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Get The Vote Out – The 2019 UCU Equalities Ballot

We hope you are ready to start the new calendar year refreshed and with renewed enthusiasm for your role in Higher Education.

Tomorrow (Tuesday 15th January) the UCU will open a national ballot in support of the 2018 Pay and Equalities claim, so please look out for your postal ballot papers. The four main elements of this claim are the following:

  • Employers and UCU will develop a nationally agreed framework for action to close the gender pay gap by 2020
  • They will also devise a nationally-agreed framework for action on precarious contracts
  • Employers will offer a nationally-agreed payment to recognise excessive workloads
  • We will receive a pay increase to all spine points on the 50 point national pay scale of 7.5% or £1,500 whichever is greater

We are sure you can agree that this claim prioritises some of the greatest challenges to the continued health of UK universities.

This ballot may seem like a case of déjà vu to some of you. Indeed, last year the union engaged in a disaggregated ballot in support of this claim – a disaggregated ballot takes the turnout and result for each individual university. Many Branches, including RHUL, didn’t quite meet the 50% threshold for member participation, which has been needed for a ballot to be deemed “legal” since 2016. At a national meeting in November UCU Branch representatives identified a few potential explanations for this: the timing of the ballot – it started without advance warning and before the academic year, so activists were relatively unprepared; some members were confused by the need to vote by post for industrial action when UCU held a “consultative” e-ballot on the topic over the summer; and, some of the UCU resources underplayed the equalities aspects of the claim. The majority of Branches called for the re-run to take an “aggregated” approach so that all UCU members can take industrial action, if this is the result of the ballot, even if their university had not individually reached the 50% threshold.

Of course, the need to reach the 50% threshold for the whole HE UCU membership means Branches are going to have to work really hard to convince members to use their vote. At RHUL we will be asking each of our Departmental Representatives to help us conduct a “Get The Vote Out” campaign, which will involve putting up posters, knocking on doors and talking to members. Last year many of you showed your commitment to the union and specifically to defending working conditions, so please let your Dep Rep know if you’d like to get involved with the campaign. If you are not sure how to do this then get in touch with us via our Branch email account:  rhulucu2018 at gmail.com.

If you wish to remind yourself of the full details and the background to the joint trade union claim you can read about it here.

Good luck to you in 2019 from your Branch Committee.

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Happy New Year to our UCU members

The local branch Committee wishes to offer members our Season’s Greetings and best wishes for a Happy New Year.

It has been a tumultuous year.  When Universities UK sought to end our defined benefits pensions, we mounted extremely effective industrial action and UUK had to backtrack.  But be in no doubt – they may well be back.  We await the second Joint Expert Panel (JEP) report, which will interrogate the tests used to analyse the strength of the fund.

Our pay and equalities claim this year made demands on the gender pay gap, workloads and reducing casualisation along with a call for a “catch up and keep up” wage rise. It was disappointing if not surprising that many Branches did not meet the 50% Tory turnout threshold.  These are serious issues which threaten this profession. This is why the Higher Education Congress voted to hold an aggregated ballot for  industrial action, which means we need to hit a 50% turnout nationally. This will allow all Branches to be involved in any industrial action that follows.  It is vital that you vote in this ballot, whichever position you take.  This is both to ensure your democratic right to vote and be heard, but also to ensure all members’ democratic right to have the vote count, whichever way it goes.

Government anti-union legislation means that, unless if we obtain 50% turnout, we cannot take industrial action.  So, while every member should respect every other member’s right to vote whichever way they want, it isn’t fair to not vote at all and let the action fall by default.

Universities – including this College – are already declaring impending ‘doom and gloom’.  This is ironic because the 2012 changes in financing led to a 50% increase in the per student resource.  Over the sector as a whole, there was a 20% increase in per student educational expenditures.  The share of academic salaries has fallen to about 30%, so where did the money go?

We have not yet analysed the specific figures for this College, but will engage in this forensic accounting early in the New Year.  We know that Senior Management is declaring financial austerity in terms of academic posts.  We think that this is short-termism at its worst.  There is a REF in 2021, with a census date for new staff of 2020.  In the past, the College has made available a Strategic Investment Fund to finance new posts to strengthen our case for the REF.  We need to do this urgently now.  This should finance, in our view, about 100 new academic research-led teaching posts.  This number would restore our student-staff ratio to more acceptable levels, and lead to massive improvements in our teaching programme, as well as in our likely REF scores.

Even under the old rules (where each member of staff normally needed to list 4 outputs), removing staff was not the way to achieve top outcomes.  Under the new rules (where each member of staff needs only 1 output to be included, with 2.5 outputs on average per staff member), this is even more the case.  This is not the time to contemplate voluntary or involuntary redundancies.  It is the time to hire, hire, and hire.

It follows from that urgency and necessary prioritisation that administrative shifts – such as the move to Schools – should not be a focus at the moment.  That would be the case even if the academic and education case, or even a cost-savings case, for the move to Schools was absolutely convincing.  We still await hearing much of any case at all. The associated changes to College governance also remain opaque.

This College, along with other universities, seems to have overspent on building programmes.  These cannot be undone, and we will simply have to pay the high financing, maintenance, depreciation and staffing costs.  It may be too late to follow the student advice that the best use of the Bedford Library is not as second-rate office accommodation, but as a first-rate, purpose built Library!  But the whole programme should now be frozen while careful attention is paid to efficient use of our funds going forward.  The College needs to be efficient and focussed upon our product, which is international class research and teaching.  The rest is secondary.

This College has shockingly instituted zero-hours contracts for some of its teaching staff.  This allows in principle for a contracted teacher to just call in and not do a scheduled lecture.  This is the sort of distraction that we don’t need and don’t want – it is stressful for staff and students. Our local campaigns this year are on reducing casualisation and on measuring and acting, when required, on onerous workloads. But we need your help. An active Branch requires active members, so getting in touch next year if you can help in any way. As ever you can get in touch with the Branch via our email: rhulucu2018 at gmail.com.

With best wishes for a relaxing break,

Your RHUL Branch Committee

The RHUL Anti-Casualisation Campaign Needs You!

With the end of term upon us, teaching staff might be forgiven for breathing a sigh of relief. Not so for Royal Holloway’s large workforce of Casual staff, who make up a gigantic 62% of academics. For us, term-time is always a mad scramble, and any ‘holidays’ become a desperate attempt to catch up.

The Royal Holloway UCU anti-casualisation campaign has been stepped up this term, with progress on the official figures of casualised staff, updates on delayed contracts, and the promise of a series of events next term. In particular, we are planning a series of ‘drop-in’ sessions.

These will take the form of a ‘casualisation surgery’, where you will be able to drop-in for a relaxed session with our resident experts, who will be able to address your questions on your rights at work, casual contracts, or any other questions you may have. At the moment, these sessions are being planned to be primarily for Postgraduate students who teach, as we will be collaborating with the Students Union, but they are open to any other Casual staff, including Visiting Tutors or Lecturers, Research/Teaching Fellows, etc.

Other sessions in the pipeline include a ‘Know your rights’ informal talk. We know that precarious staff may be adverse to attending anti-casualisation meetings on central campus, so these will be hosted at a more ‘neutral’ venue.

In the meantime, the anti-casualisation campaign needs you!

While casual staff make up the majority of the academic workforce at Royal Holloway, our visibility is low. If you are interested in our campaign to fight for the rights of precarious staff, please follow the campaign’s twitter account. Even better, email the branch to let us know if you’d like to get involved. Come along to our meetings and pick up some anti-casualisation posters, and display them in your window or in your department. Most of all, we need plans to increase our visibility.

The branch has been hard at work looking for suitable models from other branches, based on their success stories with anti-casualisation campaigns. Here are two examples:

  • The ‘Anti-Precarity Cymru’ campaign that spans multiple campuses in Wales have done a terrific job making and distributing Zines as a form of protest literature. These have been incredibly effective at raising visibility and awareness, but have also targeted specific issues on local campuses. You can find samples of their Zines at their Twitter account. Perhaps some of our creative and artistic Casuals could meet with us to plan a RH adaptation?
  • In a related campaign, the Cardiff branch has been running a ‘Common Room’, a meeting space for Casual staff. These have been relaxed and informal, but an incredibly successful way for Casuals to meet each other and build a sense of unity. These started as ‘talks’ similar to those planned at RH for next term, but have expanded to include talks about casual-staff well-being and maintaining student solidarity. While we are planning to begin something similar for the spring term, we would welcome any and all ideas for sessions to run in our own common room.

You can read about further suggestions in the excellent ‘Branch Solidarity Network’ handbook, available online.

Our current priority is to raise awareness of the plight of Casual staff, but also to unite Casuals on campus, through boosting Union membership, or and also encouraging as many Casuals as possible to come to UCU meetings.

Please do write to us if you have any questions/suggestions: rhulucu2018 at gmail.com
Please follow the anti-Casualisation twitter account: @CasualsRhul

RHUL-UCU go to the Equalities Conference

It was a diverse group of UCU representatives who trekked to Manchester recently for the annual equalities conference; with RHUL in attendance at the disabled, women’s and LGBT+ sessions.

Disabled members meeting

The session kicked off with a collegial and relatively informal meeting for disabled members. The first item was a report on the first annual Day of Action for Disability in Education. This programme led to a series of events across the country and gave rise to a meeting in Parliament to call for legislation limiting the time employers can take to make “reasonable adjustments” for disabled staff, to reverse cuts to special needs budgets, to introduce statutory disability leave for those who need time off due to their disability (thereby saving their jobs), and to strengthen accessible building regulations. It was agreed to make this an annual event, with greater publicity and advance notice next time.

The focus of subsequent presentations and debate was mental health, the links between stress and poor mental health, and the need for employers to take greater care of their staff. In part this was identified as arising from the lack of support for disabled colleagues working in universities, whether their problems were related to physical impairments, neurodiversity or mental health conditions. Of course mental health challenges also relate very directly to work-related stress – a connection most employers are aware of, and which our pay and equality claim this year attempted to tackle. Some universities are identifying this as a problem and even taking their own action, using commonly recognised measures of stress developed by the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE).  Yet we learned that certain universities, having distributed stress surveys, are withholding the results – a behaviour which speaks volumes. Sadly there wasn’t enough time for the interactive activities but we learned that, following the receipt of a formal “Improvement Notice” from the HSE relating to levels of work-related stress, the University of Liverpool had introduced a “Stress Management policy”. UCU branches are being encouraged to start work on reducing work-related stress by undertaking their own stress surveys, so we will be looking at the Liverpool policy for use at RHUL.

Whilst there had been a baffling array of motions for debate at the re-convened Congress in Manchester in October, delegates at the disabled members’ track only had one motion to discuss and vote on: a motion calling for university and college employers to go beyond tick-box exercises when discussing the need to develop more inclusive, disabled-friendly employment policies. The Disabled Members Standing Committee will develop a comprehensive inclusion policy to share with all Further Ed and Higher Ed establishments.

Women’s meeting

Despite chaos on the railways due to ‘high winds’ leading to most trains to Manchester being delayed and some cancelled altogether on the day of the Women’s meeting, the meeting was well attended, at least in the second half which was the point at which the RHUL delegate arrived off the delayed train from Euston. Sadly she had missed the two invited speakers who were Lynmarie O’Hara from Unison talking about the Glasgow women’s equal pay strike and Jo Seery from Thompsons Solicitors talking about sexual harassment non-disclosure agreements: the pros and cons of having them/not having them. The content was referred to throughout the rest of the meeting, suggesting both talks had been valuable. Three workshops were offered in the afternoon: a) Tackling sexual violence, b) Maternity pay – women on casualised contracts, c) Menopause – supporting women at work.

The RHUL delegate joined the first workshop on sexual violence which included sexual harassment. It was remarkable how many of the cases reported by delegates were very senior managers (all male). Many of the (female) recipients of their attentions were unwilling to name them but when they did the outcomes were unsatisfactory. On at least one occasion when the perpetrator of the harassment left the university as a result, he moved on to another university in a similarly senior position. This is particularly troubling as those who harass are often serial harassers and the problem will not be solved if they are free to repeat the behaviour at another university on the rare occasions that their guilt is established and they are required to leave their previous position. At least one caseworker at the Women’s meeting had had the disturbing experience of representing a member who was being investigated for, and was found guilty of, harassment.

Motions passed by the Women’s meeting included a number of requests to National Executive Committee including an investigation of non-disclosure agreements with the aim of developing a campaign to counter them. This motion also sought to bring a rule change to Congress 2019 aimed at expelling from UCU membership those found to be responsible for sexual harassment.

LGBT+ meeting

The meeting was well attended.  Outside speakers included a discussion on bisexuality and on intersex.  Bisexual and pansexual behaviour and identification are often ignored in the scientific and policy discussion, and there is evidence that these individuals do less well in economic and social measures.  With intersex individuals, there is a real problem in that others – parents and medical professionals – make decisions on early surgical interventions, without allowing the individual to develop and make their own decisions.  Another speaker discussed the treatment and situation of LGBT+ refugees and asylum seekers, and the role that has sometimes been played by the idea that individuals could avoid persecution in their country of birth by disguising their identities.  A third speaker presented the issues on trans individuals, which quickly turned into a discussion on the interactions between feminism and gender self-identification, with the occasional mention of Germaine Greer and whether or not there was a legitimate role for withdrawing invitations or ‘no platforming’ in cases where far right, fascist groups were not involved.

Plenary and conclusion

The plenary focused on presentations from an LGBT+ and a Justice for Grenfell activist, which led from their own experiences to the consideration of intersectionality issues, and then an oft heated debate on the rise of the right.  One of the most valuable parts of the whole itinerary was a look at preparation of discrimination cases, but sadly this was curtailed by the earlier debates.  UCU will be launching a booklet for each member giving them step-by-step advice on how to identify whether they are subject to discrimination and how then they might collate the evidence needed to win their case. Overall this was an illuminating and collaborative gathering, from which valuable insights were gleaned.

Posted on behalf of RHUL-UCU Branch representatives.

Report from the Special Higher Education Sector Conference

Last week’s conference in Manchester was in two parts. In the morning, pay was discussed in a quorate meeting. In the afternoon, the work of the Joint Evaluation Panel (JEP) and the USS valuation was discussed. The Chair ruled that the meeting was not quorate and therefore any votes taken were simply advisory to the Higher Education Committee. It has to be acknowledged that there was considerable concern expressed by delegates in both sessions about the Chairing of the meeting. Continue reading “Report from the Special Higher Education Sector Conference”

Jeff Frank: Update on Disciplinary Proceedings

Colleagues across the campus and in other universities continue to ask for updates on the disciplinary proceedings against Jeff Frank. These appear to have been initiated by Royal Holloway’s Human Resources (HR) department, but the person or persons managing the process on behalf of Senior Management have remained anonymous. There has been concern about the exceptional role of Professional Services in actions concerning an academic, and the implications for academic freedom.

The controversy created has been discussed in national and local media. We are grateful for the expressions of support conveyed to us by numerous UCU local branches. They have asked what they can do to help.

You may recall some of the history. Although suspension should not be used as a disciplinary measure, or in a ‘kneejerk’ fashion, Jeff has been suspended for seven months on charges that soon proved flimsy and included Jeff showing a ‘lack of fidelity’. The charges concerned actions Jeff took as a union case worker and as the local UCU’s Equalities and Diversity Officer on behalf of colleagues. HR abandoned collective bargaining arrangements, preferring instead to take out disciplinary action against a UCU representative.

We understand that the disciplinary panel sent its conclusions to Jeff very recently and regret that these are extremely serious. We cannot give details at this time, but observe that the sanctions represent a ‘sword of Damocles’ hanging over Jeff that potentially impacts on his academic freedom going forward as well as on his ability to support colleagues in his union role.

As soon as we have further details, we will of course circulate them.

USS Pension Scheme – Joint statement on the first Joint Expert Panel report

This joint statement has been agreed between the Principal, Paul Layzell and UCU Branch Chair, Chris Howorth, in the spirit of mutual cooperation in moving forward from last year’s pension dispute.

Professor Paul Layzell, Principal, Royal Holloway and Chris Howorth, UCU Branch Chair, have jointly welcomed the Joint Expert Panel’s first report on the USS 2017 pension valuation and its proposals on cost sharing provisions.

Recognising that the industrial action which led to the formation of the JEP was a bruising and unusual episode in the history of university employment relations, the report has now created consensus. Although the cost sharing proposal represents increased costs for members and employers, there is agreement that it offers a practical route forward.

Both the Pension Regulator and USS must now consider the recommendations, meaning there is still some way to go to fully resolve the 2017 valuation. The College and the local branch of UCU are committed to working together and in support of their respective representative bodies to maintain the momentum behind the JEP’s report. We look forward to the JEP’s second report which will look at the scheme’s long-term stability so that a positive outcome can be achieved in a timely fashion.