“Just Say No”: RHUL-UCU Committee recommends a no vote on the Four Fights offer

All UCU members are about to be emailed and asked for their response to the 2019/20 offer on pay and conditions from UCEA, the employers’ body which negotiates on these issues with all trade unions in HE. You are all working flat-out so are likely to have forgotten the details of the campaign and some of you may wish for a steer from the Branch Committee. The Branch Committee recommends rejection. Here’s why.

In late 2019 and early 2020 members of UCU at RHUL and many other universities took industrial action as part of a campaign for better working conditions. Known as the “Four Fights” dispute, UCU asked for action to eradicate gender and race pay gaps; the end of the scourge of casualisation; compensation for “overtime” and the end of intolerable workloads and a pay rise. You can remind yourselves of the details here.

Discussions with the University and College Employers Association (UCEA) were terminated by the coronavirus. The final offer from UCEA offered only future local level work to make improvements in three areas: national frameworks for looking at and generating data on pay gaps; for discussions on workloads; and to explore scope for reducing casualisation. There was no money for the frameworks or sanctions for institutions who do not engage in joint local work on these issues. There was no improvement on the 1.8% (average) pay rise which was imposed in 2019.

RHUL UCU held two short and issue-specific open meetings in May to discuss the offer and ascertain our members’ responses. Members were keen to hear the experience of those Committee members who had been discussing casualisation and equalities with local management and to gain a sense of the robustness of local negotiations. It was with disappointment that we had to explain that working groups in these areas had been halted by Senior Management in March, as they argued they had to focus on the COVID-19 crisis. You may be disappointed to learn these issues were considered so expendable in March; you may, however, be more surprised to know that even now we still cannot get a response to our requests to re-start these working groups or an alternative, effective, mechanism for resolving these long running issues.

The members who attended these meetings and who emailed in their views were strongly in favour of rejecting of this offer. Branch Committee delegates fed this response back to the national negotiators. It was a very widely held response nationally. Rejecting the offer does not mean that we will be taking industrial action, it just means the onus is on UCEA to continue discussions with UCU.

We firmly believe we should all vote to reject this offer.

Posted on behalf of the RHUL-UCU Branch Committee

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What Happened To The Four Fights And USS Disputes?

Given the scramble to make sense of the radical changes to our operations and the attendant destruction of our terms and conditions of employment, you could be forgiven for forgetting that it was only a few weeks ago that we concluded our industrial action on the 4 Fights and USS disputes. For those who have forgotten what the two disputes were about, let’s remind you.

The Disputes

The USS dispute reflected ongoing issues which were not entirely resolved by our strike in 2018, when we managed to get the employers association, Universities UK (UUK), to back down from their plans to end a defined benefit scheme. An update on this dispute from early May is available here.

The Four Fights dispute combined a number of issues handily outlined on this graphic.

Ballots for action were taken at the institutional level, as it was thought this was the best way to meet the legal requirement for a 50% turnout. Around 50% of UK universities, including RHUL, then took part in 22 days of industrial action before Christmas and again in spring term. Action Short of a Strike (ASoS) continued at RHUL and many other institutions until the end of April, though ASoS remains in place in institutions who joined that action during the second round of ballots.

Offers Or Not

Discussions with UUK to resolve the pension dispute have not culminated in an offer. Progress has been made in terms of greater cooperation between UCU and UUK in pressing USS to drop Test 1, to look at the cost and benefits of de-risking and to elicit greater information sharing. However, there is no offer to reduce members’ contributions or for employers to absorb some of their burden (in recognition of the past payments holiday or the strike action required to save defined benefits). To be clear, there is no offer from Universities UK (UUK) on the table with respect to the pensions issue.

There is an offer with respect to the Four Fights. Discussions with the University and College Employers Association (UCEA) were unexpectedly halted due to the coronavirus, with some anticipated marginal gains disappearing and taking us back to the earlier offer. Members should note too that the negotiations for the 2020/1 claim should have started by now, but these have been postponed for the same reason. The final offer from UCEA does not improve on the (imposed) average 1.8% pay increase. However, it offers local level work to make improvements in the three other areas: national frameworks for looking at and generating data on pay gaps, for discussing workloads, and to explore scope for reducing casualisation are proposed. Data and best practice would be shared at the national level, to stimulate wider work in these areas. There is to be no money for the frameworks or sanctions for institutions who do not engage in joint work on these issues.

The Higher Education Committee (HEC) of UCU had originally planned to re-ballot for continued action in March 2020 but this was scrapped due to the corona crisis. As it stands today HEC has decided there should be re-ballots on both issues starting either on 30th June or as soon as practically possible after that date. Continue reading “What Happened To The Four Fights And USS Disputes?”

A member’s plea: please cancel pay deductions

We have been copied into this personal letter from a member to the Principal concerning the College’s refusal to cancel planned salary deductions for strike action. We post it with the member’s permission, although we have removed some identifying details.

Dear Professor Layzell,

I am writing to express my dismay at your decision to continue with pay deductions for staff that undertook Industrial Action in February and March. I would like you to reconsider.

We have met on several occasions; I’ve done my BA, MA, and PhD here, and so know first hand how brilliant this college’s staff are. I have taught, under successive fixed term contracts, since 2013. So I also know how brilliant and dedicated our students are.

I also work at another London institution – working fractional, fixed term contracts necessitates juggling multiple roles – and I was heartened when I received an email from the principal, outlining his decision not to deduct pay for this recent period of Industrial Action. He rightly recognised that the COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented situation that has caused major disruption to lives across the globe in a way that, when the Industrial Action was called and carried out, was inconceivable. Here at Royal Holloway, UCU suspended its final days of Industrial Action on the 19 and 20 March when it became clear how radically the pandemic was going to impact the lives of staff and students. As you have yourself acknowledged, the UCU’s dispute raises a number of legitimate concerns that affects a great many of your incredibly hard-working staff, and in taking Industrial Action, UCU members accepted the sacrifice of the wages. As a precarious employed member of staff, I know well what an agonising decision this is – we didn’t want to lose 14 days’ pay, and disrupt our students’ learning so massively, but felt that if we did not act, our voices would not be heard. Many members, including myself, may have had to act differently if we had known that just around the corner were seismic changes to our sector and to our world. For precariously employed staff, paid hourly or on fixed term contracts that end in the summer, this situation is particularly alarming – the college may, understandably, not be able to afford to employ us on any basis after this academic year.

I have seen the letter sent by Professor Normington to the UCU and recognise that you want to act fairly. But cancelling or delaying deductions is not politicising the COVID-19 crisis – it is a compassionate response that takes into account the serious, long term problems affecting many members of your incredibly hard working staff. You have rightly made a series of sweeping changes to ameliorate this situation for students, but where is the same consideration for your staff, especially those who are precariously employed?

I can personally attest to how your staff went above and beyond when the crisis hit to make sure that students were able to carry on learning, were supported through changes to assessments, and were – most importantly – reassured in these extraordinary circumstances. Precarious staff far exceeded the remits of their contracts. For example, I am paid hourly, covering the classes I teach in addition to preparation and marking, but I worked through days, evenings, and weekends with my colleagues to adapt teaching and assessments. I am confident this kind of practice – this commitment to the college and its students – is endemic across our institution.

In the weeks and months to come, Royal Holloway will only continue to thrive, maintaining its outstanding reputation, if you have the goodwill and support of your staff. Not only does your decision to continue withholding pay underscore the sentiment of apathy towards staff that fueled the Industrial Action in the first place – especially when many other institutions have taken a more caring approach – it may make it very difficult for many members of staff to actually provide the level of hard work you will need from us. In essence, Professor Layzell, I am telling you that hard as it already is to be a precariously employed staff member at this college, your decision makes it that much harder.

I am asking you – not only as one member of staff to another, but as one human to another – please reconsider. Do the responsible thing. Do the right thing.

Yours sincerely,

A RHUL UCU member

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

***

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)

RHUL UCU write to the Principal about cancelling salary deductions

Last week, the RHUL UCU Branch Committee wrote to the Principal to request that salary reductions for strike action be cancelled in recognition of the extraordinary effort our members have made in adjusting to our current unprecedented circumstances. We have yet to receive a reply. We also note that the senior management team have cancelled scheduled meetings on both anti-casualisation and the gender pay gap, and have not responded to requests to reschedule. We publish our letter to the Principal below for our members’ information.

***

Dear Principal,

Re: cancellation of salary deductions for recent UCU industrial action

All stakeholders of this College are working together as never before to deliver a good experience for our students and to ensure the health of our institution at a time of global crisis.

Who could have foreseen how fast our colleagues would make the switch to new ways of working; it is a testament to their dedication to students, colleagues and this College. But, we must recognise that these changes bring challenges and have required herculean efforts. That our staff have risen to this challenge whilst dealing with their own private concerns and responsibilities is magnificent, it reminds us that the greatest asset of any organisation is its staff.

Many universities and colleges have responded to the crisis with a new spirit of co-operation. At Royal Holloway the local branch of UCU cancelled the last two strike dates at short notice to allow staff to focus on their students, a gesture which was mirrored elsewhere. Our Chair and Secretary have made themselves available for regular crisis meetings with the Senior Management Team (SMT). For the employers’ part, we know that many universities are choosing to cancel salary deductions for industrial action in February and March. This recognises the huge effort required to adapt to new modes of working and provides greater income for their staff at a time of crisis. So far Southampton, St Andrews and Ulster universities and Birkbeck and Kings College have done so. We are confident this list will grow and we would like to see Royal Holloway join this list of supportive employers.

In particular Kings College made their offer as part of a gesture to staff, enabling them to work together on at speed mitigating the impact of both the dispute and Covid19 on students’ exams. Their position is illustrated here.

Royal Holloway made a commitment to pay its casual staff, those with a regular pattern of work, their expected salaries until the end of April. This was an important guarantee when the crisis first hit us but it is now time to consider how we can support these staff beyond that date. And, there may be other staff not covered by this initial protective measure whose commitment we wish to retain. We must also think about those fixed-term staff whose contracts will shortly elapse, and for whom job search will be impossible. The RHUL-UCU anti—casualisation working group has already begun work with SMT to identify how we can provide greater employment security to our colleagues, using the School of Humanities as our case study. We stand ready to work with you on finding additional ways to protect these valued staff.

Principal, will you consider cancelling salary deductions for the recent UCU strike?

RHUL-UCU Branch Committee