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

Modernising the Governance Consultative Ballot

Background

The Modernising the Governance project is the most recent iteration of the University of Southampton’s Senior Management Team’s attempts at governance reform; previous ones ended inconclusively. We were introduced to the current project in July 2021 and Andrew Serdy, Vince O’Connor, Conor McHugh, and Marianne O’Doherty volunteered to work on the project for the branch. We were at the time led to expect that it would conclude in April 2022. However, the project has proved much more complex and time-consuming than initially proposed and negotiations between TUs and the project leads in HR, Employee Relations, and the VP Operations continued until January 2023, when a set of documents that HR considers final was shared with the Trade Unions. Since then, UCU negotiators have carefully gone through the documents to understand the interactions between them in order to enable us to write recommendations for the Branch.

Project scope

The project, which took place in two phases, involved rewriting the core documents that set out the ‘aims, powers and governance framework’ of the University [https://www.southampton.ac.uk/about/governance.page]. UCU refused to agree to the changes under Phase I of the project until we had seen the final documentation for Phase II, because we believed that the two phases were too closely interrelated to separate, and so it proved. The two phases of work involved:

  • Rewriting the University’s Royal Charter (Phase I). The University insists that it is not obliged to negotiate on this with Trade Unions. The revised Charter has been shown to Senate, but Senate was not asked for approval. Nevertheless, it was sent to Privy Council in mid-2022; Privy Council postponed approving the changes until they could see the revised Ordinances, but earlier this year approved them on the strength of the drafts of the ordinances as they then stood, unhelpfully cutting short the negotiations on the Charter which from our perspective had not yet run its course.
  • Removing all the University’s statutes; this is incorporated in the Charter changes (Phase I). In particular, Statute 7, which covers Academic Staff: Dismissal, Discipline, Grievance Procedures and related matters disappears. The significance of this is that the Statutes are effectively part of the constitution of the University. They can only be changed by Council using a special resolution passed with a three-fourths majority at two Council meetings at least a month apart.
  • A rewriting of ordinances which involves elimination of most of the Employment Ordinances and conversion of these into employment procedures (Phase II). The significance of this is that while changes to Ordinances must be signed off by Council, changes to HR procedures can be made by HR following negotiation with UCU, Unison and Unite, but without Council input or signoff.

The changes are broadly similar to those that have recently been pushed through (sometimes acrimoniously) at several other universities.

The project had a number of stated aims that can be read on University web pages [https://www.southampton.ac.uk/blog/ueb-blog/2022/05/04/ueb-blog-3-5-22/; https://sotonac.sharepoint.com/teams/MtG]. As recognised Trade Unions, UCU, Unison, and Unite have participated in the negotiations. The employment procedures in Phase II apply only to level 4+ staff represented by UCU, but these policies influence the processes used for staff on levels 1 to 3. UCU negotiated only on the changes that impact upon our Terms and Conditions of Employment [For instance, while the SMT project sponsors established a Modernising the Governance Project Board, TU reps’ requests for a seat at that table were refused, though we do receive reports of its (infrequent) meetings].

Within this area, the key aim of the project appears to be to remove responsibility from University Council for involvement of employment procedures that can result in the dismissal of members of staff at L4 and above. The removal of employment matters from Statutes and Ordinances (where changes require Council approval) is also intended to make it easier for the University to change these procedures. The University, however, highlights that the project proposal elevates the status of some Academic Freedom protections for staff by enshrining these in the Charter, which can only be changed following signoff by Privy Council.

Below, we highlight the broad implications of the proposed changes under Phase I and Phase II to Charter, Statutes, and Ordinances for our employment protections, before setting out our assessment of each individual revised employment policy.

University of Southampton Documents

The University of Southampton has made available all the documents produced as part of the Modernising the Governance project to University of Southampton staff via a SharePoint site, which can be found here: https://sotonac.sharepoint.com/teams/MtG/SitePages/Key-documents.aspx

There is also a covering letter from Wendy Appleby, the Vice-President (Operations) which you can find here.

Southampton UCU encourages members to review and consider the documents produced by the university.

The Royal Charter

The part of the Royal Charter that pertains most closely to our Terms and Conditions of Employment is the newly written section on Academic Freedom.

This has been brought ‘up’ from its previous position in Statute into the Charter, which must be approved by Privy Council. A feature of the new Charter on which we negotiated extensively is a paragraph intending to protect Academic Freedom:

The Council shall have regard to the need to ensure that employees engaged in teaching or research, or in undertaking other academic activity, shall have freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or any privileges which they may have at the University.

Following our input and discussions in Senate, this clause now protects all academic activity and all staff undertaking such academic activity; our current Statutes and Ordinances were changed in 2008 to restrict such protection to ERE staff only.

However, it is still weak in some ways, using “shall have regard to the need to” rather than the simpler and clearer “shall”. Its text is derived from recent UK legislation, whereas we had proposed retaining the reference to the UNESCO formal Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel [https://en.unesco.org/about-us/legal-affairs/recommendation-concerning-status-higher-education-teaching-personnel] that is in the Statutes. This recommendation expressed “concern regarding the vulnerability of the academic community to untoward political pressures which could undermine academic freedom and considered that the right to education, teaching and research can only be fully enjoyed in an atmosphere of academic freedom and autonomy for institutions of higher education and that the open communication of findings, hypotheses and opinions lies at the very heart of higher education and provides the strongest guarantee of the accuracy and objectivity of scholarship and research.”

THE ABOVE REMAINS UNCHANGED

The Statutes

The proposal involves the complete revocation of all the Statutes of the university; this is incorporated in the Charter changes. In particular, Statute 7, which covers Academic Staff: Dismissal, Discipline, Grievance Procedures and related matters disappears.

This is particularly significant for staff engaged in academic activities who may need Academic Freedom protections, because it contained the only reference to the UNESCO Recommendation on Academic Freedom, as noted above:

Where there is any issue as to the meaning of “academic freedom” in any proceedings under Parts II, III, IV, V or VI of this Statute, regard shall be had to Sections VI and VII of the Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel adopted by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in Paris on 11 November 1997.

THE ABOVE REMAINS UNCHANGED

The Employment Ordinance

The SMT’s intention is to eliminate completely part 3 of the Ordinances: those about Dismissal, Discipline, Grievance Procedures and related matters, effectively moving ownership of the policies and procedures contained in these from Council to Human Resources. This includes the high-level guidelines about how the university makes decisions about making academic and academic related staff redundant. These Ordinances are replaced with a single short Employment Ordinance that signposts to a negotiated set of employment procedures and to a set of Overarching Principles. Future changes to the Procedures would have to be negotiated with the recognised trade unions, including UCU.

The Procedures

Phase II of the project involved a set of eight HR policies, along with a set of “Overarching Principles” that provide the framework for their implementation and must be read alongside them. It is these nine documents that management has asked us to approve or reject at this time.

As originally presented to us, they were rather badly written; textual improvements continued up to the final days, and in UCU negotiators’ view are not all completed. Several of the procedures are significantly affected by the University’s desire to end Council involvement in various decisions that result in the termination of employment for staff at L4 and above. Generally, our view is that there is an attempt to push levels of authority for decision-making of this kind too far down the organisational tree. This view is shared by colleagues in Unite, who are concerned that colleagues on relatively low grades are being given disproportionately high levels of responsibility under these procedures.

SOME CHANGES AND CLARIFICATIONS HAVE BEEN MADE TO INDIVIDUAL POLICIES BELOW IN RESPONSE TO CONCERNS. THESE WILL BE HIGHLIGHTED FOR INDIVIDUAL POLICIES.

Nonetheless, the negotiating team feel that a few of these policies could be accepted. The vote in March for further negotiations with the University’s senior leadership and with representatives of Council led to only perfunctory exchanges; in particular the meeting we sought with Council never took place. Problems applying to a number of the documents are:

  • Throughout the policies, the obligations on managers are not as direct as we might expect. For example, on equality diversity and inclusion, “the Appropriate Manager should consciously consider EDI principles at every stage and apply them where appropriate” (OP) rather than “the Appropriate Manager must apply EDI principles at every stage”. Similarly, management “may allow you to bring an additional companion” if you have difficulty with English or a disability (OP), but is not obliged to do so.
  • In several areas, management has refused to allow colleagues postponements beyond the statutory minimums.
  • Following the removal of panels including a lay member of council from these processes, in our view several policies involving dismissal of staff engaged in academic activity no longer incorporate sufficient protections to staff exercising Academic Freedom. While staff facing dismissal on Disciplinary or Managing Performance grounds would have the additional protection of an Academic member of Senate on their Dismissal Panel, this protection is not extended to staff facing Dismissal on Other Grounds (Expiry of FTC or SOSR) or non-confirmation of probation. We note that this does not comply with the spirit of the UNESCO declaration on Academic Freedom referenced above, which states:
    45. Tenure or its functional equivalent, where applicable, constitutes one of the major procedural safeguards of academic freedom and against arbitrary decisions. It also encourages individual responsibility and the retention of talented higher-education teaching personnel.
  • The principles and procedures (perhaps not surprisingly) cover only university employees and do not extend to UniWorkforce, through which some PGR members are employed. They certainly do not cover outsourced providers such as Cambridge Education Group’s “ONCAMPUS” who are now delivering some of our foundation year courses.

THE FINAL DOCUMENTS SHOW SOME IMPROVED CLARIFICATION OF OBLIGATIONS ON MANAGERS; SOME IMPROVEMENT ON ACADEMIC FREEDOM PROTECTIONS IN SOME CASES. THE SMT ACKNOWLEDGES THAT WE DO NOT CURRENTLY HAVE A POLICY OR AGREEMENT REGARDING OUTSOURCING AND HAVE INVITED US TO TABLE THIS FOR DISCUSSION AT JNC.

D Overarching Principles

These have significantly improved since the first iteration. However, there remain a number of problems. The most serious of these is the definition of ‘Nominee’ in the glossary (f), which allows a Head of School or Professional Service to nominate someone more junior to be the decision-maker in a procedure. Our reading of the current documentation is that through the use of ‘Nominee’, decisions about dismissal of L4 and above staff can in some instances (Dismissal on Other Grounds – Expiry of FTC) be delegated to Head of Department/direct line manager level.

In 11.2 ‘Should’ hold meetings within your work time unless agreed otherwise needs to be ‘will’, to adequately protect part-time staff.

THE UNIVERSITY PROVIDED IMPROVED CLARIFICATION AROUND THE SENIORITY OF NOMINEES, CLARIFYING THAT SENIOR IS DEFINED IN ALL CASES AS “Senior – refers to an individual who is either on a higher Level than you or above you in the organisational chart and holds a more senior managerial role.” THIS DEFINITION ALSO APPLIES WHERE SENIORITY IS REQUIRED OVER PREVIOUS DECISION-MAKERS. THE UNIVERSITY BELIEVES THAT THERE IS NO DETRIMENT TO EMPLOYEES COMPARED TO THE CURRENT SITUATION IN THE NEW ARRANGEMENTS, AS THE ONLY POLICIES WHERE ‘NOMINEE’ MAY COME DOWN TO LINE MANAGER LEVEL ARE NON-CONFIRMATION OF PROBATION AND END OF FIXED-TERM-CONTRACT SITUATIONS. UCU REMAINS OF THE VIEW THAT DISMISSALS SHOULD BE DECIDED AT A HIGHER LEVEL THAN LM IN THESE TWO CASES.

COMMITMENTS TO ABIDE BY EDI PRINCIPLES AND HOLD FORMAL MEETINGS DURING WORK TIME HAVE BEEN STRENGTHENED FROM ‘SHOULD’ TO ‘WILL’ AS PER OUR REQUEST.

E Grievance Procedure

We are concerned that management has not agreed to extend the “right to be accompanied” to the informal stage of a grievance. Colleagues raising a grievance are already highly stressed and they need the support of a companion when raising the issue with their managers; this should be embedded as a right in the procedure.

We are concerned that the word ‘usually’ in timescales (e.g. 6.1) allows undue latitude to managers to delay proceedings unreasonably; delays in handling grievances exceeding six months are regular occurrences to UCU caseworkers. We would like to explore adding additional wording that allows for necessary and reasonable extensions (e.g. in cases of sickness or part time working) but places an upper limit on any delay.

HR IS NOT PREPARED TO EXTEND THE RIGHT TO BE ACCOMPANIED TO THE INFORMAL STAGE AS THERE IS NO STATUTORY REQUIREMENT. THEY INSTEAD PROPOSE TO ADD GUIDANCE ON SITUATIONS WHEN INVOLVING HR AND TU COLLEAGUES IN INFORMAL DISCUSSIONS MAY BE APPROPRIATE, THUS THE FINAL WORDING HAS CHANGED TO: .2 of the Grievance Procedure is as follows – “HR can advise on any agreed early resolution methods. Early resolution methods are voluntary and will only take place if everyone agrees. We may involve Trade Union colleagues in early resolution methods to help resolve your grievance informally. You can find more information on early resolution measures here.”

HR’S VIEW ON TIMESCALES IS THAT AN UPPER LIMIT CANNOT BE MANDATED BECAUSE IN SOME CASES REASONS FOR DELAY ARE OPEN-ENDED. E.G. SICKNESS. THEY POINT OUT THAT S. 10 OF THE OVERARCHING PRINCIPLES REQUIRES ALL PARTIES TO ADHERE TO TIMESCALES AND THE UNIVERSITY TO PROVIDE A REASON AND NOTIFICATION TO THE EMPLOYEE OF ANY NEED TO VARY THESE.

F Disciplinary Procedure

The main change in this procedure is the removal of a panel involving a lay member of University Council to decide on the dismissal of employees at levels 4-7. The revised dismissal panel would instead comprise Head of School or Professional Service plus support from two other managers of sufficient seniority. Following negotiation on Academic Freedom protections, HR inserted a clause allowing a staff member facing dismissal on grounds they believe infringe their Academic Freedom to request that one panel member be an Academic Senate member.

Members will note that the policy contains a rather long “shopping list” of misconducts, which negotiators would have liked to see further reduced; for comparison, see the short “gross misconduct” list on page 52 of the ACAS guide [https://www.acas.org.uk/sites/default/files/2022-04/discipline-and-grievances-at-work-the-acas-guide.pdf]. However, we note that these lists are shorter than those contained in the current policies, and that because the lists are non-exhaustive, the removal of an item from the list does not remove it as a potential reason for misconduct.

NO CHANGE IS TO BE MADE TO THE MISCONDUCT EXAMPLES LIST ON THE GROUNDS THAT WE ARE A COMPLEX ORGANISATION AND THE ACAS LIST DOES NOT COVER THE MOST RECENT CASE LAW.

‘WILL’ WILL REPLACE ‘SHOULD’ IN S. 6.7, TO: “Your Line Manager will carefully consider the suspension arrangements, so they do not impact your ability to make necessary communications, including contacting your trade union and/or your Companion.”

G Dismissal on Other Grounds Procedure

While we are not happy with the notion of Dismissal on other Grounds as it is clearly vague and open to abuse, it nonetheless reflects the “Some Other Substantial Reason” clause in UK legislation. There are some troubling examples in the reasons given for DoOG under 2.1: (d) which refers to “fundamental and irretrievable differences between you and another colleague or colleagues”, and (e), which refers to “breakdown in mutual trust and confidence” with no mechanism to try and sort out the rights and wrongs of the matter. We note, however, that this is a non-exhaustive list, so removal of these examples from the text would not remove them as potential reasons for dismissal.

A fundamental problem with this procedure is that it is currently not covered by the Academic Freedom protection provision available to those undergoing Stage 3 Dismissal under the Managing Performance or Disciplinary procedure. This leaves the procedure open to abuse; negotiators would like the Academic Freedom protections made available to those undergoing this procedure.

As we understand it, the use of ‘nominee’ at 11.4 potentially allows for a L4 or above member of staff to be dismissed by their immediate Line Manager or indeed anybody else more senior than the individual at risk of dismissal. We believe this clause also needs revision.

WILL WILL REPLACE SHOULD, READING: “Your Line Manager will carefully consider the suspension arrangements, so they do not impact your ability to make necessary communications, including contacting your trade union and/or your Companion.

AS WITH ‘GRIEVANCE’ ABOVE, HR IS NOT PREPARED TO MAKE INVOLVEMENT OF TUS IN INFORMAL/ EARLY RESOLUTION STAGES A RIGHT, BUT IS PREPARED TO PROVIDE GUIDANCE AROUND AREAS WHERE TU INVOLVEMENT IN EARLY RESOLUTION MAY BE APPROPRIATE. POLICY WORDING: We may involve Trade Union colleagues in early resolution methods to help resolve conduct issues/concerns about your performance informally. You can find more information on early resolution measures here.”

THE LIST OF REASONS FOR DISMISSAL WILL NOT BE AMENDED.

HR HAS AGREED TO EXPAND THE RIGHT TO REQUEST AN ACADEMIC SENATOR FOR CERTAIN APPEALS AGAINST DISMISSAL FOR SOME OTHER SUBSTANTIAL REASON (SOSR) UNDER PART 1 OF DISMISSAL ON OTHER GROUNDSS THIS WOULD APPLY TO APPEALS AGAINST DISMISSAL UNDER SOSR IN EXAMPLES 2.1 (d), (e), and (f), AND HAS AMENDED THE APPEALS PROCEDURE ACCORDINGLY (2.8). THIS RIGHT WILL NOT EXTEND TO APPEALS AGAINST DISMISSALS ON GROUNDS OF AN ILLEGALITY OR BREACH OF STATUTORY DUTY.

H Managing Performance Procedure

We are broadly satisfied with this procedure.

I Probation Procedure

Under the proposed procedure, the probation period is one year for all staff in levels 4–7 except for ERE level 4–6 staff on balanced or teaching pathways whose default probation period is two years. This can be shortened by their manager if they meet their probation targets early. We have not been offered any convincing reasons why the default probation period for ERE staff on balanced or teaching pathways needs to be 2 years, even if PGCAP (or equivalent) has already been completed and/or FHEA is already held. We believe that applying extended probation to staff involved in teaching is an unreasonable detriment and propose that can be simply fixed by inserting a modified version of a clause from the existing policy allowing probation for such staff to be shortened to 1 year at the point of hire if the appointee has passed probation at another HEI or already has PGCAP equivalent or HEA fellowship. We further believe that the same principles should apply at L7 as for L4–L6.

Non-confirmation of probation is not covered by the proposed Academic Freedom protections.

HR ACKNOWLEDGE THE ISSUE WE HAVE RAISED BUT STATE THAT SORTING THIS OUT IS BEYOND THE SCOPE OF THIS PROJECT AS IT HAS RAMIFICATIONS BEYOND EXTENDING THE PROBATION PROCEDURE. HR PROPOSES TO LOOK AT THIS SEPARATELY FOLLOWING THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THESE PROCEDURES IN A SEPARATE PROJECT, WHICH WOULD NEED TO BE AGREED BY HR LEADERSHIP AND TAKEN TO JJNC.

HR DOES NOT PROPOSE TO EXTEND ACADEMIC FREEDOM PROTECTIONS TO NON-CONFIRMATION OF PROBATION.

J Redundancy Procedure

In our view, there are very substantial problems with this policy, and we have made problems with it clear repeatedly throughout negotiations. Our two major concerns are:

  1. There is still too little proposed engagement from Council when management wish to propose major restructures. Negotiations resulted in the late addition of clause 5.1 (c) which says “Where we are considering the closure of a whole academic discipline or department, UEB must gain endorsement from Council.” Nonetheless, this wording could allow for major detrimental changes without Council oversight, up to and including: the ending of Undergraduate or Postgraduate teaching in a department; the cessation of teaching or research in an entire field; turning balanced departments into teaching only departments.
  2. The Consultative Forum: we have made it clear since early in the negotiations that we cannot agree to this procedure without further information on the size, shape, membership, remit, meeting frequency etc. of this proposed Forum. This has not been provided. As a result, the current draft is still too vague, in the negotiators’ view, for agreement to be possible at this stage.

WE ASKED FOR FURTHER CLARIFICATION FROM COUNCIL AS TO THE RATIONALE, GIVEN THE NATURE AND VIGOUR OF OUR OBJECTIONS TO REMOVAL OF COUNCIL OVERSIGHT FOR ANY CHANGES SHORT OF CLOSURE OF ENTIRE DEPARTMENTS. IN RESPONSE, THE UNIVERSITY HAS REITERATED COUNCIL’S POSITION THAT THEY SUPPORT THE PROPOSED CHANGED POLICY AS IT NOW STANDS.

HR HAS PROMISED A DRAFT COPY OF THE TERMS OF REFERENCE FOR THE CONSULTATIVE FORUM, BUT UCU HAS NOT YET RECEIVED THIS.

K Managing Sickness Absence and Ill Health Procedure

We are broadly satisfied with this procedure.

L Appeals Procedure

Our main concern with this procedure comes in section 2.8 where our Academic Freedom protections are restricted to only certain employment procedures. In particular, there is no provision for an academic Senate member to join the appeal panel in cases of the catch-all “dismissal on other grounds” or through non-confirmation of employment at probation.
As a more minor point, in section 2.3, we would like to see an undertaking to supply documents at least five working days before the hearing.

HR HAVE CLARIFIED THAT THE 10-DAY NOTICE PERIOD UNDER 2.3 ALSO APPLIES TO COPIES OF ALL RELEVANT DOCUMENTS.

AS DISCUSSED UNDER THE RELEVANT POLICIES ABOVE, HR HAVE NOW EXTENDED ACADEMIC FREEDOM PROTECTIONS FOR CERTAIN CASES OF DISMISSAL ON OTHER GROUNDS (PART 1; SOSR IN EXAMPLES 2.1 D, E, AND F), BUT HAVE NOT DONE SO FOR NON-CONFIRMATION OF EMPLOYMENT AT END OF PROBATION.

HR HAS CONFIRMED THAT IN APPEALS WHERE ACADEMIC FREEDOM IS RAISED UNDER THIS POLICY, THE APPROPRIATE MANAGER, ACADEMIC SENATOR AND OTHER SUPPORTING MANAGER ON THE PANEL WILL NEED TO REACH A JOINT DECISION. THE ACADEMIC SENATOR WILL NEED TO BE INDEPENDENT FROM THE EMPLOYEE.

Our ballot

We are conducting an online ballot on the set of policies. The negotiators view the changes since the last vote was taken as both incomplete and too minor to recommend acceptance, so we are offering the same choice as in the recent UCU nationwide vote on the two disputes: reject or note.

We would be unable to accept the proposals at this time as they remain incomplete; some guidance is still in draft form and we have not yet seen the terms of reference of the “redundancy” forum; a vote to note would indicate broad acceptance and a will to conclude the final details.

If members vote to reject, the SMT may choose to negotiate further, or may try to impose these changes on us without agreement. If they take the latter course, we will ballot again to decide whether we wish to enter a formal local dispute. Such disputes have in the past been resolved through the involvement of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service.

The recommendation of our negotiators and branch executive is to reject the proposed changes; we will report the Branch’s decision to management at the Joint-Joint Negotiating Committee meeting on 18th May 2023.

Southampton UCU members are requested to choose between the following options in the consultative ballot:

☐ I vote to reject the proposals
☐ I vote to note the proposals
☐ I abstain

The ballot will close at MIDDAY on Wednesday 17 May 2023.

Report from today’s General Meeting

Here are the slides presented during the meeting.

A few highlights:

Marking and assessment boycott

We wrote to Prof. Smith, our Vice-Chancellor, questioning aspects of the 50% pay deductions that have announced for participation in the MAB.

We received a reply this morning. They have accepted several of our points and changed their announcement.

Motion on Gender Pay Gap

The University of Southampton UCU Branch notes:

That the latest published data for the University of Southampton reveals that the median gender pay gap has increased from 19.9% (March 2021) to 21.5% (March 2022), the mean gender pay gap has increased from 13.7% (March 2021) to 16.2% (March 2022), and that the median gender pay gap at UoS has increased every year since 2018. (Source: Gender Pay Gap Service)

That, by contrast, the UK gender pay gap for median gross hourly earnings (excluding overtime) for all employees is estimated to be 14.9% (2022), and that the trend is downwards (Source: ONS)

That the University of Southampton, despite previously publishing Equal Pay Reviews annually, has not published one since the 2019 report (Source: UoS), and that, consequently, there is no current published data on disability, ethnicity, migrant and LGBTQ+ pay gaps.

The Branch believes:

That the expanding gender pay gap at the University of Southampton represents a significant leadership failure of the University Executive Board and a significant oversight failure of the University Council.

That pay equality, unsustainable workloads and over-casualisation are linked, and that the University has demonstrated an unacceptable degree of complacency and lack of urgency in addressing these issues.

The Branch resolves:

To call on the University to issue an apology to women and minority employees for failing to ensure that they are paid fairly.

To call on the University to halve all equality pay gaps by 2026, and to eliminate them by 2029.

To call on the University to resume annual Equal Pay Reviews.

Passed: 37 for; 0 against; 1 abstention.

Motion on Amending the Branch Hardship Fund

For the period 3 May 2023 to 13 June 2023 only, the University of Southampton UCU Branch authorises the Executive Committee to make amendments to the eligibility criteria of the local Hardship Fund, to enable payments to be made to members participating in the Marking and Assessment Boycott. A report on any changes made must be given at the Annual General Meeting on 14 June 2023.

Passed: 37 for; 0 against; 0 abstention.

Exams marks release dates – continued concern from UCU members

We have today written to senior management about our continued concerns over the short timeframe between the assessment period and marks release dates at the end of this academic year.  This was an issue we raised previously at our UCU JNC meeting in February 2022 at which we were assured this matter would be investigated further.  Please see below for our email to Philip Wright, Senior Vice-President.

 

From: ucu <ucu@soton.ac.uk>
Sent: 11 November 2022 14:34
To: Phillip Wright <P.C.Wright@soton.ac.uk>
Cc: ucu <ucu@soton.ac.uk>; Luke Kelly <L.A.Kelly@soton.ac.uk>; Vice President (Operations) <Vice-PresidentOperations@soton.ac.uk>; Anne-Marie Sitton <A.Sitton@soton.ac.uk>; Graham Niblo <G.A.Niblo@soton.ac.uk>; Denis Nicole <dan@ecs.soton.ac.uk>; David Bretherton <D.Bretherton@soton.ac.uk>; Claire Le Foll <C.Le-Foll@soton.ac.uk>; Mary Morrison <M.S.Morrison@soton.ac.uk>; Moray McAulay <‘MMcAulay@UCU.ORG.UK’>; Roberta Head <R.I.Head@soton.ac.uk>; Deborah Gill <D.P.Gill@soton.ac.uk>; Kieron Broadhead <K.Broadhead@soton.ac.uk>
Subject: Exams marks release dates

 

Dear Phillip

You may recall at the UCU JNC on 17 February 2022 that we submitted the attached paper raising our concerns about the increased workload imposed on staff due to the reduced time between the end of the assessment period and the marks release date.

 

There was a discussion at the JNC meeting and we understood that the University would seriously consider the impact not just on workload but the mental pressures on both academic and professional service staff.  Reasons provided by the University for change were the supergraduation, online options and timetabling.  We were led to believe that the University would, however, speak to relevant stakeholders and feedback UCU’s concerns.

We are therefore shocked to hear from members that again this year the time between end of assessments (9th June) and exam marks release date (29th June) is less than three weeks.  The likely marking deadline will be around the 15th June which will give less than a week for some staff to mark exams taken on the last day of the examination period. It is completely unreasonable of University management to expect staff to turnaround quality feedback and marking in such a short period of time. It is not realistic and physically feasible to do all the marking, along with other responsibilities in a 35 hour working week and you are asking staff to work evenings and weekends, which is unacceptable and has EDI implications (in particular for those with caring responsibilities). We believe this decision is in breach of the University’s H&S duties and will create unnecessary overwork and stress for a large number of staff.

We are asking the university management to:

  • Explain why, in spite of vigorous pushback from SUCU and staff more widely, regardless of the detrimental impact on academic and professional staff wellbeing, senior management have decided to impose an even tighter marking schedule.
  • Review the dates to allow adequate time for staff to assess and publish marks.

We look forward to receiving a prompt response so we can communicate accordingly with our members.

Kind regards

Southampton UCU

 

Why academic related professional staff should vote YES in the HE ballots

The University of Southampton comprises over 6,000 staff. Over 2,000 are academic-related professional staff (ARPS). We work across 17 distinct professional services: responsible for student and education services, libraries and the arts, widening participation and social mobility, global recruitment and admissions, residences, iSolutions, and the list goes on. ARPS are fundamental to the running of the university. Whilst our collective voice in UCU may be smaller in relation to our academic colleagues, we are affected by many of the same issues, we are of equal importance when it comes to challenging issues of our pensions, pay, workloads, casualisation and equality, and it is imperative that ARPS make it clear that we will not stand for the erosion of our pay and conditions.

Many ARPS will be affected by the ongoing USS pensions dispute, and indeed, many of us have taken strike action on this issue previously at Southampton in 2018, 2019 and 2020. On 31st March 2022, UCU issued a call for VCs across the UK to demand UUK revoke the cuts to the pensions after the health of USS finances were revealed. The changes due from 1st April see staff who pay into USS lose up to 35% of their pensions when they get to retirement. If you haven’t already, you can use the UCU modeller to see how you could be affected by these cuts.

Along with our pensions, pay has been eroded consistently since 2009, with a recent report by UCU showing that pay is down by 25.5% in real terms. ARPS are already in a position where there is no consistency with academic colleagues in regards to a framework for pay and promotion. Relatedly, the national picture on pay inequality is bleak. The pay gap between Black and white staff is 17%. The disability pay gap is 9%. The mean gender pay gap is 15.1%. An earlier blog in this series pointed to the pervasive gender pay gap at the University of Southampton. The erosion of pay is closely linked to increased casualisation. There are approximately 15k ARPS employed on temporary contracts. The issue of casualisation HE is not exclusive to our academic colleagues. Across the University of Southampton, professional services have undergone or are undergoing restructures, and there are departments still reeling from loss of staff after the latest rounds of voluntary severance in 2020. This has seen temporary posts and uncertain secondments proliferate, putting strain on teams, and adding to workloads where staff turnover is high and gaps in teams aren’t being properly resourced. For an institution that has just unveiled a new strategy that states a commitment to put its people at the ‘heart’, presiding over sustained cuts to our material conditions at a time when the cost of living is the highest it has been in decades is contemptuous.

Voting to take strike action is hard. It can be particularly difficult when you are one of only a small handful of colleagues in a team – or sometimes the only one – who are members of UCU. However, visibility of ARPS on the picket line is key to growing our numbers at the branch and making that collective voice stronger. Without ARPS, universities would cease to run. Academics would suffer, students would suffer, and the wider community would suffer. We need to stand unified with our academic colleagues, recognising that the issues outlined in the ballot affect us all.

 

Reasons to vote YES in the HE ballots – Gender Pay Gap

 

University comms recently announced it was one of only 20 Universities to receive an Athena SWAN Silver award for their commitment to gender equality. This news will have stirred up mixed-feelings for many of our members. Of course, as an exec, we want to recognise the work (and good-will) that was integral to getting this award. We know that many of our brilliant members play key roles in equality work across the institution. Yet many of our members will see this announcement and feel frustrated, questioning how this supposed commitment to gender equality has failed to have an impact on their daily working lives – if we’re one of the few Silver awards, then what must other institutions be like? Others will be sceptical; the previous Athena SWAN award contained a significant number of actions that were never actioned. Our institution over-promised and under-delivered. Meanwhile, our significant gender pay gap remains pretty much the same, last reported in 2019 as 20.4%.

 

Many people we have spoken to are shocked by the gender pay gap figure for the University of Southampton, and the fact the institution is above the national average for HE. Some people have even presumed that it must be that University management simply doesn’t realise that the figures are so bad (and now that they do know, they will surely tackle it). Yet this trust in senior management to put things right is misguided. After some initial progress, our pay gap has plateaued. Your UCU officers take part in the annual equal pay review, where we’ve seen year upon year of monitoring without any meaningful action taking place. One previous internal equal pay report from the University even had the audacity to suggest that we weren’t making any progress closing the gender pay gap because we have “exhausted female talent pools for promotion” (Equal Pay Review 2017 p.13). Or to put it another way, the pay gap exists because there’s not enough ‘female talent’ at our institution to promote.

 

 

 

 

Year after year the gender pay gap remains at around 20%. Yet this is unsurprising given that management still fails to fully value the contributions that female staff disproportionately make to our institution (care work, collegiality, holding things together—often at the expense of our own career trajectories). The gender pay gap is about structural failures, but often it is treated as if it is solely cultural, an issue that it can be fixed by EDI training and learning about unconscious bias. Other fixes for the gender pay gap position women as the problem: they need to learn how to interview better, be more assertive, apply for promotions or increments. Yet the gender pay gap is not about women not knowing how to ‘sell themselves’ at interview, or about them not understanding what is needed to move quickly through the pay spine. The gender pay gap is more than this. It is a result of structural and policy failures.

 

One such failure is our institution’s policies around maternity and parental leave. Women with children are the most likely to see their carer progression stalled, because institutional support in this area is insufficient. Your local branch has been in discussions about maternity / parental leave for a significant number of years. We’ve heard many promises yet seen little action. Progress is so slow that it feels like work on this has ground to a standstill. Yet, week after week, your local branch handles case work dealing with the fallout from these policy failures: women who are at breaking point, anxious, undervalued, struggling with no automatic cover for their work while they are on maternity. UCU want our University management team to guarantee a central automatic fund to cover maternity – a simple scheme that many other institutions already have in place.

 

There’s also the significant issue of a lack of support for those returning to work after maternity. In part, the lack of clear cover for maternity means many people return and have to play catch-up with the work they have missed. Spiralling workloads, hiring freezes, and the pandemic all compound to make returning after maternity increasingly difficult, with many returners struggling to stay afloat. Other institutions offer periods of study leave on return from maternity, so staff can reboot their research, or specific training for line managers on how to support returners. We offer nothing. University management have failed to provide central financial support to help make some of the material changes that would actively support women’s careers.

 

The pandemic has highlighted how pressing these issues are, as women have become even more disproportionately burdened by care work and school closures. Parents of young children are at breaking point. The impact the pandemic will have on women’s career progression at our institution will be stark. Years of inaction on this from University management needs to end. We need to see action rather than words. Your local branch wants management not just to monitor pay gaps every year, but to set a clear target as to when these gaps will be eradicated, and a meaningful action plan to get us there. We need a plan that involves actual financial commitment and policy changes, not just performative words proudly pronouncing institutional commitment to gender equality.

 

The gender pay gap is a key part of the four fights dispute on which you are currently being balloted. If you want your local branch to have a strong hand to negotiate on this issue, then vote yes for strike action, and yes for action short of strike. A mandate for strike action is vital, on both a national and local level, for negotiating on these issues.

 

USS – SUCU clarifies VC’s claim relating to UCU’s alternative proposals

SUCU believes that this claim made by Mark E. Smith in his response to us is misleading.

The letter states: ‘In addition, the University notes its disappointment that UCU has not been able to advance a formal, costed solution during the extensive valuation process to date, that it comes at the eleventh hour and is still not yet a formally tabled proposal at the JNC.’

The facts are that USS-costed proposals have been formally tabled for the JNC meeting this Friday the 11th of February (tomorrow), which was the date on the USS grid for the tabling of such proposals.

These proposals were not tabled earlier because UUK had declared that they would not negotiate with UCU over proposals until after the close of the USS consultation on the 17th of January. Moreover, UCU sought confirmation of strength of member consultation support for its approach, involving the paying of higher contributions to preserve current benefits. UCU received reports on the consultation responses on the 21st and 24th of January. These responses revealed strong support for our proposals. Having received this confirmation, UCU swiftly publicised the proposals on the 26th of January.

Since then, employers have simply stalled in unprincipled fashion. Although they were aware of the indicative USS costings on which our proposals were based, they demanded formalisation (which is a very complicated procedure) of these costings from USS as a condition of sending UCU’s proposals out for consultation. This in spite of the fact that they sent their own revised proposals out for employer consultation before they received formal confirmation from USS of the 0.2% costing.

They could and should have sent UCU’s proposals out for consultation when they received them on the 26th of January, just as they sent their own proposals out for employer consultation before they had received formal confirmation of costings.

UUK has today acknowledged that UCU’s proposals meet the higher standard they set for them than for their own proposals, and that they will be launching a consultation on them from early next week. It is not clear why consultation cannot start today.

The response from VCs on this matter, including the letter from Mark E Smith is deeply disingenuous, and appears to categorise proposals from the employer side in a very different way. We therefore ask that USS members inform themselves fully of the facts rather than relying on communications from the employer.

Follow: Mike Ostsuka @MikeOtsuka, Sam Marsh @Sam_Marsh101 and Jackie Grant via @sussexucu

(With grateful thanks to Mike Otsuka for his input)