on career progression, we would like to see a clear plan on how these mitigating circumstances will be fully factored into future promotion rounds, and how the equality impacts will be monitored and transparently shared. 

We look forward to receiving your prompt response.

OPEN LETTER TO MUSIC STUDENTS ON UCU INDUSTRIAL ACTION – Southampton, 19 February 2020

Dear Music Students,

We, staff and PhD students in Music, are writing this letter to explain our position in the upcoming University and College Union industrial action. Many of us will be striking. Some will not, or not the whole time. All of us sympathise with what the UCU is asking for in the disputes, which involve 74 UK universities.

First, we know that this means trouble for you. None of us who are striking take this lightly. Indeed, we are not getting paid for the days we strike. We believe that strikes are a last resort. Unfortunately negotiations have not yet achieved a result that the UCU and its members feel they can accept, for themselves, for you and for the future of higher education in this country,

You recently received a communication from the university claiming that the strike is over “pay and pensions.” Actually it is about more than that:

  1. Casualisation. In our department most classroom teaching is still done by staff on full-time contracts. The national trend, however, is for universities to use more “casual” teaching staff on yearly, academic-year only or even zero-hours contracts, despite the introduction of £9K+ home and large increases to overseas student fees. The effect, especially on younger academics, has been impossibly high levels of stress. We know that some of our own graduates, top students who went on to do PhDs, now earn less than the “living wage” as lecturers at prestigious institutions.
  2. Workload. Compared to ten years ago, before the increases in fees, British universities spend less on people. There have been significant cuts to crucial front-line administrative staff and widespread hiring freezes. The result is more work for fewer workers. It is no surprise that academics and academic-related colleagues across the country are reporting record levels of stress, and increasingly stress-related illness. Most of us will tell you that the price of giving you the education you deserve is longer hours, frequently in excess of the 48 hours per week laid down by the European Working Time Directive, which remains British law. All of us want to do our very best by you, but the price is getting higher every year. Our working conditions are your learning conditions.
  3. Pay equality. At many British universities, including ours, there is a disgraceful gap in pay between men and women, and between White British colleagues and members of racial and ethnic minorities. At the University of Southampton across all subjects men earn 16% more than women on average. For years our employers have agreed with us that this is unacceptable–and not enough has changed. We demand action.
  4. Pay. Senior academics earn good money. But many of us did not find secure employment until we were older, and when we did we worked for low entry-level salaries. We accepted these conditions because we were deeply committed to our work, and knew that pay would improve with seniority. Yet in the past decade, since the increases in student fees, by conservative estimates our average pay has fallen 15% behind inflation, and behind compensation for similar work in the private sector. We ask that this loss be made up.
  5. Pensions. Academic pensions are attractive, roughly comparable to those of teachers or local government employees. But they are under pressure. In 2015 we accepted a significant decrease in our pensions to make them more affordable (we understand that people are living longer!). The result for all but the most senior of us was a substantial loss (£100s per month) in future pension income. In 2018 our employers tried to impose a “defined contribution” (instead of “defined benefit”) model, which would have resulted in losses of up to £1000 per month for mid-career and even more for junior colleagues. As a result there were strikes at many universities, including this one. These strikes ended when the employers withdrew their plans. They have yet to offer an acceptable alternative.

Some of us took action over all of these issues in November and December. Since then there has been some movement on casualisation, workload and equal pay. The UCU are happy that employers now recognise these as national issues, and have made specific suggestions to address them. But union negotiators cannot accept these without mechanisms of enforcement. On pay the offer currently on the table (1.8%) is not acceptable because it is below most measures of inflation and does nothing to address the many years of relative decline. Employers have made a series of alternative suggestions about pensions, but are refusing to agree to pay for what these would cost.

Negotiations are in a critical phase. Those of us who are going on strike do so because we believe that only pressure on employers will convince them to move the short distance that separates us. If they do, and the UCU accepts their offer, those of us who plan to strike will return to work immediately.

What you can do if you support us:

  • Write to the Vice Chancellor, Prof Mark E. Smith (emailvc@soton.ac.uk). Although he has not been here long most of us have experienced him as a friendly and open person. Let him know, politely, and in your own words, that you are on the side of your teachers and the staff who support your learning, and that you would like him to use his influence to end this long and draining dispute.
  • Talk to your friends and family. Educate yourselves and them about what is at stake here: your learning conditions, and those of the students who come after you.
  • Come out and support us. This Thursday, 20 February, Music staff will be picketing near Building 2 from 10-11 and then attending a rally in Jubilee Plaza. Show your support. Bring your instruments. Come and sing with us!

Yours sincerely,

 

Tom Irvine

David Bretherton

Dan Mar-Molinero

Valeria de Lucca

Ben Oliver

Richard Polfreman

Drew Crawford

Francesco Izzo

Mark Everist

Bastian Terraz

Matthew Shlomowitz

Jane Chapman

Diana Venegas

Kate Hawnt

Ryan Ross

Peter Falconer

Catherine Fabian

Jeanice Brooks

Anisha Netto

Clare Merivale

Gintaré Stankeviciute

David Alcock

Clarissa Brough

Mary-Jannet Leith

Jamie Howell

Andy Fisher

 

Counting the cost of casualisation

The current strike ballot on pay, workload, and equality highlights the problems faced by casualised staff. These could be staff on fixed-term contracts (like the vast majority of our early career researchers) or those on hourly-paid or zero-hours contracts, with staff working for a relatively small number of hours per semester (such as with some of our teaching (and other) staff).

A UCU survey from earlier this year prompted 67 responses from Southampton University staff (1.8% of total respondents). The report explored financial insecurity within this group, with respondents to the survey clearly reporting real problems resulting from the precariousness of their income – see tables below copied from the report.

About 60% of respondents have experienced problems with making ends meet, 40% with paying bills, and 30% with paying their rent.

Have you experienced any of the following issues as a result of your employment on insecure contracts? Numbers answering yes Percentage
Problems securing rented accommodation 571 28%
Problems paying rent 613 29.8%
Problems getting a loan 562 27.4%
Problems paying bills 828 40.3%
Problems making ends meet 1228 59.8%
Problems with VISA status 149 7.3%
Problems accessing or maintaining access to benefits 263 12.8%

 

Staff also reported high levels of stress – caused in part by financial insecurity but also by the nature of the work depending on the contract (such as not enough time to prepare, no dedicated workspace and so on).

On a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 = not stressful at all and 10 = extremely stressful, how stressful do you find working on an insecure contract?
  Numbers of responses Percentage of respondents
10 (extremely stressful) 649 24.6%
9 472 17.9%
8 682 25.9%
7 391 14.8%
6 163 6.2%
5 105 4%
4 46 1.7%
3 75 2.8%
2 22 0.8%
1 (not stressful) 33 1.3%

 

For the full report and all findings see Counting the costs of casualisation in higher education – Key findings of a survey June 2019.

Casualisation can mean insecurity, inability to progress and unfair disadvantage. Whilst short-term contracts are often embedded in current research funding models, the recent UCU survey showed that the large majority (97% of respondents) on a fixed-term contract would rather be on a permanent contract, while 80% of those who were hourly-paid would rather be on a contract that guaranteed them hours, even if it meant less flexibility.

The HESA figures for 2017/18 show that of the 2,995 academic staff in the University of Southampton, 1,235 are on fixed-term contracts. We do not have figures for how many are on hourly paid contracts locally. We would like to hear from members here about their experiences of casualised contracts, the impact on themselves, on colleagues and on students. Write in confidence direct to ucu@soton.ac.uk.

And in the context of the current ballot, we urge members to vote to end rising job insecurity.

 

Taking the PIP? Some concerns about appraisal, line management and performance improvement plans

We have had several requests for help from members related to distressing or difficult appraisal conversations, the use of Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs) and, sadly the return of ‘protected conversations’ where staff are encouraged to leave the University. We are especially concerned to hear that PIPs are being very badly used in some areas.

PIPs have received some very bad press:

If your boss really wanted to improve your performance, he or she would sit down with you and talk to you like a friend or a coach. They’d say, “Something is getting in your way on the job. Let’s figure it out! You are awesome and I know we can work through this.

Although a Pip is often presented as a tool to assist you in your performance, you should be under no illusions about its secondary purpose. If you don’t improve, it will give your employer evidence that they have followed correct procedure, otherwise they may be at risk of a claim for unfair dismissal.

Sadly it seems that sometimes PIPs are being introduced here in these very negative and damaging ways. We remind members that all staff at level 4 and above have additional employment protections and rights under our Statutes and Ordinances. Ordinance 3.6 referring to capability says that informal action may be taken to make staff aware of standards expected, and agree a way forward – “including supervision counselling or mentoring, It may include reviewing duties and responsibilities etc”. Importantly this should also include the provision of appropriate training or development opportunities.

It is our understanding that PIPs are being used as the informal stage of the capability procedure. Unfortunately in some areas, we know that these are being introduced in appraisal conversations in ways that members find unhelpful and distressing. Sometimes the appraisal is the first time a member of staff is alerted to a problem with their work or behaviour – this should not happen. We are clear that appraisal and capability procedures need to be kept separate (i.e appraisal must not be used as the informal part of the capability process). Moreover, good management is predicated on regular meetings and conversations, not a once a year form filling exercise, and managers should therefore be supporting their staff all year round.

PIPs, like appraisal, should not be a negative experience. Used well, a PIP may be a helpful part of a positive managerial relationship and can provide structure and support. But, if your manager genuinely wants your performance to improve, they should provide you with support to achieve the improvements. They should agree SMART objectives and a realistic timeframe. Managers should help you to identify a mentor and development opportunities to directly address the objectives within the PIP. The PIP should not interfere with your annual appraisal (for example being on a PIP should not mean that the staff member automatically scores as ‘unsatisfactory’ against their individual or global objectives).

Tips for engaging with PIPs
1. Is the assessment of performance correct? What is the evidence of poor behaviour or performance?
2. Is the PIP a well-structured plan for addressing problems? Are there SMART objectives (e.g. to draft a paper, submit a grant, to address a behaviour in meetings, but NOT actions that are outside the control of the individual e.g. to publish in a 4* journal, to win a grant of a pre-specified value).  We encourage members to note what is said in the meeting and document any conversations that you have with your line manager or HR about your PIP.  If you disagree with the objectives or comments you should raise your concerns with your line manager in writing.
3. Make sure you get proper training and the support to succeed – this may include workload reallocation, dedicated time, formal training, counselling, coaching and/or supervision.
4. Above all, ensure that a reasonable time frame is set to address the issues identified.

And for managers

5. Carefully check if there are personal or health issues that may be affecting the employee’s performance – managers need training in dealing with mental health and stress themselves and for the team members.

6. Seek guidance and support too – HR should review the plan with a focus on removing any bias against the employee. Managers need to be aware of gender and racial bias and how this can affect their interactions with staff. Insecure managers may feel threatened by some employees and PIPs should not be used in these situations.

7. Take care to inform the staff member that the PIP could lead to formal capability processes which in turn could lead to dismissal.  If you can, tell them how you plan to help them avoid this outcome.

Your branch casework team will review the current cases we have related to appraisal and PIPs and take our collective concerns to the senior management. If you are experiencing difficulties please contact Amanda.

No place for racism at our University

We are sad to have to use this blog to remind members about the distribution of potentially offensive/intimidating posters on our campuses. Our Estates and Security teams are aware of this and are doing their best to remove these.

Staff and students should not approach anyone seen distributing these posters, but should report this to Security on ext 22811 and email Diverse@soton.ac.uk with details. Please don’t attempt to remove the posters yourself.

These posters appear to be from Generation Identity, a far right and white nationalist movement. This movement and these posters have no place on our campuses.

The TUC developed the Migration Messaging project with Hope not Hate and Migrant Voice as a way to promote progressive messages which shift the blame for workplace and social problems away from migrant communities. Some of the case studies supporting the TUC work were taken from the campaign in Southampton against the screening of the Channel 4 documentary ‘Immigration Street’ in 2014, and some of our members were involved in this work. The appearance of vile posters on our campuses is a reminder that our community cannot and must not stop fighting racism. So please do let Security know if you see any of these posters around campus.

We also remind members that there is a stand up to racism march in London this Saturday 16th March linked to the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. 

Following the news on 15 March we have added the following link to the NEC statement on the New Zealand terror attack.

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International women’s day: when do women start working for free?

The theme of this year’s International Women’s day was ‘balance for better’. Here at the University of Southampton we still have a lot of balancing to do. The majority of our highest paid staff are men (62% of all staff in the upper quartile of pay).

UCU is holding the University to account to ensure that they take sufficient steps to eliminate the gender pay gap and to create a more diverse leadership team. (We note that research has suggested that quotas for diversity might be a way to ‘weed out incompetent men’ and this could be a strategy for a University where 75% of staff do not have confidence in a largely male senior management team).

For International Women’s Day your UCU reps hosted a stall on Highfield campus to highlight some of the work the branch is currently doing to fight gender inequality at the University. We asked people to take part in a quiz to ‘guess the date from which female staff will work for free?”

After lots of hard thinking, and some sneaky use of calculators, you cast your votes. The answer: this year women at University of Southampton will start working free from 18th October 2019.

The people we spoke with were shocked that our gender pay gap is so high (20.2%, which is above the average for the Higher Education sector), and wanted the University to have a stronger plan to tackle this pay gap, especially as other Universities appear to have made more progress in eliminating their gender pay gaps (e.g. University of Essex).

As we’ve previously noted, there seems to be a ‘glass ceiling’ or promotion bar for women at our University. Senior managers and HR have tried to overcome this by encouraging women to take up training courses to help improve their success rates at promotion. Underpinning such strategies is the idea that women need to change: they need to become bolder, more confident, more self-promotional, more career driven. Yet in order to ensure gender equality in our workplace we don’t need women to change, we need the institution to change. Gender inequality stems from workplace cultures that value over-work, competition and long working hours. Ideas of ‘excellence’, ‘esteem’, and ‘meritocracy’ are never neutral—they uphold values that are often associated with masculine ideals. UCU have been working hard to try and improve the appraisal process at the University, in order to create appraisals that give value to the demanding but de-valued roles that many women play in this institution—such as pastoral roles, mentoring, and other forms of emotional labour. Above all we need to change the culture here for everyone.

For International Women’s Day our University celebrated women who are ‘everyday superheroes’ ‘who hide in plain sight’. But women should not have to be superheroes to receive recognition or equal pay. Furthermore, UCU recognises that many of our everyday superheroes are on the most precarious contracts. Women make up 67.5% of those in the lowest quartile for pay and their over-representation on casualised, fixed-term contracts exacerbates gender inequalities.

 

Gender inequality cannot be addressed in isolation, it is entwined with other forms of discrimination about disability, race, trans, age, and class. Inequality can only be tackled by working together, all the more reason to join UCU in fighting for equality & better rights in the workplace!

International Women’s Day 2019 – our embarrassing gender pay gap

Visa concerns, and pushing back against the hostile environment

Southampton UCU has been responding to concerns from members this week about University communications with staff and students about the UKVI audit and visa status. We are well aware that many in our community are negatively affected by national policies on migration, as well as the Brexit process, and we have been urging senior managers to ensure that the University does not follow the Government’s ‘hostile environment’ agenda, or feed people’s stress and anxiety about these issues.

We asked the senior managers what the VC has done to support our international colleagues and students, and we were directed to the press statement from the Russell Group, and told that the VC has helped influence the debate through this group and UUK. We were also informed that “the VP International, Winnie Eley has plans to engage this issue systematically in the coming months as an integral part of our international strategy.” We welcome moves by the VC and senior managers to support our diverse community and remind members that UCU has teamed up with Thompsons Solicitors to publish this guidance for EU workers applying for settled status which explains the current legal rights of EU workers and how this might change post-Brexit.

It doesn’t mean we aren’t angry.

Members will have seen the result of the HE ballot, which saw a turnout of 41%, with a 70% vote in favour of a strike and 80% for action short of a strike (80.5%). The turnout was disappointingly short of 50% threshold required by the current legislation.

Our employers will no doubt be relieved that they will not be faced with strike action (some members may feel the same, especially those still paying debts incurred from the USS strike action this time last year).

But this does not mean that staff are not angry about the issues at the heart of the ballot.

Talking to members here we know just how furious staff are about successive below inflation pay rises (and the prospect of paying more for our USS pension despite the recommendations of the JEP). We share your outrage at the casualization of the sector. We too are infuriated with the failure of employers to take meaningful action to address inequalities. We also know how overloaded everyone is due to increasing workloads and performance expectations.

Staff here have sent a clear message, via the recent staff survey, to senior management about their dissatisfaction with their leadership of the University. Staff reported a lack of confidence, a lack of trust and a sense that the senior managers do not listen or respond to feedback. Over the past few years staff and students have also repeatedly spoken out against excessive pay at the top of our University. And in the recent ballot many staff here also voted for strike action over pay and equalities.

Our employers should take note.

The message from the national ballot is that a significant number of UCU members are very angry about Pay, Precarity, Inequalities and Workloads. Locally, the staff survey signals problems at the top of the University of Southampton.

This is a moment for the senior managers to show that they can listen and respond.

The University Executive Board could seize this opportunity to work with staff and students. They could stand with staff on Pay and defend our pensions. They could take meaningful action on equalities. They could work towards ending the over-use of casual contracts. They could tackle excessive workloads, presenteeism and bullying. We believe they should.