The result of the Bristol UCU e-ballot was fairly conclusive. Of those who voted, roughly 2/3 voted to accept the pay offer, 1/3 voted to reject – 62% to accept; 38% to reject.
On this basis, and following the Bristol UCU AGM, Bristol UCU delegates have a clear message to send to those decision-makers within UCU who will determine our next steps. With UCU Congress on the horizon, the pressing decision there will to be to hold an all-member ballot or to act on the feedback from branch delegates.
It is worth noting that the headline figure on pay is not the entirety of the pay offer.
Workload and casualisation are two other key components of the pay offer. On both of these issues there is not much to sing the praises of. Workload continues to be an issue, but our employers do not wish to negotiate it nationally.
Addressing casualisation remains elusive. The only commitment in the the pay offer is ‘to wait for the outcome of the joint working group that already is considering fixed term and variable hours contracts‘. There is no commitment to reduce the use of casualised contracts.
The decision to accept the pay offer, to take our medicine and move on does not reflect broad contentment amongst staff. More, it reflects the strategic impasse which UCU finds itself in. Members are clearly unhappy on a range of issues but not sufficiently angry enough on the specific issue of a pay percentage to take the kind of industrial action that would make a difference. The concept of victory remains elusive in UCU. The 2006 success, where campus unions secured a multi-year catch-up pay increase, seems a long time ago.
While settling for the pay deal may be said to reflect a general defeatism or indeed is a proxy for general staff contentment, other indicators would suggest staff at Bristol and beyond are increasingly discontented with their workplace.
A result less celebrated from the most recent 2015 University of Bristol Staff Survey shows only 29% of respondents were ‘confident that my ideas and suggestions are heard by decision makers’ (p. 15). Compare this result with the recent Guardian national university staff survey which found ‘two-thirds of those surveyed said they had less than an hour’s contact time with senior management on a weekly basis. While half said they were happy with the level, 40% wanted more access’.
On the positive side, there does seem a willingness from members locally to start exploring other issues for national (and local) actions. UCU needs to think creatively about the issues associated with casualisation – the shift away from security to precarity in academic and academic-related employment – and the manifest injustice of Higher Education workload. In the case of the latter, the ever increasing burden of task and responsibilities placed on staff, without the commensurate reward of time or money, is something that university managements refuse to take seriously. If the first step is acknowledging you a problem, universities are nowhere near the road to recovery.
Workload is an issue that Bristol UCU has invested in a great deal recently, even if the fruits of the labour remain somewhat hidden. Branch reps continue to advocate and help plan Workload Models across the University and take up individual cases on the basis of our University of Bristol Workload Agreement. Members may remember our Survey which we formally tabled with University management next year,
This, though, has had limited effect. Despite a lot of talk, the University as an institution consider workload an intractable quandary. As expansive and investment-heavy as our new Strategy is, as a driver for change, workload is conveniently sidelined.
This is why Bristol UCU is committed to ramping up the pressure on Bristol to take workload seriously. We plan, again, to raise UCU’s concerns with workload with Bristol management. We will be demanding an institutional approach, the recognition of the issue and set of concrete actions .