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Counting the cost of casualisation

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Climate strike rally – thanks for supporting our event

 

Thanks to all who attended the rally in Jubilee Plaza, to our excellent speakers who gave the gathered crowd plenty to think about, and to others who tweeted images, pledges and requests for action.

Also thanks to the Sustainable Energy Research Group (SERG) who planted a tree close to Jubilee Plaza directly after the rally.

 

We are of course only at the beginning of a journey and we intend to work closely with SUSU, other Union colleagues and the University Executive Board (UEB) to ensure that the University achieves the commitments in Southampton City Green Charter (see earlier posts for links).  Any suggestions for activities or actions in the future are welcome, but watch this space…

#climatestrike 20th September, 1200-1230, Jubilee Plaza

Friday will be a major day of global action for the Climate Strike and last week the TUC passed a motion (tabled by UCU) to support the school student Global Climate Strike on 20th September and has called on TUC affiliate unions to organise a 30 minute work day campaign action to coincide with the school students strike on 20th September.

Please come along, if you can, to demonstrate your support. There are a range of speakers confirmed – all will be saying a few short words on #climatestrike and they are:

  1. Bea Gardner (UCU Postgraduate Representative and SUSU link)
  2. Emily Harrison (President, SUSU)
  3. Rachel Mills (Dean of the Faculty of Environment and Life Sciences)
  4. Simon Kemp (Professorial Fellow in Education for Sustainable Development)
  5. Roger Tyres (Research Fellow, Faculty of Social Sciences)

Come to pledge your support for the school strikers, and make practical suggestions to help the University as a whole fulfil the Southampton Green Charter commitment to be carbon neutral by 2030.

20th September – support the climate strike

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

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

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

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

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

Why are we doing this?

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

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

Future plans

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

 

 

Climate Strike – 20 September 2019

In our blog of the 22nd July we said that we would be offering public support for the next ‘Climate Strike’ organised by the Student Climate Network.  This is to confirm that there will be a lunchtime event for staff and students between 1200 and 1230 on Friday 20th September at Jubilee Plaza, Highfield Campus. The University is fully supportive of this and hopes to offer speakers, and is involved in planning the event and communications. We have yet to confirm exactly what will take place but please check back on this blog for more details.

On the same day there are other events – for instance there will be a city-based event between 1100 and 1600 in Guildhall Square, and October Books in Portswood are hosting a range of activities between 1300 and 1700.

If you are unable to get to Highfield Campus on that day, but would like to explicitly offer your support we encourage you to do something locally at your campus or wherever you are at the time. You can publish a photo of you and your colleagues via the hashtag #ClimateStrike using @SouthamptonUCU and @unisouthampton.

More information to follow… suggestions also welcome!   Send these to the UCU office 

You can find more information about how  UCU is supporting the Climate Strike here

 

 

 

 

UCU letter to employers’ assertions about the USS dispute

The date for the opening of the ballot on USS pensions is fast approaching (opens 9 September – look out for your ballot paper!).   UCU national negotiators have set out the demands to our employers in the letter below, a copy of which was sent from our branch to the VC, Professor Mark Spearing, today.  We hope for a positive response which we will share with members.

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Support the climate strikes

Following the publication of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report late last autumn, there has been a renewed drive from environmental campaigners to see meaningful action to halt climate change. The report warned we have less than 12 years to cut carbon emissions by 45% to avoid the most catastrophic effects of global warming. Leading the call to action have been thousands of inspiring young people, who have been taking monthly strike action to protect their futures. As part of the student climate network, they have highlighted that, without action, they will face a runaway greenhouse effect in their lifetimes. 

Many staff and students here at Southampton share this commitment to protecting the environment, and we have seen several protest actions on the issue at Highfield campus in recent months.   Southampton UCU branch is pleased that the University was a founding signatory to the Southampton Green City Charter, which was launched in June. The charter includes the commitment to be carbon neutral by 2030, and we look forward to hearing how the university plans to meet this substantial, but necessary, commitment.  In addition, following discussion at our recent AGM, Southampton UCU branch has endorsed the Southampton Green City Charter and will follow these principles in our future activities. 

 Meanwhile, school students have appealed to the trade union movement to support their next strike action. UCU proudly responded to this call by unanimously passing a motion to take solidarity action with young people, including a 30-minute work stoppage on 20th September.  The national UCU will submit a motion to the upcoming Trade Union Congress (TUC) to support this action. UCU Southampton Branch has officially backed it and you can declare your individual support for the solidarity stoppage and read more about the TUC motion here.

 In liaison with the student union and the Southampton Trades Council, Southampton UCU plans to hold a lunchtime rally on the 20th.  We will keep members updated as plans develop in the coming weeks. We are still looking for a UCU environment rep to join the executive and to lead on this and related work – if you are interested in getting involved, please let us know.

 

 

USS update

If you attended the AGM earlier this month, you will already know that there is going to be a ballot for further strike action this Autumn. The UCU position is one of No Detriment, and the decision to ballot for strike was proposed and accepted at Congress earlier this summer. In April, our pension contributions increased from 8% to 8.8%. The current proposals from USS will increase the total contributions of employers and scheme members by at least a further 1.4%, with our member contributions rising by at least 1.3% since the start of the dispute. If the employers do not agree additional contingent contributions, the increases will be even worse.USS is proposing rates that will increase our contributions to at least 11% after 2020.

Industrial action by UCU members led to the establishment of a Joint Expert Panel last year, comprising both UCU and UUK representatives. The Panel confirmed UCU’s belief that the pension scheme has a sustainable future, and made reasonable recommendations to USS. If applied, these recommendations would have resolved our dispute and would have resulted in no contribution increases or benefit cuts for members. Our employers however, instead of committing fully to the Joint Expert Panel recommendations, are proposing we should increase our contributions based on a pessimistic valuation of the scheme.

And a story came to light in the last week (featured in USS briefs on twitter and in the FT) that the Chair of USS trustees (David Eastwood) was rebuked by the Pension’s Regulator (tPR) for misrepresenting the tPR position on an issue key to that valuation. Currently VC of Birmingham University, David Eastwood was told in January that the USS report mistakenly suggested that the tPR insisted on using the most cautious of discount rates, which resulted in a larger projected deficit. Despite an email on the subject, he and the board have done nothing to correct their statements or acknowledge the potential impact on the valuation of the scheme. We also have to wonder what the effect on the negotiations would have been had this been made public to all parties at the time. You will also have seen this in UCU General Secretary elect Jo Grady’s most recent email (from Monday 24thJune).

This follows reports that a USS trustee (statistics expert Professor Jane Hutton) claims to have been prevented from carrying out a full analysis of the scheme valuation.

A further complication to the debate is the decision (confirmed 20thJune) of Trinity College, Cambridge to withdraw from USS – on the grounds that there was a remote risk that its assets would be required to bail out the scheme in a worst-case scenario. UCU has already called for a boycott of Trinity College – as outlined in the brief from Head Office on the 21stJune.

To keep up to date with USS developments you could follow FT journalist Josephine Cumbo on Twitter or visit the UCU USS pages.

Southampton UCU BBQ

We braved the weather and held a barbecue for UCU members and their families on Thursday 20th June on the Common outside of Avenue Campus. Alongside the feast of meaty and vegetarian hotdogs, it was an opportunity to chat, meet new people and recreate the very friendly and constructive atmosphere of the picket line last year. It was also the last appearance of the Dinosaur of Solidarity and an opportunity to thank Cathy Pope for all her work for this branch. We will miss her a lot but, as she wisely said, we are a very active branch, with lots of new people and ideas. The barbecue was the first in a long series to come, and more UCU social events will follow starting in September!

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day…

This is the first blog of the new UCU year and exec, so as incoming president I wanted to put in a short welcome on behalf of the branch and the new exec. I am very sad to see Cathy Pope leave the University this year but on behalf of the exec wish her the very best in Oxford and we look forward to her continued support as a Regional representative on the NEC. Our exec, reps and members will continue the good work that she has been involved in over the last 16 years!

You can see the full list of newly elected Southampton UCU branch officers for 2019-20 here – most were introduced at the AGM. We all very much look forward to working with you in the coming year, and want to hear your thoughts and feedback. Please contact us through your local reps, exec members or via the standard UCU email address.

Mary Morrison, President, UCU Southampton

 

AGM Report

The AGM took place on 5thJune at Highfield Campus – thanks to those members who attended to hear Christine Haswell of UCU give an update on USS. If you would like to read in detail about the latest USS news please see this link  . As things stand, it is highly likely that UCU will be balloting for industrial action in the Autumn.

We also heard Cathy Pope, outgoing UCU Southampton president, give a report of the main events of 2018/19. Cathy talked about issues that the branch has been working on where we have been representing members collectively or individually, in particular the amount of case work that the branch is handling, and some restructures, including the Health and Safety Committee restructures and other aspects of H&S work and other departmental / unit restructures. Broader issues included appraisal procedures and implementation of appraisal policies and the gender pay gap. The report will be summarised in the minutes of the AGM which will be sent to all members.

BBQ

Claire le Foll is taking the lead to organise this and you should all have had an invitation to the UCU barbecue on the Common on the 20thJune, starting at 4pm. We intend to give Cathy a proper send-off there and will be located somewhere near the top of the common near to the Avenue Campus (see invite in your inbox). Please bring something to drink and a re-usable drinking cup!

Two big issues discussed at the AGM were:

Appraisal

This remains problematic with members telling us they feel unfairly treated or that their appraisal was not conducted properly. There are ongoing talks to revise the existing policy on appraisal and we are aware of different approaches to implementing the policy locally. The senior management team have suggested further guidance on this and we will support them to try and reduce the number of problems that arise in appraisal. In recent weeks we have seen genuine commitment to solving some of these problems and desire to work with all the campus trade unions. As before please tell us about your experiences to help us inform this process.

Workload

We now have a team of trained workload reps and we need to hear from you about the problems you experience. Write to us at the usual address or approach your local reps if you have information to share now. We will come back to you soon with more details of what the workload reps will be doing.  Dario Carugo (Communications officer) and Claire Le Foll (Campaigns and Membership officer) are going to be working actively on this campaign over the coming months and we would encourage you to get involved by joining a working group.  Please email us if you are interested.  In addition, at JNC it has been proposed to develop some high-level guiding principles for workload allocation.

Environment

It was also discussed that UCU Southampton should support Southampton City Council’s proposals for a Green Charter to improve the working and living conditions in the City and to work towards a sustainable city. The Green Charter has yet to be published but it was agreed at the AGM that it was a good initiative. We still need to identify an environment rep for the exec to lead on this and related work – if you are interested or know another member who might be please get in touch.

Stop press: Members have contacted us this week (week beginning 10thJune) about press coverage of an industrial tribunal which took place in the first week of June, where the University was ordered to pay £2.5 million to an ex-staff member who made accusations of discrimination on race and religion. University management have made a short statement on SUSSED to the effect that there will be an independent investigation to understand what happened, and have confirmed to us that they are looking for the opportunity to present the considerable body of evidence that they had put together in their defence, as soon as possible. We will keep in touch with the senior management team and are confident that they will report back as soon as they are able.