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Southampton UCU General Meeting – 12th March 2024

The following two motions were passed at our quorate Branch General Meeting on 12th March 2024. In addition, a third motion, ‘British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP) Motion’, was voted on but was lost.

Affordable and Equitable Industrial Action (IA)

[Previously passed at our 2023 AGM for submission to an anticipated HE Special Sector Conference that did not take place, this motion was again presented to members so that they could approve its submission to the HE Conference that forms part of the 2024 UCU Congress.]

Conference notes that:

  • In the 2022-23 pay dispute, UCU called more days of strike action than any other UK trade union;
  • UCU confirmed limited financial compensation for punitive deductions a month after the MAB commenced;
  • Lengthy, uncompensated or partially compensated IA disproportionately affects staff on part-time and fixed-term contracts, more likely to be women and ethnic minorities;
  • The unsustainable cost of lengthy periods of IA creates a risk of disengagement among members.

Conference resolves that:

  • UCU commits to conduct an affordability assessment before calls for IA, assessing the likely cost of proposed action to members and support available from the strike fund, and to circulate it to branches;
  • UCU commits to conduct an equality impact assessment before calling IA and to plan mitigations against any disproportionate impacts on specific groups;
  • HEC must consider the outcomes of affordability and equality assessments when calling IA.

For: 38 
Against: 0
Abstain: 4

Motion carried.

Gaza Humanitarian Donations

Southampton UCU Branch expresses its deep concern at the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and resolves:

  1. To donate £1,500 from branch funds to the Friends of Birzeit University (Fobzu) (https://fobzu.org/donate/), and to invite members to consider making a personal donation if they can afford to do so.
  2. To donate £1,500 from branch funds to the Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) emergency appeal (https://www.map.org.uk/donate/donation-details/484), and to invite members to consider making a personal donation if they can afford to do so.

For: 19
Against: 14
Abstain: 9

Motion carried.

Summary of reasons for proposed local disputes

Southampton UCU is currently consulting members about entering formal disputes with the University of Southampton on two separate matters, as summarised below.

Proposed dispute over Modernising the Governance changes

  • This relates to changes to the University Charter, governance and employment procedures (e.g. disciplinary, grievance, capability, redundancy etc.) that were imposed on all staff on 1 August 2023, against the objections of 2 of the 3 campus trade unions.
  • Southampton UCU has the following concerns:
    – The changes weaken protections for academic freedom by removing references to international standards. This coincides with a rise in members’ concern about the suppression of academic freedom for political, financial and recruitment reasons.
    –  The changes generally (i) remove council oversight of decisions taken using various employment procedures, and (ii) lower the seniority of managers who may be in a position of taking decisions that could have considerable consequences for the staff concerned.
    – Timescales. There is no firm commitment to ensure that e.g. disciplinaries and grievances are handled in a timely manner. There are insufficient safeguards to ensure that staff subject to procedures have enough time to access union advice (bearing in mind the caseworker shortage at Southampton).

Proposed dispute over Marking and Assessment Boycott (MAB) Grievances

  • This proposed dispute IS NOT about whether you agreed with the UCU’s decision to hold a MAB, it IS NOT about whether you participated in the MAB, and it IS NOT about whether you think the pay deductions that the University applied to staff participating in the MAB were fair or unfair.
  • This proposed dispute IS about whether you believe a member of staff submitting a grievance has a right to have that grievance heard, as employment law requires.
  • The University of Southampton has refused to hear MAB-related grievances that have been submitted by UCU members. Southampton UCU considers this to be a clear breach of members’ legal rights under the ACAS Code of Practice.
  • This sets a very dangerous precedent that could have an enormously detrimental impact on the employment rights of all staff at the University of Southampton.

Consultation Questions and Branch Executive Committee Recommendations

  • Question 1 asks members if they would like to enter a formal dispute over the Modernising the Governance Changes. The Branch Executive Committee advises members to vote ‘yes’.
  • Question 2 asks members what action they would like the Branch to take if members vote to enter a formal dispute over the Modernising the Governance Changes.
  • Question 3 asks members if they would like to enter a formal dispute over the University’s refusal to hear MAB grievances. The Branch Executive Committee advises members to vote ‘yes’.
  • Question 4 asks members what action they would like the Branch to take if members vote to enter a formal dispute over the University’s refusal to hear MAB grievances.

NB1: The Branch has explored all available options to avoid entering a dispute on these matters, but we now have no other option but to ask members to vote to enter formal disputes.

NB2: This consultation is not a vote for industrial action, and a ‘yes’ vote does not authorise industrial action.

Further details about the dispute can be found at https://southampton.web.ucu.org.uk/2023/12/20/southampton-ucu-local-disputes-online-consultation-2023-24/.

Southampton UCU – Local Disputes Online Consultation 2023-24

For members’ reference, we reproduce below the information included in the virtual ‘enclosure’ that accompanies the Branch’s Online Consultation on entering local disputes about (1) the University’s imposition of ‘Modernising the Governance’ changes and (2) the University’s refusal to hear MAB Grievances. Members are presented with this information after clicking the voting link and before reaching the voting page. We also include the questions that have been put to members.

Members will already have received emails advising them how to vote using UCU’s secure online consultation platform, including our email to members of 20/12/2023, which includes information on what to do if you have not received your individual voting link. If there are any problems, please get in touch with the branch office.

Voting closes at 4pm on Wednesday 17th January 2024.

Enclosure: Consultation on Southampton UCU Local Disputes

Overview

Southampton UCU Branch Executive Committee is consulting with UCU members about two issues of importance:

  1. The imposition by the University of Southampton of changes to the Charter, Ordinances, and many of its Employment Procedures, in a project known as ‘Modernising the Governance’.
  2. The failure of the University of Southampton to consider grievances submitted by staff on issues arising from the Marking and Assessment Boycott (MAB).

We are asking Southampton UCU members whether the Branch should enter a formal local dispute with the University of Southampton in relation to either of the above issues, and what action they would support if the Branch were to enter such a dispute(s).

This online consultation comprises four questions. In Question 1, the Southampton UCU Branch Executive Committee seeks members’ permission to enter a formal dispute with the University of Southampton, over the changes that it imposed on members following its ‘Modernising the Governance’ project, and in Question 2 we ask members to indicate what action they would like the Branch and its members to take if a dispute is entered over this matter. Similarly, in Question 3, the Southampton UCU Branch Executive Committee seeks members’ permission to enter a formal dispute with the University of Southampton over its refusal to hear grievances filed by our members about issues arising from the Marking and Assessment Boycott (MAB), and in Question 4 we ask members to indicate what action they would like the Branch and its members to take if a dispute is entered over this matter. Further context for these proposed disputes is provided below.

The outcome of Questions 1 and 3 will be announced as soon as is practicable following the close of the online consultation at 4pm on Wednesday 17th January 2024. For strategic reasons, we do not plan to publicly announce the results of Questions 2 and 4. Any dispute(s) entered as a result of this consultation will be managed by the Southampton UCU branch. If members vote to enter a dispute on either matter, the Branch Executive Committee will immediately call a meeting to discuss the result, and throughout any dispute(s) we will regularly consult and be instructed by our members.

Note that this vote is not a ballot for industrial action (strike, action short of strike, etc.), but an online consultation about entering formal dispute(s). We are not yet at the point where we believe it is necessary to hold a ballot for industrial action and hope that any dispute(s) authorised by our members can be resolved without this being necessary.

Modernising the Governance

During the academic years 2021-22 and 2022-23, the University of Southampton undertook a major project, which it called ‘Modernising the Governance’. This project involved removing the University’s Statutes and re-writing its Charter, Ordinances, and many of its Employment Procedures (for example, its Grievance, Disciplinary, Capability and Redundancy Procedures). As provided for by our recognition agreement with the University, Southampton UCU were consulted on these changes, and during intensive and detailed discussions our negotiators secured some improvements to the proposals on behalf of members. Ultimately, however, in an eBallot held during May 2023, and on the advice of our negotiators, 87% of Southampton UCU members who voted decided to reject the University’s ‘Modernising the Governance’ changes.

On 14 June 2023, a Branch AGM passed a motion reiterating members’ rejection of the changes and calling on the Branch Executive Committee to ballot members on entering a formal dispute. In a meeting with the Vice-Chancellor on 4 July 2023, the Branch President set out a proposal for further negotiations, but this was rejected by the University. The University then imposed the ‘Modernising the Governance’ changes on staff on 1 August 2023. Branch representatives again raised members’ rejection of these changes at a Joint Negotiating Committee meeting with senior managers on 12 October 2023, but were advised that the University’s position remains unchanged.

Detailed guidance setting out why our negotiators advised members to reject the proposals in the May 2023 ballot can be found at https://southampton.web.ucu.org.uk/2023/05/09/2723/. We continue to have the following principal concerns about the ‘Modernising the Governance’ changes:

  1. Academic Freedom. With the loss of the Statutes, all reference to international standards of academic freedom has been removed from the University’s governance documents. This coincides with a rise in members’ concerns about the suppression of academic freedom for political, financial and recruitment reasons.
  2. Loss of Independent Oversight in Employment Procedures. Oversight by independent Council members has been almost entirely removed from the Employment Procedures, and they now allow for decisions to be made by less senior staff than in the previous set of procedures. The imposition of these changes appears to have coincided with an increase in casework, unrelated to the MAB, relating to overbearing management.
  3. Procedure Timescales. The University has refused to commit itself to time limits in its Employment Procedures. We are deeply concerned by the length of time that it often takes to get outcomes for members with their employment-related issues, particularly given the impact that the delays and resulting uncertainty can have on their wellbeing. Conversely, we are also now seeing rushed disciplinary investigations or meetings called at short notice, for which members subject to these procedures have insufficient time to get UCU support.

Having exhausted all other options and given the University every opportunity to re-enter negotiations, we now have no choice but to ask all members to vote to enter a dispute over the imposition of the ‘Modernising the Governance’ changes. It is a matter of grave concern to the Branch Executive Committee that staff at the University of Southampton do not enjoy the protection of union-agreed procedures (including Disciplinary, Grievance, Capability and Redundancy Procedures), and, further, that the University has diluted Academic Freedom protections at a time when academics are increasingly under attack from the UK Government and sections of the UK media.

Recommendation: The Executive Committee advises members to vote ‘Yes’ to Question 1 to authorise the Branch to enter a formal dispute with the University in relation to the ‘Modernising the Governance’ changes. Question 2 is consultative.

Marking and Assessment Boycott (MAB) Grievances

As part of the ‘UCU Rising’ pay and conditions dispute and following a properly constituted national ballot of UCU members for industrial action, UCU members were asked to participate in a Marking and Assessment Boycott (MAB) from 20 April to 6 September 2023. The University of Southampton decided to impose 50% pay deductions from UCU members participating in the MAB, even though the time allocated to staff for marking is considerably less than 50% of their workload. In some cases, the period for which deductions were applied was not a fair representation of the period for which staff were participating in the MAB, and we are aware of considerable disparity across the University. Members were subsequently advised by UCU to submit grievances in relation to their deductions, but the University of Southampton took the extraordinary and unprecedented decision not to hear these grievances.

The Branch Executive is extremely concerned by this development: we consider that the University has acted contrary to its own procedures, contrary to the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures, and contrary to principles of natural justice.

On 19 September 2023, at a well-attended Emergency General Meeting, the membership of the Branch overwhelmingly passed a motion declaring that it had ‘no confidence in the University’s ability to apply its grievance procedure in a fair, reasonable and unbiased manner.’ Branch representatives raised our concerns with senior managers at our Joint Negotiating Committee on 12 October 2023, and wrote in detail to the University about the matter on 18 October 2023 (this letter can be found towards the end of the following blog post: https://southampton.web.ucu.org.uk/2023/10/18/correspondence-with-university-regarding-mab-related-grievances/). We received a reply from the University on 30 November 2023, which largely failed to address directly the questions we raised, and we replied on 14 December 2023 (this correspondence can be found in the following blog post: https://southampton.web.ucu.org.uk/2023/12/14/further-correspondence-with-university-regarding-mab-related-grievances/). As you will see from these exchanges, our principal objection is that we believe the University, by choosing not to hear members grievances, is failing to meet its legal obligations to employees, as set out in the ACAS Code of Practice. It is thereby setting a very dangerous precedent that damages the rights and protections of all employees.

Having exhausted all other options and given the University every opportunity to reconsider its position, we now have no choice but to ask all members to vote to enter a dispute over this matter, to send a clear message to the University that members expect all grievances, including those relating to decisions taken by the senior managers, to be handled in a fair, reasonable and unbiased manner, and in accordance with ACAS guidelines. It is vital that the University takes urgent steps to restore members’ confidence in its employment procedures and their application.

Recommendation: The Executive Committee advises members to vote ‘Yes’ to Question 3 to authorise the Branch to enter a formal dispute with the University in relation to its refusal to hear Marking and Assessment Boycott (MAB) grievances. Question 4 is consultative.

Consultation Questions

(1) Do you support the Branch entering a formal dispute with the University of Southampton over changes imposed following the ‘Modernising the Governance’ project? [Choose one option]

  • Yes
  • No
  • Abstain

(2) What action would you like the branch and its members to take if a dispute is entered over the ‘Modernising the Governance’ changes? [Choose all that apply.]

  • Internal communication and information campaign, including writing to student societies, senior managers, members of the University Council and Senate, petitions, etc.
  • External communication and information campaign, including, for example, writing to local MPs and candidate MPs, local media, public bodies, petitions, etc.
  • Hold a formal ballot for ‘action short of strike’ (ASOS). (NB: this current consultation does not provide authorisation for such action; the branch would need to hold a further formal ballot if members wish to take industrial action, including ASOS or strike.)
  • Hold a formal ballot for strike action. (NB: this current consultation does not provide authorisation for such action; the branch would need to hold a further formal ballot if members wish to take industrial action, including ASOS or strike.)
  • Other: [add suggestions in free text box]

(3) Do you support the Branch entering a formal dispute with the University of Southampton over its refusal to hear Marking and Assessment Boycott (MAB) Grievances? [Choose one option]

  • Yes
  • No
  • Abstain

(4) What action would you like the branch and its members to take if a dispute is entered over the University’s refusal to hear Marking and Assessment Boycott (MAB) Grievances? [Choose all that apply.]

  • Internal communication and information campaign, including writing to student societies, senior managers, members of the University Council and Senate, petitions, etc.
  • External communication and information campaign, including, for example, writing to local MPs and candidate MPs, local media, public bodies, petitions, etc.
  • Hold a formal ballot for ‘action short of strike’ (ASOS). (NB: this current consultation does not provide authorisation for such action; the branch would need to hold a further formal ballot if members wish to take industrial action, including ASOS or strike.)
  • Hold a formal ballot for strike action. (NB: this current consultation does not provide authorisation for such action; the branch would need to hold a further formal ballot if members wish to take industrial action, including ASOS or strike.)
  • Other: [add suggestions in free text box]

Further correspondence with University regarding MAB-related Grievances

Earlier this term, we posted correspondence between us and the University of Southampton, relating to their refusal to hear MAB-related Grievances. We have now had a further exchange of letters, which can be found below:

  • A letter (sent by email), dated 30/11/2023, from UoS to SUCU.
  • A letter (sent by email), sent 14/12/2023, from SUCU to UoS, in reply.

As readers may be aware, we are now consulting with members about entering a local dispute with the University regarding its continued refusal to hear members’ MAB-related grievances.

Letter from UoS to SUCU, 30/11/2023

Response to Southampton UCU letter dated 18 October 2023

Thank you for your letter dated 18 October 2023 in respect of the University’s position on the marking and assessment boycott (MAB) grievances received.

The letter raises a number of questions, some of which we believe were based on misconstrued statements or fundamental misconceptions. This letter therefore provides a summary response which we believe addresses the relevant points.

In accordance with the submissions made in earlier correspondence with UCU in May 2023, the University policy of rejecting partial performance is long standing, clear and consistent, and was communicated in advance of the industrial action. As UCU are aware, employers are legally entitled to withhold pay from an employee who chooses to breach their employment contract by taking part in industrial action, including action short of strike (ASOS). The policy is therefore based on the appropriate employment legislation and not an issue for negotiation or consultation.

Upon the receipt of multiple grievances, all of which adopted a similar pro-forma template, alleging that the University’s decision to withhold pay for taking part in the MAB was unlawful, unreasonable and/or disproportionate, it was clear to the University that the individual grievances raised were challenging the policy to withholding pay for participation in industrial action and partial performance. We therefore sought external legal counsel, as we were also aware through the University and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) that a number of other institutions had received similar grievances and provided legal commentary in response to this. Legal counsel’s opinion sought by both the University and UCEA remains confidential and legally privileged, and the University does not intend to waive its privilege to this advice.

Those participating in the MAB made an informed [and conscious] choice to breach their contract of employment when deciding to participate and in the knowledge that the University’s policy would apply. Therefore, as set out in writing to UCU and the individual colleagues on 17 August 2023, the University determined that these were not matters that could reasonably be dealt with in accordance with the University’s Grievance Procedure and which were not issues which were appropriately within the application and scope to address under the grievance procedure (Part II ¶4). For the avoidance of doubt, the procedural content thereafter was not applicable.

The University has and continues to provide relevant information in an open and transparent manner where requested, such as participation dates and the calculation used to withhold pay. We have also facilitated any concerns or issues raised by individuals directly with the faculties to ensure these can be resolved promptly. The University remains committed to addressing these issues and where possible to resolve these informally.

Whilst the University ultimately determined that the substance of the grievances raised by members of staff were not concerning their employment, which relate to themselves as individuals, and therefore not within the application and scope of the procedure, we felt there were a number of other considerations that were relevant. Primarily, that these matters were ‘collective’ in their nature in challenging a university policy position in direct response to industrial action called by UCU regarding a national dispute.

The University strongly believes these matters should have been addressed by UCU through a collective grievance and dealt with accordingly. Whilst there is no ‘agreed’ collective grievance procedure, the Joint Negotiation Committee (JNC) would have been the appropriate committee to discuss such collective issues in the first instance.

As UCU will be aware, the University recently tabled at the JNC a proposal to explore establishing an agreed dispute resolution procedure that would provide a clear and transparent framework to address such issues in the future. The University shall continue to consider all grievances on a case-by-case basis in line with the relevant procedure in place.

We recognise UCU may be disappointed by the University’s decision, but we believe it is unhelpful to suggest or infer that we acted in bad faith during our extensive negotiation and consultation meetings as part of the Modernising the Governance project. That said, we remain committed to working with UCU to maintain good employee and industrial relations for the benefit of all our employees.

Your Sincerely,
[HR Director, Client Services]

Letter from SUCU to UoS, 14/12/2023

Dear [HR Director, Client Services],

Thank you for your letter dated 30 November 2023 concerning MAB grievances. We are grateful to the University for supplying this response in time for it to be considered by our members before they vote in our disputes consultation. You will perhaps forgive us, however, for seeking to have the last word before this vote opens:

  1. While we note the University’s argument for viewing MAB grievances as a collective matter, we fundamentally disagree. As we alluded to in question 2 in our previous letter, the ACAS Code of Practice provides very clear guidance on what constitutes a collective grievance, stating in paragraph 47:
    ‘The provisions of this Code do not apply to grievances raised on behalf of two or more employees by a representative of a recognised trade union or other appropriate workplace representative. These grievances should be handled in accordance with the organisation’s collective grievance process.’
    It is a matter of record that our members’ MAB grievances were not raised by representatives of UCU on their behalf, but by the members themselves, individually. Therefore, these are individual grievances, not a collective grievance, and the provisions of the ACAS Code of Practice apply in full.
  2. While the University’s position is that these grievances should have been presented as a collective grievance, it concedes that there is currently no collective grievance procedure at the University of Southampton. Therefore, even if we are somehow mistaken in point 1 above, we would have thought the University would have excused staff for failing to use a non-existent collective grievance procedure, and would have exercised its discretion to allow the grievances to be heard, in the interests of fairness and of maintaining good employment relations. University of Southampton staff should be able to rely upon their employer following its published procedures and the ACAS Code of Practice, and for the University to listen to their concerns and treat them with respect.
  3. In the absence of a collective grievance procedure, the University proposes that UCU should have raised our members complaints at the Joint Negotiation Committee (JNC). We believe the following context is important when considering this proposal:
    (i) The Branch President raised concerns over the harshness of the University’s MAB pay deductions with the Vice-Chancellor on 4 July, requesting, in the interests of limiting damage to local employment relations, that the University introduce a cap on MAB deductions, as other institutions had already done. This request was declined by UEB.
    (ii) When Southampton UCU representatives raised the topic of the University’s refusal to hear MAB grievances at the next available JNC meeting on 12 October, we were advised that the University’s position remains unchanged.

To be frank, we find it somewhat difficult to believe that the University’s apparent concern to differentiate between individual and collective grievances is motivated by a fastidious conviction to correct procedure. Rather, we fear that the University’s insistence that MAB complaints be categorised as a collective grievance, for which there is no procedure at this University, is a tactic to deny complainants the possibility of resolving complaints using internal procedures. The approach of University of Southampton denies staff their legal right to have a workplace grievance considered by their employer, thus forcing them to have to decide between dropping their complaints, or enduring a stressful, time-consuming and expensive external legal process.

On a more positive note, we concur with the University that negotiating an agreed dispute resolution procedure between the union(s) and the University is now urgent and essential, and we look forward to discussing this further in the coming weeks and months. We would want to include consideration of a Collective Grievance Procedure as part of those discussions.

In the spirit of collegiality, we are of course happy to accept that the University negotiates in good faith. And, like the University, we remain committed to working together to build and maintain good employee and industrial relations for the benefit of our members and indeed of all staff. To this end, we hope that if our members vote to enter a dispute on this matter, or in relation to the ‘Modernising the Governance’ changes, the University will work with us to reach a mutually acceptable resolution, quickly and amicably.

For now, we await instructions from our membership via our online consultation.

With best wishes,
[Southampton UCU]

Southampton UCU General Meeting – 19th October 2023

The following motion was overwhelmingly passed at the our General Meeting on 19 October 2023.

Motion: MyEngagement Concerns

This branch notes that:

  • The University DPIA review panel brought the need for a Data Protection Impact Assessment to the attention of the MyEngagement project team in December 2022.
  • No DPIA was received until mid-September 2023, after the go-live date had been announced.
  • An acceptable DPIA has yet to be submitted to the University DPIA review panel.
  • Failing to carry out a DPIA before go-live does not meet our legal obligations under Data Protection Act 2018 c.12 s.64(1), and is a violation of the University’s internal governance procedures.

This branch believes that:

  • The system as implemented presents a risk to staff and students from unintentional data breaches. Even if these are not reportable to the Information Commissioner’s Office, they are likely to result in student complaints.
  • Using the system imposes a significant additional workload on staff even in normal use, and staff may need to manually record attendance.
  • The management communication to staff has been inadequate, and insufficient and incorrect guidance has been provided regarding the practicalities of using MyEngagement.

This branch resolves to:

  • Instruct the SUCU Executive Committee to call on the University to pause the roll-out of MyEngagement until a full DPIA has been successfully completed and adequate instruction and guidance has been published in consultation with staff.
  • Advise members to seek reassurance via line management structures using a template that the branch will provide before using or continuing to use MyEngagement.

For:  87.5% (28)

Against:  0% (0)

Abstain: 12.5%  (4)

32 responses

Correspondence with University regarding MAB-related Grievances

Members may be aware that the University of Southampton is refusing to hear Grievances from members concerning pay deductions arising from the UCU Marking & Assessment Boycott (MAB). As a result of this, the Branch passed a motion at our recent Emergency General Meeting on 19/09/2023, stating that we have ‘no confidence in the University’s ability to apply its grievance procedure in a fair, reasonable and unbiased manner.’

As this is now a matter of considerable interest to our members, we publish below the relevant correspondence we have had with the University to date, comprising:

  • An email and attachment of 17/08/2023, from UoS to SUCU, advising us that the University will not be hearing MAB-related grievances.
  • A letter (sent by email) of 18/10/2023, from SUCU to UoS, setting out our concerns about this decision.

We will update members when we receive a reply.

Email from UoS to SUCU, 17/08/2023

Dear [SUCU President],

I am writing to you following receipt of a number of individual grievances received across the University in relation to UCU’s industrial action, and more specifically the marking and assessment boycott (MAB).

In response to the grievances received, the University has sought legal advice (the legal privilege in this advice is not waived) on the matters raised by colleagues in respect of the University’s position on partial performance and withholding pay. In summary, the University does not believe these grievances are matters that can be reasonably dealt with in accordance with the University’s Grievance Procedure.

The Grievance Procedure (at Part II ¶4) states that it is concerned with grievances raised by members of staff concerning their employment, which relate to themselves as individuals.  The grievances raised in relation to MAB are about the University policy which applies to all of its employees, and is only affecting these particular employees because they have chosen to participate in the MAB.  Therefore, these grievances do not relate to the employees as an individual in accordance with the application and scope of the procedure.

Further, the University has a clear, consistent and lawful policy on withholding pay where there is partial performance of the contract of employment through participation in ASOS. The University has a discretion to pay a proportion of an employee’s pay when they are engaged in ASOS, but no right for the employee to be paid a particular amount (on the basis of proportionality or quantum meruit). As reiterated to Southampton UCU on 3 May 2023, the University’s policy on withholding pay in these circumstances has been clearly brought to the attention of employees and explained prior to them participating in the MAB.

The University intends to write to each individual outlining the above position. A copy of that letter is attached.

With best wishes,

[HR Director, Client Services]

Attachment: template letter sent to members who had raised Grievances

Dear colleague,

Your grievance dated xx

I am writing in response to your email of DATE 2023, in which you stated that you wish to raise a grievance regarding the withholding of your pay in respect of your participation in the UCU marking and assessment boycott (MAB).

While the contents of your grievance are noted, the University does not agree that its approach to withholding pay from those taking part in the marking and assessment boycott is unlawful, unreasonable or disproportionate. Employers are legally entitled to withhold pay from an employee who chooses to breach their contract by taking part in action short of strike (ASOS). Further, the withholding of pay for participation in ASOS, constituting a breach of the employment contract, is a matter of policy and not one that is an issue for negotiation or consultation.

The Grievance Procedure (at Part II ¶4) states explicitly that it is concerned with  grievances raised by members of staff concerning their employment, which relate to themselves as individuals.  The grievance you have raised is about University policy which applies to all of its employees, and  it is only affecting you as an employee because you have chosen to participate in the MAB. As your grievance does not relate to you as an individual in accordance with the application and scope of the procedure, the University has decided that these are not issues which would be appropriate to address under our  grievance procedure.

I will nevertheless make clear the University’s position below.

Upon receiving notice from UCU of its dispute in relation to the 2022-23 pay round, the University published its relevant documentation in response to any proposed strike action and/or any action short of a strike (ASOS), these included the Withholding Pay policy, ASOS guidance, and the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). These resources have been available to staff since November 2022 (the start of industrial action on the 2022-23 pay offer) and were available at the start of the marking and assessment boycott, on 20 April 2023.

The University clearly outlines in these documents and resources that it rejects partial performance, as outlined in Section 3.2 of the Withholding Pay policy:

‘The University does not accept partial performance and this will normally result in the withholding of pay. It is within the University’s legal rights to withhold 100% of pay for partial performance. The University also reserves the right not to pay staff for any other work they voluntarily choose to do while participating in action short of a strike’

Therefore, the approach taken by the University to withholding pay is entirely consistent with our legal rights to do so. Where an employer rejects partial performance, the employee taking part in action short of a strike (ASOS) is not entitled to receive any pay, including work they choose to voluntarily undertake.

The University however, took the decision in the first instance to exercise its discretion and withhold a proportionate amount of pay, 50%, without prejudice to its right to withhold 100% of pay in relation to the marking and assessment boycott. Whilst not a decision taken lightly, the decision was based on the impact, disruption and harm the industrial action would potentially have upon our students.

The fact that you may or may not have carried out some of your contractual duties does not mean that the University has waived its policy of non-payment for partial performance of the contract. The determinative factor is that you were not ready and willing fully to perform your contract. Case law makes clear, that where the University exercises its discretion to pay a proportion of your pay, that does not amount to an acceptance of partial performance.

In summary, the University has a clear, consistent and lawful policy on withholding pay where there is partial performance of the contract of employment through participation in ASOS. The University has a discretion to pay a proportion of an employee’s pay when they are engaged in ASOS, but no right for the employee to be paid a particular amount (on the basis of proportionality or quantum meruit). As reiterated to the Southampton UCU branch on 3 May 2023, the University’s policy has been clearly brought to the attention and available to all employees prior to the commencement of the MAB and further explained through FAQs. As such, the University believes colleagues knowingly decided to participate in the industrial action accordingly.

For the above reasons the University does not agree that it has acted unlawfully and no further action will be taken under the Grievance Procedure in relation to the complaint which you have raised.

Your Sincerely,

[HR Director, Client Services]

Letter from SUCU to UoS, 18/10/2023

Dear [HR Director, Client Services],

Thank you for your email and attachment of 17/08/2023, entitled ‘University Response to MAB Grievances’, in which you advised the Branch that the University is denying UCU members access to the Grievance Procedure. The branch objects in the strongest possible terms to the University’s decision, which we regard as wholly unjustified, without precedent, detrimental to local employment relations, and a breach of the trust that staff have placed in the leaders of this University. We also draw your attention to Motion 2, passed overwhelmingly at a Branch EGM on 19 September.

We note the following text on the University’s Grievance webpage (emphasis added):

All members of University staff should be treated fairly and with respect. There may be times when you are unhappy about the treatment that you have received or about any aspect of your work.

If attempts to resolve the situation informally have been unsuccessful, it may be appropriate for you to raise a formal grievance. Our procedures provide a fair and consistent way of dealing with situations where a formal grievance is raised.

All University procedures are underpinned by the principles of natural justice and the ACAS code of practice.

As a statement of intent, this is adequate, if lacking in ambition: it is a basic expectation of employment law that procedures treat staff fairly and consistently, and that grievance and disciplinary procedures follow the relevant ACAS Code of Practice and observe principles of natural justice. We suppose that a member of staff reading the words above might at least be confident that the University of Southampton understands and commits to uphold these basic minimum standards, yet any such confidence would be misplaced.

We request answers to the following questions:

  1. The University of Southampton states in the 17/08/2023 email/attachment that the complaints of our members are not within the scope of the University’s Grievance Procedure as they do not relate to themselves as individuals, citing paragraph 4 of the pre-August 2023 Procedure. This assertion is factually inaccurate as it is a matter of record that staff members were individually sanctioned by the University based on individually calculated deductions. More importantly, we are concerned that the University’s position effectively excludes all policies, procedures and practices, and indeed all management decisions made with reference to policies, procedures and practices, from scrutiny via the Grievance Procedure. Please can you point to where in the ACAS Code of Practice it states that grievances cannot be raised about employment policies, procedures and practices?
  2. Do you believe the University of Southampton’s refusal to hear MAB-related grievances is consistent with the letter and spirit of the ACAS Code of Practice? (Note that paragraph 47 of the Code does not apply, because the grievances were raised by individual employees.)
  3. Why was paragraph 8 of the University’s pre-August 2023 Grievance Procedure, which appears to contradict the University’s position set out in 1 above, ignored?
  4. It is unclear who the Stage 1 managers were, or indeed if any were appointed at all. Were Stage 1 managers (i.e., decision makers) appointed in accordance with paragraph 25 of the Procedure, or was the decision not to hear the grievances decided centrally? Why did complainants learn from you that their grievance was being dismissed, rather than the Stage 1 manager, as required by paragraph 27 of the Procedure?
  5. Given that the University appears not to have followed its own Procedure and past practice in appointing Stage 1 managers (decision makers), and given that the grievances relate to decisions taken by the University’s leadership, there is understandably a concern among our members that the decision not to hear these grievances may have been taken or unduly influenced by the University’s leadership. Does the University of Southampton regard its refusal to hear MAB-related grievances as consistent with its stated support for the principles of natural justice, in this case the principle that decision makers must be, and must appear to be, unbiased?
  6. UCU notes that the 17/08/2023 email/attachment suggests that the University took its decision on the basis of arguments and evidence it procured, including legal advice, whereas complainants were not allowed the opportunity to present their arguments and evidence. In this context, does the University believe its refusal to hear MAB-related grievances is consistent with the principle of natural justice that all sides should have the opportunity to present their arguments before a decision is taken?
  7. Further, it now appears to be accepted practice that the University can have a grievance immediately decided in its favour (as this is the effect of its refusal to hear these grievances), simply by claiming to have obtained a supportive legal opinion. When did this practice begin? Will the University of Southampton waive its legal privilege to share such legal advice with the other parties?
  8. Has UCEA issued advice (including legal advice) or instruction to the University in respect to (i) its MAB pay deduction policy and (ii) how it should handle MAB-related grievances?
  9. During Modernising the Governance negotiations, UCU raised concerns that the University could simply choose not to consider or respond to a grievance, but the University reassured us that such a situation would never occur. Was the University negotiating in bad faith?
  10. Does the University of Southampton consider denying UCU members access to its Grievance Procedure to be an example of ‘best practice’?

We look forward to receiving the University’s explanations, and we would like to know what action it will be taking to build staff trust and confidence that it will operate its procedures in line with the University of Southampton policies, the ACAS Code of Practice, and principles of natural justice.

Please note that as this matter is of significant interest to our members, we will be posting this chain of correspondence on our blog.

Yours sincerely,

Southampton UCU

Please be very careful if you use MyEngagement

The branch has received multiple concerns from members about the introduction of the MyEngagement student tracking software. Several of our colleagues have been trying to work with the team who are rolling it out, but the results have not been reassuring.

The university has established information governance processes which include the need to agree a Data Protection Impact Assessment with a panel the university has constituted for this purpose. It is our understanding that this panel has not yet received appropriate information about the MyEngagement project to be confident that the University is meeting its legal responsibilities regarding the handling of personal data. It is also important to conduct an equality impact assessment before rollout to ensure that we comply with the public sector equality duty; we have been unable to find evidence that any characteristics other than disability have been addressed.
[https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/advice-and-guidance/public-sector-equality-duty]

Advice for staff

The staff interface allows any member of staff who teaches or has tutees to view detailed information about every student in the university. Not only is this unwise, and likely of concern to students, it also puts colleagues at risk.

In a recent disciplinary case of alleged misconduct, one of the matters alleged was that our member “displayed his work emails/ Teams chat on the main screen in front of the students”. Even though no specific confidential items were alleged to have been shown, this was claimed to be a violation of the compulsory GDPR training he had received. Sadly, the situation with the MyEngagement staff interface is much worse; we understand it immediately displays personal student information when it is opened.

For now,  is essential that you only access the MyEngagement software in private and where you cannot be overlooked. Do not use the software during any sort of student contact. You should not risk trying to
access the per-session codes (numeric or QR) during student contact.

We have been told that this problem will at some future time be addressed by the supplier.

The university has issued dangerous advice about this problem in the MyEngagement – Getting started guide for academics and administrative staff guidance at:
https://sotonproduction.service-now.com/serviceportal?id=kb_article_view&sysparm_article=KB0082925#mcetoc_1hbqnv88a6
It contains a section How to change the default home screen when you log into SEAtS. We have tested this advice and found that the system stores the new Landing Page preference in a local browser cookie; it is not saved to the underlying server. The consequence is that, when you next access SEAtS from a fresh browser instance with new cookies, it reverts to the old dangerous landing page.
Do not rely on this “fix”.
Since we first posted this warning, the knowledge base article has  been corrected by adding the phrase Please note that changing this settings sets a cookie in your browser. This means that the filter may need to be set up again if that cookie expires or is not available on the computer you are using.”
Sadly, the article still contains the misleading phrase “This means that if you load up the SEAtS website in public, there is no danger of displaying that information to others” which is not true as the first indication most users will get that their cookie has gone is the display of the original landing page with student details. Users will not be able to restore the cookie without first visiting this page.

If you do accidentally find yourself showing personal information to students by using the software in front of them, you are required to report it using this form:
[https://sotonproduction.service-now.com/serviceportal?id=sc_cat_item&sys_id=c8b9f388db769b006f3df57eaf96193d]
You might want to consult a UCU caseworker before filling it out; UCU members can obtain a caseworker by emailing ucu@soton.ac.uk.

It is possible that you would be committing a data breach merely by viewing the MyEngagement landing page yourself. If you are worried about this, you should instead be able to request QR and numeric session codes by emailing aem2023@soton.ac.uk.

You should already be aware that, while you are enabled to access personal information about all our students, you are only permitted to do so on legitimate university business. The lack of role based access controls also makes the overall system vulnerable to accidental changes by individual colleagues; it seems that each of us can change, create, or delete any module in MyEngagement.

Please let the UCU Branch know if operating the MyEngagement system generates significant additional workload for you. There are manual “over-rides” that allow staff to add individual student attendances to the system; if this facility is used extensively, it is likely to create a considerable additional burden on colleagues.

We would also warn you not to offer students any assurances about the privacy of their data or the security of their devices in connection with MyEngagement.
Refer them to the student hub at studenthub@soton.ac.uk.

Advice for students

It is our understanding that participation in this system is optional for students who are not subject to Home Office visa monitoring. If you are not required to use MyEngagement, you might prefer not to do so.

Many of us are uncomfortable with the installation of tracking software on our personal devices. There is the risk that it might compromise the use of other personal software, it might leak information about us to third parties, or it might lead to financial loss through banking applications. As an example of what can happen, Android users who installed the Teams app. have had had difficulty making emergency calls.
[https://www.theregister.com/2021/12/09/android_911_teams/]

Our ideal choice would be to obtain a cheap Android device to use exclusively for MyEngagement. We are told that the version of SEAtS used at Southampton does not need an actual phone and will run on a basic internet-connected “tablet” running Android version 5 or later; there is no need for Bluetooth or GPS support. Once you have identified an appropriate device, confirm with the student hub that it is supported by emailing studenthub@soton.ac.uk. Keep it turned off when you are not using it to register your attendance, to discourage it from accumulating tracking data via GPS or local WiFi hot-spots.

It is possible that the university might be required to pay for this device. Many of the protections for students are matters of consumer law; this is one of the effects of “marketization”. It seems likely that it is unlawful for the university to force students to pay for an Android/Apple device for the purpose of installing the app:

other extra costs you are likely to incur, for example field trips, bench fees or studio hire. Universities should also indicate how much these extra costs are or are likely to be. Where they are unknown or uncertain, universities should set out how they will be calculated and whether they are optional or mandatory for undertaking or passing the course.
[https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/415732/Undergraduate_students_-_your_rights_under_consumer_law.pdf]

[This blog was updated on 2023-10-02 to accommodate recent changes in staff access.]
[It was further updated on 2023-10-04 to insert additional information.]
[Yet another update was on 2023-10-06, clarifying the risks of changing your default landing page.]

Southampton UCU Emergency General Meeting – 19th September 2023

On 14 August the Higher Education Committee (HEC) called for 5 days of strike action from 25th September.  On the back of membership feedback, a majority of the Higher Education Committee (HEC) called for a meeting to be held to consider options around the forthcoming 5 days of strike action.

The HEC commended the sacrifices that members have made to get us to this point, and also the need for the union to develop a clear national strategy. However, they also had received evidence from numerous branches of mixed levels of support for the forthcoming strike action.  On this basis, the HEC agreed to give individual branches the option of calling off the forthcoming 5 days of action.

To engage members of Southampton UCU on this issue, an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) was held on Tuesday 19th September for members to decide if they wished to participate in the 5 days of action.

The meeting was quorate, and it was also attended by the Southern Regional Official, Moray McAulay.

The following motion was passed at the University of Southampton UCU Branch Emergency General Meeting:

Motion 1

Branch resolves to request an exemption from the national strikes planned for 25-29 September 2023.

For:  73% (106)

Against:  26% (38)

Abstain: 1%  (1)

145 responses

Notification of this result has been submitted to UCU Head Office where elected HE Officers will make the final decision regarding Southampton UCU’s withdrawal from participating in the coming 5 days of action.

 

The meeting also discussed and passed a motion on moving to a formal dispute over the University’s unprecedented decision to refuse to hear members’ grievances about pay deductions resulting from participation in the Marking and Assessment Boycott.

Motion 2

Branch expresses its astonishment and disgust at the University’s unprecedented decision to refuse to hear members’ grievances about pay deductions resulting from participation in the Marking and Assessment Boycott.

Branch believes that employment procedures should be applied fairly, consistently, in an unbiased manner, and in accordance with ACAS guidelines. The operation of such procedures should be free of partisan interference from senior leaders and external organisations such as UCEA and UUK.

Branch resolves that it has no confidence in the University’s ability to apply its grievance procedure in a fair, reasonable and unbiased manner.

Branch instructs the executive to move this matter towards a formal dispute.

For:  96% (117)

Against:  2% (3)

Abstain: 4 % (5)

122 responses

 

The Executive Committee has been approached by the University of Brighton UCU branch requesting a donation to the Brighton UCU fighting fund, and therefore, the following motion was passed at the EGM.

Motion 3

Branch notes that the University of Brighton has proposed to sack up to 130 members of staff, with c. 400 staff being at risk of redundancy. UCU members at that university are currently taking indefinite strike action in protest at these plans.

 

Branch expresses its solidarity with members of staff facing redundancy at the University of Brighton and its support for UCU members involved in this action.

 

Branch calls on the University of Brighton to negotiate with UCU and to remove the threat of compulsory redundancies.

 

Branch resolves to donate £500 towards the Brighton UCU fighting fund.

 

For: 96% (114)

Against: 0% (0)

Abstain: 4% (5)

119 responses

 

 

Southampton UCU 2023 AGM – Motions

Southampton UCU held its Annual General Meeting on 14th June 2023 and the following motions were proposed:

Motion in support of Ukraine

SUCU branch notes that 2023 Congress Motion 5:

  • misrepresents Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, turning the focus away from the sole aggressor, Russia, and presenting a false moral equivalence between the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, and the defence of Ukraine by the Ukrainians;
  • calls for the ending of military support for Ukraine, which, rather than leading to peace, would leave Ukraine at the mercy of continuing Russian aggression and long-term military occupation;
  • includes an antisemitic dog-whistle, by selectively reporting Volodymyr Zelensky’s remarks on Israel without contextualisation or explanation;
  • passed without any substantive consultation with Ukrainian people, and has since been condemned by many Ukrainians;
  • has since been discussed as a ‘great initiative which should be welcomed’ by pro-war commentators on the programme Watch on Russian state media;
  • is in irreconcilable conflict with the spirit and letter of 2023 Congress Motion 6, carried with a much larger majority, which explicitly recognises Ukraine’s right to self-determination and tasks the International Working Group with engaging in practical solidarity work with Ukrainian activists.

SUCU branch:

  • strongly condemns and disassociates itself from Congress Motion 5;
  • believes that the motion has brought the union into international disrepute;
  • calls on the General Secretary to make a statement calling for the UK to continue to support Ukraine’s right to self-determination;
  • calls on the General Secretary and NEC to urgently explore all options for overturning or repealing the motion, up to and including a special online congress;
  • calls for the General Secretary and NEC to prioritise the fulfilment of Congress Motion 6 in the meantime, as outlined in Bijan Parsia’s NEC motion ‘Nothing About Ukraine without Ukraine’.

Voting outcome:

Yes:          52

No:            0

Abstain:   1

Motion carried.

Future Congress Arrangements

Branch recognises the considerable efforts undertaken by UCU staff and elected officers to try to make Congress 2023 an inclusive event. Despite these efforts, concern was expressed by delegates about the impact of speaking styles on other delegates. It also remains problematic for many prospective delegates to set aside up to five contiguous days of travel and debate in order to exercise their Branch’s democratic rights. Only around half of the delegate entitlements were taken up.

Furthermore, it is now difficult to justify the carbon (environmental) and financial costs of a large residential Congress , especially when it attracts so little positive national publicity in support of UCU’s causes.

Branch calls for future Congresses to be conducted hybrid or online only.

Voting outcome:

Yes:          45

No:            0

Abstain:   2

Motion carried.

Clarity Business Travel

Southampton UCU Branch notes:

  • That Clarity Business Travel is now wholly owned by a Saudi Arabian company, Seera.
  • That Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund (the ‘Public Investment Fund’), chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has agreed to purchase a substantial stake in Seera.
  • That the Saudi Arabian dictatorship has a long history of appalling abuses of human rights, and that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been accused of personal involvement in some of these, such as the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

Branch believes:

  • That business relationships with oppressive regimes with abysmal human rights should not be normalised.
  • That the University of Southampton aspires to the highest ethical standards for itself, and that it should hold the business it works with to similarly high standards.
  • That working with business owned by oppressive regimes is incompatible with the aims of the University’s Strategic Plan – Equality Diversity and Inclusion 2020-2025, which states that ‘[w]e all actively take steps to understand the impact of our own actions and behaviours’.
  • That while Clarity Business Travel may initially have been an appropriate business partner for the University, following changes to its ownership, this is no longer the case.

Branch resolves:

  • To call on the University to engage in negotiations with Southampton UCU on (1) bringing about the end of the University’s relationship with Clarity Business Travel as soon as is feasible, and (2) mitigating any damage caused in the meantime.
  • To call on the University to engage in negotiations with Southampton UCU on the introduction of new ethical guidelines for future contractual relationships between the University and third parties.
  • To inform UCU’s National Executive Committee of the passing of this motion.
  • To call on the university to make alternative travel booking arrangements available for colleagues who feel that their data security would be prejudiced by sharing personally identifying information with Clarity and, potentially, its owners.

Voting outcome:

Yes:          48

No:            0

Abstain:   0

Motion carried.

Call for joint statement from VC and UCU branch of University of Southampton

Southampton UCU notes:

The VCs of Sussex, Cambridge and Queen’s University Belfast have written joint statements with their universities’ union branches calling on UCEA to return to the negotiating table.

Southampton UCU calls on:

The Vice Chancellor of the University of Southampton to sign a joint statement with SUCU below to call UCEA back to negotiations and end the Marking and Assessment Boycott in good faith.

Draft statement:

It is regrettable that the national pay and conditions dispute has reached a point whereby a marking and assessment boycott has been called. Very sadly, and as things stand, it is likely to have a significant impact on students at Southampton, and across the country.

This cohort of students have already been hit especially hard by the pandemic; now, many are facing the possibility that the completion of their degrees and their graduation may be delayed. The boycott also means that some international students may not be able to apply for post-study graduate visas on completion of their course. No-one wants students to suffer further, and we are deeply sympathetic to the strength of feeling in our student body. For many, including staff, this is a stressful and anxious time.

We jointly want this dispute to be resolved as quickly as possible and for students to have their exams marked on time. Any dispute plainly requires negotiation. The ACAS negotiations on pay and working conditions were interrupted earlier this year. It is regrettable that these talks ultimately failed to resolve the dispute. We therefore call for negotiations between UCEA and UCU to restart without preconditions to reach an agreed settlement. This needs to happen urgently, for the sake of our students, staff and members.

Voting outcome:

Yes:          43

No:            0

Abstain:   1

Motion carried.

Affordable and Equitable Industrial Action (IA)
[Motion for submission to the next Special Sector conference.]

Conference notes that

  • In the 2022-23 pay dispute, UCU called more days of strike action than any other UK trade union
  • UCU confirmed limited financial compensation for punitive deductions a month after the MAB commenced
  • Lengthy, uncompensated or partially compensated IA disproportionately affects staff on part-time and fixed-term contracts, more likely to be women and ethnic minorities.
  • The unsustainable cost of lengthy periods of IA creates a risk of disengagement among members

Conference resolves that

  • UCU commits to conduct an affordability assessment before calls for IA, assessing the likely cost of proposed action to members and support available from the strike fund, and to circulate it to branches
  • UCU commits to conduct an equalities impact assessment before calling IA and to plan mitigations against any disproportionate impacts on specific groups
  • HEC must consider the outcomes of affordability and equalities assessments when calling IA

Voting outcome:

Yes:          40

No:            1

Abstain:   3

Motion carried.

Call for the University of Southampton to end marking mitigation and pressure on staff.

Southampton UCU notes:

  1. The University of Southampton has responded to the impact of the Marking and Assessment Boycott by expecting colleagues not participating in MAB and/or not in the union to take on significant extra marking. By adding to colleagues’ already excessive workloads at a particularly busy time of year, UoS is thereby exacerbating one of the central issues of the dispute.
  2. The University of Southampton is using mitigation procedures to graduate finalists whose marks records are incomplete due to the MAB by contravening the quality assurances and standards that the university has long claimed are integral to the value of a Southampton degree instead of calling on UCEA to end the MAB by returning to negotiations.

Southampton UCU believes that using mitigation procedures in this way, which allows for awarding degrees with missing marks and with Pass/Fail marks for dissertations, devalues a Southampton degree and potentially brings the university into disrepute.

We also call on the university to stop requiring staff to take on additional marking at this busy and pressurised time of year.

Voting outcome:

Yes:          42

No:            0

Abstain:   0

Motion carried.

Motion: MAB salary sharing

Southampton branch notes:

  1. that the financial impact of the marking and assessment boycott varies significantly according to job role, career stage and personal circumstance
  2. that the burden of the MAB is currently being carried by a small number of staff, who are therefore subject to undue pressure and are losing 50% of their pay for a sustained and indefinite period
  3. that all members will gain from any progress brought about by the MAB.

The branch calls on all members who are not participating, or who are unable to participate, to donate one day’s pay per month, or whatever they can afford, from now until the boycott ends, to the local fighting fund.

Voting outcome:

Yes:          37

No:            2

Abstain:   1

Motion carried.

Rejection of “Modernising the Governance”

The Branch notes that:

  1. Without either a vote at University Senate, or agreement from the campus trade unions, University Council sent a proposal to the Privy Council on 29th November 2022 to modify the University Charter and completely eliminate the University Statutes. This was approved by the King on 8th March 2023.
  2. At an eBallot in May 2023, 87% of voting UCU members rejected the Modernising the Governance proposals, in full knowledge that rejecting the proposals would lead to an industrial dispute if they were to be unilaterally imposed.
  3. At their meeting of 24th May 2023, Council noted that management had been unable to reach agreement with the campus trade unions on either the governance (Charter, Statutes, and Ordnances) or procedural aspects of the Modernising the Governance proposals, but proceeded to impose their implementation them without union agreement.
  4. Substantial points of disagreement with the proposals remain unresolved, including:
  • The revised charter, ordinances and policies water down Academic Freedom protections, including by eliminating reference to the UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel; this is the internationally recognised definition of academic freedom.
  • The revised policies substantially reduce Council’s effective oversight of matters relating to the dismissal of staff at levels 4-6, potentially including where multiple redundancies may substantially impact the work of an academic department or professional service unit.
  1. Throughout the process, Council members have not engaged directly with the Trade Unions.

This Branch resolves to ballot our members to enter a formal dispute over Council’s imposition of the Modernising the Governance proposals.

Voting outcome:

Yes:          25

No:            0

Abstain:   1

Motion carried.

Freedom of Speech at the University of Southampton

Branch notes with concern:

  1. An incident in October 2022 at which a student presentation in building 54 about Taiwan was disrupted.
  2. An apparent physical attack last Sunday afternoon on Burgess Road against young people who had been promoting civil liberties in Hong Kong.

Branch calls upon the University, SUSU, and the Confucius Institute to agree a joint statement calling for calm and reasserting the right of free political expression by all members of the University.

Voting outcome:

Yes:          36

No:            0

Abstain:   0

Motion carried.

USS data breach

USS, who manage our pensions, have written to many of us reporting that some of our personal data has been compromised.

Capita first became aware of a data breach on 31st March; it seems that a well-known Russian ransomware team had been manipulating their systems, and their customers’ data, since at least 22nd March.

Capita first announced the breach on 3rd April, saying: The issue was limited to parts of the Capita network and there is no evidence of customer, supplier or colleague data having been compromised.

On 11th May, however, they told USS that details of their members were held on the Capita servers accessed by the hackers. The information potentially accessed was claimed to include: title, initial(s), and name; date of birth; National Insurance number; USS member number; and retirement date.

Capita have a terrible track record; search Google for breaches and other performance issues. Here in the UK they run armed forces recruitment and TV licensing.

There are typically three things that “hackers” may try to do with your personal data.

  1. If they get passwords, they will immediately try using them to access popular financial  or payment sites such as Amazon or major banks, using related names and similar passwords. That should not be a problem for the USS data; Capita/USS say that login details were not taken.
  2. They might try to impersonate you, to claim tax refunds and government subsidies, to get control of your property, or to take out loans in your name. For some of these attacks, date of birth and NI number are potentially useful.
  3. They will use the information to make “phishing” emails, texts, or phone calls seem more plausible, and to “sucker” you into giving away more information or authorising payments and account changes. Again, NI number and date of birth are useful.

Today (25th May), more than two months after the “hack”, I was told by USS that my data was amongst that which had been stolen. My best guess is that this has happened to all USS members current in 2021; they are just staggering telling us about it. The mitigation offered by USS is to give  free access to a 12-month membership in Identity Plus, a monitoring service provided by Experian—one of the UK’s leading Credit Reference agencies. That seems a very mean offer, and I guess it isn’t costing USS much; initial free or cheap trial periods are common when companies want to “suck you in” for the long term; Experian currently offer one month free to anybody who asks. If it were a good offer, I think three years would  be a reasonable minimum free period.

Personally (and for my sins I am a co-lead of outreach at our NCSC (part of GCHQ) Gold Academic Centre of Excellence in Cyber Security Education I would turn down the Experian offer as I think it is likely to expose more of your personal data to attack; Experian themselves do not have a good track record in protecting personal data:

So what should we do? Three things:

  1. Be aware that somebody who contacts you knowing your NI, DoB or retirement date is a likely fraudster. Don’t engage with them, and certainly don’t tell them anything. These people are likely to claim to be from USS, Experian, or the “pensions department”.
  2. Protect yourself against identity theft. For example, think about putting a “restriction” at the Land Registry on any property you own, to make it harder for a fraudster to transfer title. See:
    https://www.gov.uk/protect-land-property-from-fraud
  3. Treat this as a “wake up call” to adopt better personal cybersecurity practices. Sadly, the advice in today’s USS email

    Use strong passwords and change them regularly. Try to keep them at least eight characters long and use numbers, upper case, lower case and symbols.

    is not regarded as current best practice; you should instead read, and act on, the NCSC infographics. This is the one on passwords:
    https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/static-assets/images/information/Using_passwords_infographic.jpg
    and here are the rest:
    https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/information/infographics-ncsc#section_1

After I’d dealt with all that, I’d write a “stiff” letter to USS, asking them to justify their use of Capita who are a known poor performer and, if you chose to restrict changes of title for the home you live in, asking them to pay the £40 land registry fee.

Denis Nicole