We will be circulating the full minutes of our most recent meeting to all members shortly, but in the meantime, here’s a selection of highlights.
Motion on Climate Action
As you may know from previous blogposts, RHUL performed very poorly in the People and Planet League table released earlier this year. In addition, the Students’ Union set a good example for us in May, when they passed a resolution to recognise the climate emergency. There is an urgency for the branch to act on this issue, since there is a council meeting on 9 October, with environmental matters on the agenda. An extensive RHUL-UCU motion was proposed, listing out a set of beliefs, and resolutions (sent out to all members via e-mail). Key points include reducing high-carbon foods and banning single-use plastics on campus wherever possible. The motion was carried by a large majority, and will now be sent on to be included in the papers for next week’s Council meeting. The ultimate aim is to get this included in the College’s updated environment strategy, which will set the plan of action for the next ten years.
Ballots and Get the Vote Out
Debbie Driscoll, our Regional Support Officer, visited us to give a talk about the simultaneous ballots that are currently running: one on USS, and the other on pay and equalities. Both of these ballots are disaggregated, meaning that we as a branch need to secure 50% turnout on both in order to be included in any strike action.
The USS ballot is in response to the recent negotiations between UUK, USS and the proposals by the agreed JEP. UCU accepted the JEP report and in their entirety; we are unhappy that USS rejected the report and that USS won’t hold them to account. Currently, employers are forcing USS members to pay towards contribution increases – 9.6% from Oct 2019, and 11% in Oct 2021. This has come about from USS’s refusal to implement the JEP’s proposals, despite what was agreed at the end of last year’s strike action. It is estimated that under current plans, the average USS member stands to lose £240,000 in retirement (as a result of changes made since 2011). The USS ballot aims to:
- Insist that USS should cover contribution increases
- Insist USS should implement JEP’s proposals
- To hold USS to account
Pay and Equality Ballot
Staff pay has been seriously eroded over the last few years. Spending on staff in UK universities has fallen by an average of 58% down to 54%. Our salaries are now worth 20% less than they were 10 years ago. Employers have only offered a below inflation pay increase of 1.8%. In addition to all this, we all know the stress of academic workload: the average working week is above 50 hours (with 29% of academics working more than 55 hours per week). Job insecurity is endemic, with over 100,000 teaching staff in HE on casual contracts and zero-hour contracts. In many cases, cuts on staffing costs are achieved by increasing the numbers of casual staff. We also have a severe gender pay gap at RHUL, as well as a pronounced pay gap for protected characteristics, as we have written previously on the blog. The pay and equality ballot is a joint trade union claim with Unison and Unite. The claim proposes the following:
- A pay rise of RPI + 3% or £3,349, whichever is the greater
- £10ph minimum pay
- 35 hour working week
- A commitment to close the gender pay gap and take action on ethnic pay gap
- To agree framework to eliminate precarious contracts – move to fractional and end outsourcing
- Nationally agreed payment to recognise excessive workloads
The biggest concern is to achieve a good turnout well above 50% so that we have a strong negotiating position. Remember: the bigger the mandate for strike action, the better the outcome.
Local Arrangements to Get the Vote Out
A lot of the GTVO focus falls on departmental reps. Priority is direct human contact– to press the members in your department to ask if they have voted in the ballot. In some departments (especially large departments), this can be very difficult, and some reps may find this hard owing to their individual circumstances (fractional contracts, etc). In such cases, branch committee members are happy to visit departments and assist. Reps can contact members by telephone if they are unable to knock on doors.
Visibility is key – for members to put posters up, to wear their ‘I voted’ stickers, or place them around their buildings. Especially, please remind members of the address they need to go to if they need to get new papers (especially following the shuffling of school-ification, where many members have changed their work location). If you have any new staff in your department, please encourage them to join and then vote – there is still time!
Deadline to get your ballot papers in is 30 October, but the post deadline is 28 October.
Other issues raised included ‘fact-checking’ college emails from senior management, as well as queries about Royal Holloway’s track record of decreasing staff costs in favour of increasing spend on new buildings. Check your inboxes for the meeting minutes for further details!