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Position statement: COVID-19 Safe return to Campus

We write in our capacity as your branch executive committee to state that we do not feel that Southampton University has yet demonstrated a plan which is clear and comprehensive enough to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission on campus to a safe level. Since students mingle freely with the wider community on buses, in cafes, bars, shops and other public spaces, and since they often travel home at weekends, any increase in infections in University settings will quickly spread among the wider community.

We believe that the safest way to reopen our campuses is to follow the guidance of the Independent SAGE report and recommend that all teaching should be online by default, unless it can be demonstrated that in-person teaching is pedagogically essential. Our view is informed by the Independent SAGE report on universities (20 August), the BMJ editorial ‘Re-opening universities is high risk’ (1 September) and the SAGE paper on SARS-CoV-2 transmission in higher education (4 September) and recent research, discussed in WonkHE. from Bristol University. We also note Warwick UCU’s call to move teaching online (18 August), UCU’s national call on reopening campuses (29 August), the UCU event on reopening universities and colleges (1 September), UCU Fund the Future and internal statements we have seen from other unions. We have also taken account of moves towards all-online teaching provision next term at other universities, including St Andrews, QMUL, UCL and Birkbeck.

Following expert advice, UCU identified 5 tests that must be met to make a return to campus safe for staff and students. Our appraisal of Southampton’s status vis-a-vis these tests follows:

Test 1: Sustained reduction in numbers of Covid-19 cases and infection rates

Not met: Government statistics suggest that cases of Covid-19 in the UK are rising at a substantial rate, particularly amongst those aged 17-20. We appreciate the University has limited power to affect this national picture, but these facts affect the risk and our ability to mitigate it nonetheless. We are extremely concerned that bringing students back prematurely poses a significant risk not only to staff, but to these students, their families (some students commute and some frequently travel home) and the wider community in Southampton.

Test 2: Coherent planning for social distancing

Not met: The university has put in place various control measures to encourage social distancing such as community messaging, signage, one-way systems, additional communal spaces. However, these steps do not adequately reduce risk to a safe level.  There remains no way to make in-person teaching within a shared breathing space safe. We do not yet know what degree of adherence students will demonstrate to these guidelines, nor what the University will do in the event of non-compliance. Furthermore, it is inevitable that students will mix when they are off campus, meaning transmission on campus – particularly via asymptomatic students – is extremely likely. In particular, we cannot see a coherent rationale for the University’s refusal to make mask-wearing compulsory on campus (with the standard medical exemptions)

Test 3: Comprehensive testing and contact tracing

Partially met: We welcome the recent announcement about the use of saliva testing for staff and students and are proud to have colleagues who have worked to produce this testing method. We note, however, that this project does not follow the BMJ recommendations that testing should be mandatory. We understand that the university has limited scope to enforce this, but while testing remains voluntary, we are concerned about the level of uptake. Many uncertainties remain.  We believe that test results will be received via text message, but we do not yet know what steps will be taken once positive tests are returned to trace those who have been in contact with the testee. What plans are in place to support students and staff who need to self-isolate and how quickly these arrangements can be made? Until these questions are answered, it is our view that testing and tracing cannot be said to be ‘comprehensive’.

Test 4: University- wide strategies for safe returns and continuing health and safety

Partially met: In a recent letter written by Health and Safety representatives from UCU, Unison and Unite, which we published on our blog, significant concerns were raised around consultation. We remain concerned that expert advice from unions is not being sought or taken into account sufficiently in the university’s planning and that there are significant gaps in terms of planning for the future. For example, what are the university’s plans in the event of an outbreak? What action will be taken in case of an outbreak in student halls? What will be the trigger for a return to online teaching in all or part of the University? What steps are being taken to prevent a potential on-campus outbreak from becoming an all-Southampton outbreak, amplified through shared public transport systems and facilities such as cafés, bars and shops? Is air-borne contamination being taken into consideration and how is it mitigated?

Test 5: Protection for those most vulnerable to COVID-19

Not met: The UCU’s national position is that “Staff who are themselves more vulnerable to Covid-19, and staff who live with people at heightened risk, must not be required to work on campus.” Throughout the summer, Southampton UCU has raised concerns with senior management about clinically extremely vulnerable staff, vulnerable staff and staff who are living with or caring for vulnerable people. These discussions are ongoing. Senior management continue to reassure us that the health and wellbeing of staff and students is their main priority, but we have received reports  of vulnerable staff and staff living with vulnerable people whose requests to work from home have been declined or are still to be decided. We have advised members in this position to ask the University to reconsider or respond to their requests; unless and until we hear that all such requests have been granted, we cannot state that Test 5 has been met. Further, we reiterate that we cannot support the University’s current policy of requiring vulnerable staff who feel unable to return to campus to take unpaid leave in cases where the University has decided that they cannot work from home. We call on the University to grant staff in this position paid disability leave.  We are also concerned that the University has declined flexible working agreements for parents/carers who have faced considerable challenges finding childcare during the pandemic.

In addition to the five tests not being met in full, we have registered serious concerns regarding the safe return to on-campus working.  These are addressed in the joint trade union health and safety letter which was sent to the Chief Operating Officer on Monday 7th September and is published on the SUCU blog. We are happy to work with senior management to seek solutions to these issues, but time is now extremely tight, and unless sufficient progress is made in reducing the risks on campus, we do not feel able to recommend these plans to our members.

Southampton UCU Executive Committee

 

 

Motions passed at Extraordinary General Meeting 22nd July 2020

The branch held a well-attended Extraordinary General Meeting on Wednesday 22nd July at which the following motions were passed.

Local Branch Motion 1: Safety of colleagues, students, and visitors during the COVID-19 outbreak

This meeting notes the results of the openSAFELY study recently published in Nature:       https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2521-4_reference.pdf which convincingly show that the hazard associated with being aged over 50 outweighs almost all other risk factors; those of us over aged over 60 are at far greater risk than any other identified at-risk group.

We also note the current US CDC advice that, for example, people in their 50s are at higher risk for severe illness than people in their 40s.  https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/older-adults.html

We contrast this science  with current UK government advice which associates no age-related risk factor to being clinically extremely vulnerable and only places those over 70 in the clinically vulnerable group:
      https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-on-shielding-and-protecting-extremely-vulnerable-persons-from-covid-19/guidance-on-shielding-and-protecting-extremely-vulnerable-persons-from-covid-19
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/staying-alert-and-safe-social-distancing/staying-alert-and-safe-social-distancing-after-4-july

The meeting also notes that the university does not currently require the wearing of face coverings for the protection of colleagues, but will do so when the students return for AY 20–21:       https://www.southampton.ac.uk/~assets/doc/Safe%20at%20Southampton.pdf  Inappropriately, for such an essential piece of safety equipment, no standard for “face coverings” is specified by the university. The  correct standard is BS EN 14683 type I. These, as the standard says, are used “to reduce the risk of the spread of infections particularly in epidemic or pandemic situations”; they can “be effective in reducing the emission of infective agents from the nose and mouth of an asymptomatic carrier or a patient with clinical symptoms”. The same paper also shows that non-white ethnicity is another risk factor which must be taken into account by H&S planning.

In these circumstances it is essential that the university introduces safety measures guided by the science; this has now moved far ahead of the UK government.

This meeting instructs the UCU branch safety officer, executive committee, and negotiators to seek:

  1. That the university’s planning ensures that at-risk colleagues visitors and students, including everybody aged over fifty, are properly protected from COVID-19. Formal age-related risk assessments must be prepared and agreed with Trade Unions before anybody over fifty is required to attend the workplace.
  2. That all persons using indoor university spaces with multiple occupation (even if not simultaneous) be required to wear face coverings to BS EN 14683 type I or better, at all times (notwithstanding any disabilities or illnesses that may prevent mask wearing). Sufficient quantities of such masks must be made available to all staff, students and visitors to allow single-use wear.

Proposer: Denis Nicole                                                  Seconder: Roger Ingham

MOTION PASSED

Local Branch Motion 2: Protecting casualised workers

Casualised workers make up approximately 70% of researchers nationally in HE, and between 25-30% of the teaching staff in many Universities. Women and BAME colleagues are disproportionately more likely to be employed on a casual contract. Like everybody, casualised University workers are struggling with the global crisis brought on by COVID-19, and are particularly likely to see their contracts terminated, or their hourly paid work vanish. While this crisis continues, casualised staff members across the university—often the lowest paid on campus—must not be forgotten, and should receive guaranteed income along with permanent staff.

This branch recognises that:

  • Departments will need increased capacity as a result of the crisis, given potential illness of colleagues and the switch to remote working, making the work done by casualised staff even more essential.
  • The threatened loss of casualised staff would exacerbate existing workload issues for all staff, including permanent staff, which would also impact on their research capacity and career progression.
  • That the crisis has exacerbated conditions in an already troubled job market, resulting in the potential for ‘CV gaps’ to irrevocably damage the career prospects of current and recent PhD graduates.

We retain a preference for permanent, possibly fractionalised, contracts, and against fixed term and casual employment. While we strive towards these goals, we must protect existing casualised and fixed-term colleagues.

This branch calls on the University’s management to:

  • Transparently (i) disclose financial models upon which decisions about contract non-renewal are predicated, and (ii) ensure all other cost savings are properly explored before considering cuts to staff, including fixed-term and casualised staff.
  • Support the principle of extending the contracts of all fixed term staff for a minimum of two years and guarantee clarity for hourly-paid contracted hours
  • Guarantee that any proposed redundancies or cuts in casualised staff will not result in an increase in the already unmanageable workloads of permanent members of staff.
  • Protect access to paid teaching and demonstrating work for postgraduate students, ensuring that they receive adequate training and work experience.

This branch calls on members to:

Proposer: Lucy Watson                                                 Seconder: Eleanor Wilkinson

MOTION PASSED

Local Branch Motion 3:   Authorisation of a Branch Donation to the National UCU Fighting fund

This Branch notes the email received by Jo Grady, UCU General Secretary, on 3 July 2020 to ask for a Branch donation to help replenish the national fighting fund, and reduce the need to apply the levy to lower-paid UCU members in Further and Higher Education across the sector. As the General Secretary has emphasised, replenishing the fighting fund is important to honour Strike Pay commitments to members who took part in industrial action in support of the Four Fights and USS industrial disputes in February and March.

While the Branch is shocked that HEC chose to offer strike pay that UCU could not afford without a secret levy, whis must never happen again, n order to help reduce the burden of the levy on lower-paid members both at this Branch and across the sector this Branch proposes:

  • To change the rules of the local Hardship Fund to permit the fund to reimburse the levy charge to members earning below £30,000.
  • To make a one-off donation of £4,500 to the UCU national fighting fund from General Branch Funds.

Proposer: Marianne O’Doherty                                                                 Seconder: Lucy Watson

MOTION PASSED

 

 

 

 

Motions passed at General Meeting 10 March 2020

The branch recently held a wel- attended members’ meeting at which the following motions were passed:

Local branch motion: Covid-19 and Casualised Workers

SUCU notes the advice offered to staff and students on the University of Southampton COVID-19 information and guidance webpage though it urges the University to accelerate its rate of updates. However, SUCU is concerned about the financial impact on hourly paid staff and those on casual contracts who may not receive sick pay or paid leave to care for dependants in the event of sickness, quarantine or institutional closure. SUCU calls on the University to immediately clarify its policy towards its casual workers in the event of sickness, quarantine or institutional closure, and to offer parity of rights in terms of sick pay (from day one of isolation or sickness) and paid leave to care for dependants, across all staff. SUCU resolves to defend all staff from being pushed into financial hardship, or feeling unable to follow public health advice in the forthcoming period.

Proposer: Lucy Watson

Seconder: Megan de Bruin Mole

Passed unanimously

 

Local branch motion: Future of the dispute

This branch notes the sacrifices that members have made so far during this period of strike action over the Four Fights and USS dispute and thanks them sincerely. This branch also notes the support of students, the Southampton University Students’ Union (SUSU) and several student societies, and thanks them too. It also notes that UCU’s negotiators have made concrete proposals to employers’ representatives. This branch believes that our action so far has been effective in pushing employers (and the wider public) to take the Four Fights and USS disputes seriously. This branch believes that universities cannot be allowed to evade action on these problems any further, and that tangible and measurable commitments must be secured for our colleagues and the future of the sector. This branch resolves (i) to think creatively about how future action can be planned and targeted to have maximal impact, and to feedback this to national UCU; (ii) to encourage members to vote in favour of further industrial action in the re-balloting period, and (iii) to support the call for a National Education Demonstration to rally our forces and coordinate action – to be organised in conjunction with the National Education Union and any other education union, and the National Union of Students.

Proposer: Bea Gardner

Seconder: Claire Le Foll

Passed overwhelmingly

 

Motion for Congress: The Climate Emergency

Congress notes with gratitude the support of NUS, other student unions and societies in the Four Fights and USS disputes. Congress believes that UCU should build on its positive relationship with students by advocating for joint action on the most pressing issue of today: the climate emergency. It further believes that trade unions have a vital role to play in bringing about urgent climate action and a worker-led transition which is rooted in workers’ rights and social justice. Congress resolves to (i) pressure the senior management of Universities to make firm and binding commitments to meaningfully reduce the carbon footprint of Universities, to divest from carbon intensive businesses, and to record the climate impacts of their collaborative projects with businesses within their sustainability reporting. (ii) To continue UCU’s active support for the youth climate strikes taking place, building on the UCU’s work stoppage for earth strike, and calls upon other unions to do the same. Congress also supports the notion of working more closely with NGOs and environmental groups to exchange ideas and implement solutions.

Proposer: Lucy Watson

Seconder: Dario Carugo

Passed: Overwhelmingly

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

 

UCU meets V-C to discuss current strikes

Officers from Southampton UCU met on the morning of 8 January with Vice-Chancellor Professor Mark E. Smith and Anne-Marie Sitton, Executive Director of Human Resources to hand over our petition (of 1242 signatures), asking for a proper settlement on the current pension and pay disputes. During a 45-minute meeting we discussed a range of issues relating to the ongoing industrial action, including casualisation/precarity, workload, and the Joint Independent Panel (JEP) reports. From SUCU’s perspective, the meeting was positive and productive. The VC and Exec Director of HR indicated willingness to consider a range of options for tackling casualisation and excessive workloads, and there was a clear recognition on the part of the VC that you as members had communicated to him on the picket lines that these issues need to be a priority. Both were open to address staff concerns. They are open to exploring ways of replacing future fixed-term contracts of more than two years with permanent contracts (triggering redundancy when the funding ends) and turning zero-hours contracts into permanent contracts with annualised hours, reviewed annually.

While we were not able to cover all aspects of the dispute within the time available, we took the opportunity to ask for the VC’s views on the JEP 1 and 2 reports. Speaking in a personal capacity, Prof. Smith indicated general agreement with the main recommendations of JEP 2, as well as recognising the importance to UCU and to the sustainability of the scheme of keeping individual members’ contributions to affordable levels. He has also agreed to take the issue of the University’s position on JEP 2 to University Executive Board very soon once an analysis and paper could be prepared. SUCU hopes that this will lead to a public statement of commitment to its aims on the part of the University. We also hope that the VC will take the concrete ideas discussed at the meeting to inform national discussions, in his capacity as chair of UCEA.

SUCU looks forward to further constructive engagements with Senior Managers to help turn these positive aspirations into concrete actions.

 

Campaigns Officer Dr Claire Le Foll hands SUCU’s petition for action on pay and pensions to Vice-Chancellor Prof. Mark E. Smith.

 

 

You can read more about the HE disputes on USS here and Pay & Working conditions here , and via the UCU Twitter account.

The case for climate action

Guest blog from Dr. Philip Goodwin, Associate Professor in Earth Systems Dynamics,  School of Ocean and Earth Sciences.

 

As a scientist working in the field of climate change and the carbon cycle, I believe strongly that urgent action is needed.

The truth is, climate change is not a new problem. People have known about the potential for human-caused changes in Earth’s climate for a very long time. The ability of different greenhouse gasses to trap heat was measured back in the 1850s and 1860s. It was quickly realised that if the atmosphere held more of a particular greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, then the climate would be generally warmer.

People have also known that burning fossil fuels, and clearing and burning forests, releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been measured continuously since the late 1950s. By the late 1970s it was obvious that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was going up year-after-year, and that human emissions were the cause. Measurements now show that carbon dioxide levels are rising ever faster, because each year more fossil fuels are burnt and more forests are cleared.

A big problem with carbon dioxide is that it is difficult to remove from the atmosphere once it has been put there. Some of the carbon dioxide we emit goes into the ocean, and some gets taken up by land, but the rest will stay in the atmosphere keeping the Earth’s climate warmer than it would be naturally for thousands of years.

Daily temperature records at many locations across the globe have been taken for a long time, with a number of records going back as far as the 1850s. Different teams around the world have looked at the available temperature measurements, and all have agreed on what they mean for Earth’s average surface temperature: so far, temperatures are around 1 degree Centigrade warmer than they were in the late 1800s. The only way we can explain this 1 degree warming is by considering the impacts humans have had on the atmosphere, principally the increase in carbon dioxide.

If nothing is done to limit fossil fuel use and the clearing of forests, then the further increases in carbon dioxide are due to cause Earth’s temperatures to rise by another 3 or 4 degrees Centigrade by the end of this century. Such additional warming would have drastic and devastating consequences. To avoid the most serios consequences of man-made climate change, most of the world’s nations have already signed up to keeping global temperatures less than 2 degrees warmer than it would naturally be, and take steps to achieve just 1.5 degrees warming.

All this shows why it is so important to act quickly now, and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide we emit every year. The less carbon we emit now, the less warming future generations will have to cope with. Eventually, to stop climate warming further, we will have to live in a completely carbon-neutral society.

The more quickly we can achieve a carbon-neutral society, and phase out fossil fuels altogether, the less warming future generations will face. Urgent and significant action is now required: to stop warming going above 1.5 degrees Centigrade, assuming we start emissions reductions now, we will need to reach a carbon-neutral society by the year 2050.

All the information needed to make good decisions for our future climate is out there, and has been for a long time. This is an urgent problem that is only going to get worse unless good decisions are made, both on individual and governmental levels. This is why I am keen to see meaningful action on climate – now.

 

 

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.

 

20th September – support the climate strike

If you can, please come along to the rally at the Jubilee Plaza, Highfield Campus from 12pm on Friday 20th September. Bring with you placards/ posters and other messages of support if you want to.

If you cannot attend but want to offer your support you can use the national hashtag #climatestrike and #UCUclimatesolidarity, making sure you copy in @southamptonUCU and @Unisouthampton so we can circulate your message. We are pleased that the University management is supporting the rally and they are extending the invitation to all staff to attend.

We are also encouraging people to respond to the following two statements, outlining the individual and collective changes you want to see relating to the environmental impact of the university.

  1. I pledge to…
  2. I call on the university to…

You can either share your ideas at the rally or tweet/ email us using the details above. Given this is a rally related to the environment, we encourage people to be creative with their use of materials for placards and suggestions, using recycled paper and materials where you can.

Why are we doing this?

We are organising the rally to pledge our support for the Climate Strike and the young strikers taking action against climate injustice. We also hope the rally provides an opportunity for us to come together as a university community to confirm our commitment to reducing our impact on the climate and we are pleased that the university and other campus trade unions are joining with us for this important event.

Since February, millions of students across the globe have been striking from school and college to protest climate injustice. Their action has contributed to governments across the world declaring a climate emergency. Yet, without sustained effort, such declarations will not be enough. Global temperature rise will pass a dangerous tipping point within the lifetime of young people alive today if action to halt climate change isn’t taken – we are running out of time. So, to keep up the pressure on leaders, young strikers have appealed to the trade union movement to support them in their struggle, with 20 September the given date for this action to take place.  You can read more about UCU’s approach nationally here and the Youth Strike4 Climate campaign here.

Future plans

This is the first action we have organised of this kind, so it is just the start. We will work in partnership with the other campus trade unions, students and the wider staff body to develop proposals that can move us closer to meeting our commitments to the environment. If you would like to be involved in this ongoing campaign work, let us know.

 

 

The Dinosaur is extinct, but Solidarity is forever.

The Dinosaur of Solidarity (@of_dinosaur) was a surprising, joyful, hugely inflated, creation, born out of, and in, the strike to defend our pensions in 2018.

Just typing these words feels like a lifetime ago.

The Dinosaur has been ‘mostly sleeping’ since the strike ended, but it is with sadness that we announce today that we will be deleting the Twitter account and that the Dinosaur Of Solidarity will make her last appearance at the Southampton UCU summer celebration on 20th June.

For those that don’t know, the idea for the Dinosaur of Solidarity came from a joke started by our former UCU Branch President, Laurie Stras. Laurie was recovering from a serious operation over the early months of 2018, leaving me in the Presidential hot seat to oversee the strike. Her surgeon advised her to restrict her arm movements, with the suggestion that she should ‘think T-Rex – teeny tiny arms’; the rest, as they say, is history.

A package arrived at the Southampton UCU office, containing a gigantic inflatable dinosaur suit, and a plan was hatched to use this to rally the strikers, and to have a bit of fun. Members of the branch exec set up a Twitter account with the loose aim of supporting the strike. We naively imagined a few of our 1000+ strong membership might engage with the account and that it might inject some humour into our information sharing.

During the strike the ‘live’ dinosaur addressed the assembled pickets across our campuses, each day, usually providing an update on the pension negotiations, and sometimes instigating dancing or call and response chanting. Alongside this our ‘DoS social media team’ put out Twitter updates, some factual, but many simply dreadful puns or satirical comments. Expertise in the team meant we had some great photos, video clips and an unexpected wealth of knowledge relating to palaeontology (oh, the things you find out about your colleagues when you actually have time to talk to them). We also had the benefit of humorous responses to our tweets, which kept our spirits high.

Inspired by the LadyBird Books for Grown Ups that filled stockings everywhere over the preceding Christmas, I found an old Ladybird book, and in the evenings, after strike planning, picketing, rallies and attending teach outs, the Ed the Badger book was created as a Twitter meme. The text accompanying the 1950s illustrations of mice and woodland creatures was tried out on the social media team; if they laughed it went out. Again this was simply an attempt to keep our spirits high through the campaign. One of my most joyful memories in the strike was sitting upstairs in union house, pressing the Tweet button, and hearing the ping ping ping ping as people liked and retweeted the book pages.

The strike was hard. We were a small local team, few of us had experience of major strike action.

It was cold. It snowed. It rained. People were angry about their pensions.

Our local management were very much aligned with UUK, and unsupportive. But the strike held. We had pickets across campuses, some in venues that had never had a picket before. We had the largest and longest supported industrial action in the history of the branch. And the Dinosaur was part of that. She was shared with a few thousand people on Twitter, and encouraged some fabulous imitations (Picketing Panda became a friend) but above all she was ours, she belonged to Southampton UCU. The branch activists were clear that she was there to amplify the messages about the strike, and to boost morale. She did her best to do just that.

Behind the scenes the DinoTeam learnt on the job. Sometimes we made mistakes – learning quickly that we should read to the end and view all videos before ReTweeting, for example. Occasionally the tone of a Tweet or a comment at a rally was wrong. We apologised, amended and tried to do better. We talked as a team about how best to use the Twitter account and what was ‘allowed’ and what did not feel right. I will always have positive memories of this time because we were the union and the university at its best, we were a learning collective working for and with each other, acting with integrity, and with joy.

In the months that followed the strike, the EC lost several members, including two of the three members of the DinoTeam. I stepped into the President role. Meanwhile the Dino slumbered, and there was less room for comic interludes as the branch dealt with rising casework, severances, the VC’s early retirement and the fallout from a devastating staff survey.

We are aware of other branches where UCU members have been subject to victimization for posts made on social media in periods of strike action. Recently a Times Higher editorial criticised ‘trolling’ of University managers by parody social media accounts, claiming that these undermined the sector. These events and discussions remind us that words and ideas are powerful, and can serve multiple interests, and so need to be used with care. Latterly a disturbing parody of the parody emerged as a ‘fake dino’ Twitter account began injecting negativity into the General Secretary election campaign. This was not associated with anyone involved with the Southampton @of_dinosaur team and was, we felt, an extremely unhelpful intervention in an important democratic process.

At a branch executive in May we discussed the closure of the @of_dinosaur account and the ‘death’ of the Dinosaur of Solidarity. This decision was linked to my own departure from the University. Branch executive members agreed that the Dinosaur had been a marvellous vehicle for ideas and humour in the strike but that the responsibility for the Twitter account and the ‘creation’ could not easily be transferred. In the event of a future strike or action new approaches would be needed, and these would necessarily be supported by a new team.

The departure of the Dinosaur is tinged with my personal sadness at leaving the University of Southampton, and the local branch after 16 years, but I am proud of what we achieved in the strike and of the part that @of_dinosaur played in our success.

News last week from USS indicates that we have more to do defending pensions, but also on pay, fighting for equality, job security and better workloads. The work continues and will go on. I am leaving the branch in strong capable hands. The next generation of activists and volunteers will take us forward without the Dinosaur. And that feels right. The Dinosaur understood extinction from the start. Together we were always clear that it was the living mammals that mattered.

RIP The Dinosaur of Solidarity (@of_Dinosaur).
Years active, 2018-2019.
T-Rex, UCU member, humourist, and defender of USS pensions.

General Secretary elections #1 – we put member’s questions to Matt Waddup

We’ve asked all three candidates to answer questions posted by members. Matt has responded and we are sharing his answers with you. More to follow from the other 2 candidates Jo Grady and Jo McNeill – so please bookmark our blog.

Matt Waddup’s responses to our questions

We don’t doubt your passion for defending Post-16 education but can you give us 3 top reasons why our members, in a large pre-92 Russell Group university should vote for you.

1. I have nearly thirty years experience with RMT and now UCU in representing members at the highest level to employers, politicians and media.
2. I have a track record of organising successful campaigns, latest example being the successful USS action which saved the average member more than £200k in otherwise lost retirement income.
3. I have expanded UCU’s policy influence substantially, eg. our research on issues like TEF, admissions, academic freedom, casualisation etc. This was recognised by my appointment as a commissioner on Labour’s Lifelong Learning Commission.

How will you engage a largely non-activist membership such as ours?

I believe this is the key challenge facing UCU. In the USS dispute we engaged with members because we were fighting for something tangible. Subsequent pay campaigns have by contrast been ill defined and less people have voted – a signal that the union needs to rethink. In my view we need to consult widely, including with those who currently don’t vote or participate about what they want the union to prioritise.

UCU is a large national organization with 200 staff, volunteer activists and a large perhaps less actively engaged membership. What skills/experience you have that will get the best from each of these three groups (paid staff, activists and wider membership)?

UCU is a great union with talented staff, brilliant activists and engaged members. We are at our best when the three groups work in synch rather than independently of each other. I have a great deal of experience of managing a very large team within UCU and of working with activists across the political spectrum. I have also shown that I can construct campaigns (such as USS) which capture the imagination of less active members.

What is your view of internal factions and sub-groupings within our union, and what will you do to unite our membership?

I am not a member or supporter of any faction or group within UCU. I was nominated by members who previously supported both the UCU Left candidate and Sally Hunt! I think factional politics has been very damaging to UCU, not least because the trivial arguments it engenders hinder the strategic discussion we need to have as a union about our future priorities.

What do you plan to do about unsustainable workloads in HE?

UCU needs to develop a coherent critique of the exploitative employment model at the heart of higher education which institutionalises work overload, inequality and precarity and depresses pay. From here we can formulate clear demands on workload – derived from members’ actual experience – to progress with each employer. To achieve these demands we will need to shift resources into our branches. There is no alternative to this kind of strategic approach – if we keep hitting the repeat button we will get the same results.

How will you tackle centralisation and lack of democratic processes in the University governance?

The breakdown in governance is a key factor in the managerialist agenda taking hold in universities. The managerialism project I am currently running in Education Committee brings together academics with experience of winning positive changes to governance including at DMU and Bath. Both these examples show that staff need to build alliances within the university itself and the side community in support of change. The idea of the project is to produce practical resistance strategies that can be used by branches.

Considering the constraints imposed by the anti-TU legislation, what is your preferred industrial action strategy?

When UCU balloted members on USS last April 63% registered a vote. In the last pay ballot that had shrunk to 42%. My view is that if we want USS style wins on workload, casualisation and pay inequality we need USS style planning and organisation. That means seeking members’ support for action only once we have consulted them properly over what they want; formulated a clear demand, explained what will be required and from members to get there. If we focus on those objectives we will get to the 50pc turnout required by the dreadful trade union act. If we don’t, we won’t.