Spirit of collaboration with UCU rejected by senior management at RHUL

The RHUL UCU Branch Officers were dismayed to receive the following letter from Katie Normington on behalf of our Senior Management Team earlier this week. This was the formal reply to our request that they follow other top universities in scrapping wage deductions for strikers, due to the massive pressure on these staff to move all work on-line.

It is disappointing to be accused of unnecessary collation of COVID-19  and our dispute, when our members chose to cancel their last two strike dates due to the need to support students exacerbated by the pandemic crisis. It causes us further dismay that our offer to use our anti-casualisation working group to consider how best to support our casual and fixed-term colleagues was ignored. We believe these staff are valuable and must be protected wherever possible. In addition, both the anti-casualisation and equalities working groups have been suspended indefinitely, with no response to our request for future dates.

And so, members, despite the initial gains from our dispute, we are now back to square one. You might want to square that with our mandate to continue ASoS until late April.

Posted on behalf of RHUL UCU Branch Officers

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Dear Chris

I write in your capacity as UCU branch Chair following a request from Donna Brown that we restate salaries that were deducted for participation in the recent industrial action.

We have considered this request at Principal’s Advisory Group today.

We are very grateful to your members, and in particular to members of the committee, who have worked over the last ten days to ensure that we were able to deliver the last week of term online. We have been able to agree with committee members vital policies and are grateful for all the work that has gone into adapting our business.

However, we do not believe that the issues of industrial action and the response to Coronavirus should be conflated. It remains that students lost a large proportion of teaching which has not and will not be made up. It is also the case that many assessments have already been changed and deadlines extended because of industrial action, and that has made it more difficult for us to mitigate against Coronavirus.

In making our decision we have considered that duties have still not been delivered and that many colleagues, some UCU members, took a very difficult personal decision not to take strike action this time and often picked up more duties around student advising and the like. It would be particularly unfair on those colleagues to have undertaken these additional support tasks and now to find the ‘slate wiped clean’ as it were.

This will continue to be a difficult time for both individuals, students and the College. As I said, we do not believe it is right to inflate Industrial Action and the response to Covid-19. We continue to be grateful to colleagues who are working under difficult circumstances. it is important that we continue to work together at this time in order to adapt to the changed delivery system we find ourselves needing, and I look forward to further work with the UCU officers in the coming weeks.

Yours

Katie

Professor Katie Normington
Deputy Principal (Academic)

COVID-19 & ASoS

This week we returned to work after 12 days of strike action to a wholly changed work environment. Suddenly we are thrown in to a whirlwind of trying to change our working practices, whether we work in research, admissions, student support or teaching, in order to work remotely to minimise contact.

As a gesture of goodwill our members will do this, but many of us are unfamiliar with the technology ,and many of us need to add software to our home machines. Adapting our practices takes thought and time –  time which for UCU members is constrained by our continuing Action Short of a Strike. Remember, ASoS means we work only those hours for which we are paid to demonstrate just how ridiculous our workloads now are. At this point we continue to await information from our senior and line managers about which tasks we can drop in order to make the necessary adjustments to work in this new environment.

We have discussed before the disappointing lack of a resolution from national negotiations on working conditions and saving our pension scheme, though some progress has been made and negotiators remain hopeful. At the local level, we have expressed satisfaction with joint work between senior management and UCU to examine and reduce the level of casualisation. This work has started with the School of Humanities but we would hope to have general principles to roll out by the new academic year. This recognition, at long last, of the damage casualisation does to our staff and our students seems to be sincere. We are expecting Senior Management to announce that they will offer casualised staff who have a regular pattern of hours sick pay to cover up to two weeks of lost earnings should a staff member need to self-isolate; and that they will compensate staff for work which is cancelled as part of the virus response for their “expected or average” hours until the end of April.   Whilst this support is not available to all of our casual employees, it represents  welcome recognition of the hardships faced by insecure workers.

Members, as we sign off, it remains only to say, stay safe and do follow all health advice. We assure you that our thoughts are with you, your families, the rest of our colleagues and our student community.

RHUL UCU Branch Committee, in solidarity

 

RHUL UCU on the RHUL CoVid19 Response

Members, as we remain on strike you will probably not have seen RHUL management’s plan to move teaching activity on-line to minimise the risk to staff and students from CoVid19 (see also the 12th March update at the central Coronavirus college webpage). Clearly a once-in-a-lifetime event requires us to be somewhat flexible as we seek to protect our families, friends, students and colleagues. The official College message follows, with an accompanying statement from your Branch Officers.

Management statement shared with UCU this afternoon

In line with other universities, such as LSE, Durham, and Birmingham, we are making urgent moves to be able to teach online so that academic staff can work from home. Given we have not used our technology on this scale before, there will be a two-pronged approach using Panopto to capture lectures, and using MS Teams to facilitate group work:

1. 16-20 March: we will switch on the recording software in all the rooms that are available to record for the timetabled slots listed as ‘Lecture’. Those classes will all be automatically recorded and uploaded. If something that should not have been recorded (eg it’s not a lecture but a seminar), then you will be able to delete the recording via Moodle as usual, if you wish. ‘Small’ group classes will take place face-to-face as usual. During this week you will be able to download the Panopto software that will enable this to be done remotely from 23 March onwards.

2. 23-27 March. All lectures should now be enabled to recorded at home using Panopto. Small group teaching will also be able to take place online through MS Teams. Instructions on how to use Teams will be available before that date.

3. During this period we will work systematically through the range of other teaching formats – practicals, performances, demonstrations – to see how these can be replaced. Please be patient while our limited resources are directed to deal with these complex cases.

While staff are on campus to complete their teaching next week, they will also have the opportunity to attend clinics/training and download Panopto to support online teaching.

We have discussed this approach with some UCU committee members and they are in agreement that, in these extraordinary circumstances, this is the best way forward. This is on the grounds that this is a temporary measure and that staff can delete these recordings for these weeks after the end of September resits.

I would be grateful if you would discuss this with the staff and make sure they understand the importance of providing as much online material as we can, and offering any support they may need to think of ways to adapt any teaching to suit an online format. At this time our institutional priority is to move teaching online so as to best protect staff and students and therefore we expect that priorities are adjusted to focus on this at present.

RHUL-UCU’s Observations

In considering the statement from senior management, the Branch Officers had three primary concerns: whether the wider use of lecture recording would be used as a Trojan horse; how staff would be able to master this technology when we will return to work on Monday observing Action Short of a Strike (ASoS); and whether the policy was comprehensive enough to cover all teaching-related activities.

In terms of the Trojan horse threat, we have been assured that this represents a one-off extension of recording and that staff will be able to destroy their recordings in September, following the re-sit cycle for 2019-2020.

We await information on which tasks staff should drop in order to attend a session on using this technology and adapting their plans to use it; however, we remind all concerned that we will only work those hours for which we are paid. Therefore, if this – as one expects – takes additional work time, we will drop other tasks, and will expect this to be accepted without question. Other commentators are suggesting all work on sector-wide metrics like the REF be delayed, but this requires a response beyond our own institution. However, we can look for clear guidance from HoSs and HoDs about what is non-essential and can be dropped in this unprecedented situation.

Finally, we have pointed out that the current plan identifies technology to enable staff to deliver and record lectures at home or to run discussion-based seminars on-line. However, it does not cover a vast array of other teaching related activities; these might include performance sessions, group presentations or lab work. We await further instruction about how these activities might be adjusted.

We have offered to keep our channels open to discuss further measures with senior management, including helping them to identify any problems (and solutions) arising from this proposal. We enter this strange period in a spirit of cooperation and willingness to collaborate.

While Royal Holloway has taken the initiative to protect staff and students, to read a critique of the wider sector response we recommend reading USS Briefs 92.

Posted on behalf of the RHUL UCU Branch Officers 

Taking ASoS During The Holidays: Annual Leave and Discretionary Days

Now that term has finished, although we are heading into the winter break we are still taking Action Short of a Strike. We thought now was a good time to remind our members of our contractual entitlements around annual leave and discretionary days.

Hopefully, all our members are aware of the days of annual leave they are entitled to each year in their contract (although whether we are able to take them all every year is a different matter). What’s less well publicised is that in addition to annual leave, colleagues are entitled to a number of discretionary or closure days identified by the college; you can see the days for 2019 to 2020 here.

As stated in the college’s guidance notes for annual leave, staff have the following annual leave entitlements:

Staff in Grades 1-5: 20 days plus 8 Bank Holidays and 6 Closure Days designated by the College

Staff in Grades 1-5 who reach five years’ continuous service between 1st August and 30th November receive 3 extra days with immediate effect. Staff who reach five years’ continuous service between 1st December and 31st March receive 2 extra days in the current annual leave year and the further day in the following leave year. Staff who reach five years’ continuous service between 1st April and 31st July will receive 1 extra day in the current annual leave year and the further 2 days in the following leave year.

Staff in Grades 6-10: 27 days plus 8 Bank Holidays and 6 Closure Days designated by the College.

Academic Staff: 27 days plus 8 Bank Holidays and 6 Closure Days designated by the College.

We note that this year, we have an additional discretionary day since Christmas Eve falls on a Tuesday – a welcome gesture from senior management. This means the college is closed from Monday 23rd December 2019 and does not reopen until Thursday 2nd January 2020. Since we are working to contract as part of our action short of a strike, we recommend that our members take these discretionary days seriously and do not work during this period. We are contractually obliged to this time in addition to any other annual leave we may be taking, and it is important to give ourselves time to recover and refresh ourselves for the important work of the spring term. You should also not record these discretionary days as annual leave, since they are a separate part of your annual leave entitlement.

If you can foresee problems with, for instance, turning around coursework marking within the college’s stated deadlines which will be caused by this much-needed and welcome break in our regular activity, you should e-mail your line manager immediately to inform them of the likely impact.

We wish all our members a restful and restorative holiday, and hope that we all begin 2020 refreshed and energised for whatever may lie ahead.