Until this year my role as department representative didn’t really involve much beyond communicating a few things between the branch and UCU members in my department, putting up posters, and sending out the occasional call to join to those not in the union. Before, during, and following this year’s industrial action, however, I found myself pretty much continually answering questions and being asked for advice, and a lot of the time I more or less felt like I was winging it, wondering whether the advice I was giving or the role I was filling was really helpful, correct, or what. I also found myself referring certain queries to the branch when I really had no idea what else to do, and like everybody else, my time on the picket line brought me into conversation with lots of different colleagues who I didn’t know before.
I’ve been thinking about these experiences alongside the situation that our colleague Jeff Frank finds himself in, and so decided to take up the offer to attend casework training, in hopes both that the process and responsibilities of casework might start to make a little more sense to me, and that I might also be in a better position to help my fellow UCU members at Royal Holloway. It strikes me as important to have as many willing people as possible trained and available to help one another.
The training was really good, and very useful. Basically, the day consisted of a morning of general discussion of the role of the caseworker and an outline of the legal framework for workplace disputes, and an afternoon of considering a handful of case studies from multiple perspectives. The trainers emphasized throughout the day that casework is always guided by an institution’s policies and procedures, and the role of the caseworker in ensuring that the process is carried out fairly when disputes about employment issues arise.
It’s not my intention to rehash a whole day’s training here, but I would like to say that it gave me a clear sense of how a UCU caseworker can both help guide a colleague through difficult workplace situations, and help strengthen the knowledge and role of the local union branch, and the importance of that role in the workplace. The training has certainly given me more confidence in my knowledge of how to help my colleagues.
It has also made clear to me that the process of casework is much less mysterious or specialized than I previously thought.
I hope more of my Royal Holloway-UCU colleagues take up the opportunity for this training. You get a pin badge at the end, so you know it’s worth it.
Written by Doug Cowie, Department Rep for the Department of English
The Branch at Royal Holloway will be running a campus workshop on casework in September. We’ll be talking about what’s been going on over the past year, trends on campus and beyond, and we’ll review a couple of actual (anonymised) cases.
If you’re a caseworker, or want to be, a course rep, or just interested in developing a better understanding of our employment policies please do come along.
The workshop will run on Tuesday 18th September, from 10am-2pm (including a sandwich lunch), in IN244. Everyone is welcome.