Monthly Archives: June 2019

Humans. Not Resources.

Bristol UCU launched its Humans. Not Resources campaign with a launch event IN November last year, a campaign in support of Bristol UCU’s current 20-point Anti-Casualisation Claim.

Around 40 people attended, sharing and discussing their experiences of working on casual, precarious contracts. They came from across the University, representing many of its Schools, Departments and Divisions.

The event kicked off with some mingling, some drinks and a few nibbles, as well as some anti-casualisation ‘jenga’, designed and ably administered by Paul Hurley, UWE and University of Bristol Artist-in-Residence.

Vicky Blake, UCU’s Vice President for Higher Education, opened the session with a vibrant and empowering talk. She reminded us that staff solidarity is the key point, a solidarity which is vertical as well as horizontal:

The power of communal actions and speaking out about casualisation is that it can articulate our demands for the cause of anti-casualisation while reducing the fear of doing so. It makes it easier for us to speak out about what is really happening and to name it as being unfair

Nick Varney, UCU’s South West Regional UCU official, pointed out that Bristol UCU is one of the first few union branches to make a local institutional claim. As the sixth biggest UCU branch (in terms of membership), Bristol UCU now has the power to negotiate with our employer to effect serious change. Nick also congratulated the Gender Pay Gap Claim negotiating team, currently negotiating Bristol UCU’s second institutional claim:

Thanks for educating our employer that we negotiate now, we just don’t sit and listen. We fight for this, we put a claim, this is our claim and we expect a positive outcome for these negotiations

Steve Parfitt, a casualised member of staff at the University of Nottingham and author of the International Labor and Working-Class History article ‘Academic Casualization in the UK’, shared his own experience as an HPT and fixed-term, 9-month teaching staff member. He hoped that Bristol’s local claim would be springboard for other local branch claims.

A number of speakers from the University of Bristol shared their experiences. A professor from the Social Sciences and Law Faculty acknowledged and apologised for his initial obliviousness to the issue. Until he started talking with casualised staff of his own School during the 2018 USS strike, he was unaware of the scale of the issue. He encouraged fellow members of staff to show solidarity with colleagues in precarious positions, by listening, learning and taking action at their own intra-school level.

Post-docs on short-term research contracts shared their experience of being casualised: the daily burden of financial insecurity, depression, anxiety, insomnia, self-depreciation, loneliness, hoping from country to country, from Universities to University, a general sense of managerial coercion:

The universities, and not only Bristol, keeps the bottleneck of employment artificially narrow, and I say artificially because they have a financial interest at doing so. And the cost is paid by us. Materially and non-materially, with high mental health issues and so on

When I look at post doc and fellows in my department, I think we all have the same experience across all schools. I think casualisation has a catastrophic effect on mental health of people. A recent study that came out last year found that 44% of academics have a major or minor mental health issue, which is just over twice the average percentage in the global population, and over four times what it was 45 years ago. Insomnia, depression, anxiety… It doesn’t make our department any different than anywhere else, and no one wants to say they have a problem, and everyone thinks they are alone. Casualisation means that there is a lack of support

Another contributor talked about the difficulties involved in teaching on a casualised contract:

There is also an impact on the implication you want to have on building courses, as you don’t know for how long you will be there. At the end of the year, you have ideas of what you would do differently next year, but obviously you are not sure you will be there, and you don’t have any structural support to put that in place. In the same way, as people get employed at the beginning of September, they have only one or two weeks to prepare all their teaching before the students arrives, and there is no time to changes, improve, get a better quality over the year. And this is not because of we are not good at our job, but because of the structural uncertainty of the contracts

The contributor embraced Vicky Blake’s call for vertical solidarity, from staff and on the part of students:

One of the other big things about this, is the vertically solidarity that should run along the students too. They are in a context where they brought a lot of money to the university for their studies, and they are not aware of how much of their teaching and face to face time is done by people on casual contracts…Making the students aware of these issues, can be a powerful part of the campaign, we need this vertical solidarity also coming from them

Many of the casualised workers present were, candidly, afraid to talk. Speaking about their working conditions was for PhD students and part-time staff a risky business:

I don’t want to look ungrateful

I feel insecure not being in a stable position. So much, at least for PhD students, futures reside on references, network etc, that you don’t want to be blacklisted

The treatment of casualised staff as shared by contributors is an all too familiar one: unpaid hours, late payments, unpaid training, going to conferences on your own money and time, an ever-expanding workload, the expectation that unfair working conditions are ‘expected’ of junior staff.

Other testimonies drew attention to the cost of casualisation. One speaker attested to a career based on casual contracts, leading to serious mental and physical health issues. Another speaker spoke of ‘surfing the ride of uncertainty’ for nearly 10 years, unable to build a career from what scant opportunities existed.

If Humans. Not Resources. showed anything, it showed that ‘we’ are not alone. This is not an individual’s problem; it is a problem of casualisation, of the system we are caught up in.

One speaker brought up Naomi Klein’s argument in No Logo:

Companies see themselves as organisers of collections of contractors as opposed as employment organisations

Coming out of the meeting, it was clear that we needed to ensure that our University does not become a place of (further) social injustice and despair. So said the collective voices of PhD students, fellows, post-docs, temporary staff, hourly paid teachers, fixed-term workers represented at our event. Voices of highly educated people, smart, generous, dedicated to their jobs, proud of their research, passionate. People who love their jobs and want to do it well. Who need security and fairness. Who need solidarity from colleagues and students.

And who need change:

Everything I am building my life around is temporary and disposable. And that’s how the university views you. And the job feels great; but not knowing what’s going to happen is hard, relationships, mortgage, house, family, it affects everything

For more information:

  • The Bristol UCU Anti-Casualisation Claim:

https://cpb-eu-w2.wpmucdn.com/blogs.bristol.ac.uk/dist/4/295/files/2018/10/Bristol-UCU-Anti-Casualisation-Claim-5th-October-2018-tspeee.pdf

  •  ‘Fighting the gig economy – of academics not students’, The Bristol Cable, 27th November 2018:

https://thebristolcable.org/2018/11/fighting-the-gig-economy-of-academics/

  • ‘University of Bristol lecturers ‘in precarious employment’ call time on hourly contracts’, Bristol Post, 16th November 2018:

https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/bristol-news/university-bristol-lecturers-in-precarious-2225173

  • ‘New UCU campaign to reduce casual contracts for University staff’, Epigram, 14th November 2018:

https://epigram.org.uk/2018/11/14/new-ucu-campaign-to-end-casual-contracts-for-university-staff/

  • ‘Tackling Precarious Contracts at the University of Bristol: Bristol UCU Update on Our Anti-Casualisation Claim’, bristolucu blog, 13th June 2019:

https://bristolucu.wordpress.com/2019/06/13/tackling-precarious-contracts-at-the-university-of-bristol-bristol-ucu-update-on-our-anti-casualisation-claim/

Tackling Precarious Contracts at the University of Bristol: Bristol UCU Update on Our Anti-Casualisation Claim

Where do we stand with Bristol UCU’s Anti-Casualisation Claim? What next and what needs to be done? How far (or not) have we come? Claim negotiators recap recent Claim negotiating, detail what needs to be done and outline future actions.

Tackling precarious contracts, ending insecurity of employment is a key Bristol UCU branch priority, hence our Bristol UCU Anti-Casualisation Claim. There have already been some positive developments as regards the Claim, not least the commitment by the University and some Heads of School to address insecure employment, but there are also key demands that Claim negotiators are keen to press for. These include:

  • parity of treatment for staff technically employed as cover for, for example, staff on research leave and as maternity cover
  • issuing of fixed term, fractional contracts rather than hourly paid contracts
  • bridging fund support for fixed-term research staff
  • offering open-ended part-time contracts to long-serving hourly-paid staff with low contract hours
  • ending use of 9- and 10-month teaching contracts

Where We Are

In October last year, this branch submitted an Anti-Casualisation Claim to the University. This was part of UCU’s existing strategy of encouraging and supporting branches to submit local claims: a concrete list of demands requiring a formal public agreement between individual universities and their UCU branches. See also our Gender Pay Gap Claim in this regard.

Following our highly successful USS industrial action, UCU, at a branch, regional and UK level, saw an opportunity to take our picket line grievances concerning insecure terms of employment and to effect meaningful reform at our institutions. As the strike showed, and arguably last year’s University of Bristol Staff Survey corroborated, the use of short-term, precarious contracts, and the inequitable treatment of casualised staff, was an issue front and centre of Bristol’s ‘staff experience’, requiring urgent remedy.

The Bristol UCU Claim has 20 demands: please click on the link to read the Claim [link]. In summary, these look to reduce the use of unnecessary short, temporary contracts, to see that staff are paid fairly for all work that they do and to ensure parity of workplace treatment for fixed-term and hourly-paid teaching staff.

Following the Claim’s submission, the University of Bristol and Bristol UCU committed to work together to reduce the precarious employment of academic and professional services staff on fixed-term contracts of employment. This commitment was expressed in the joint statement issued by the University and Bristol UCU in January. The statement made it clear that security of work and excellent staff experience are aims to which both the University and UCU are committed.

This was a positive first step on the part of the University, which Bristol UCU Claim negotiators are quick to acknowledge. As well as the joint statement, UCU and University reps established a Special Interest Group to negotiate the Claim, and as a vehicle for ongoing Claim negotiations, we have established a Precarious Contracts Review Group. This Review Group is populated by two HR Project Officers working directly for the project, as well as University and UCU representatives.

This example of constructive partnership working was recently cited in Liz Morrish’s acclaimed report Pressure Vessels: The epidemic of poor mental health among higher education staff as an example of universities rightly taking responsibility for the consequences of precarious working.

What Needs To Be Done?

As members may have noted, timescales in the Claim have not been stuck to, for example, a conclusive agreement was to be reached by January 2019. The ongoing, open nature of negotiations is something that your branch negotiators have largely accepted as many of the Claim’s points are being addressed. Branch negotiators are happy to continue with open negotiations but would be concerned if more concrete agreement on our priorities did not look likely to be achieved in the autumn.

Branch negotiators are keen to campaign on those points of the claim that we feel the University needs to address as a matter of urgency.

We are pushing for:

parity of treatment for staff technically employed as cover. For example, staff with the same length of service, one on a fixed-term contract and one employed on a cover ‘some other substantial reason’ contract, should be treated equally as regards rights accruing from length of their service. Currently, staff on cover contracts do not get access to the University’s redeployment pool or redundancy pay. We have had a recent instance of a member of staff with over 10 years’ service, whose last contract was a cover role, being denied access to redeployment and to redundancy pay. This requires an urgent change to University ordinances, in place by the autumn, to remove reference to contracts for reasons of cover being grounds for a ‘some other substantial reason’ contract.

issuing of fixed term rather than hourly paid contracts. This could potentially end the administrative burden of submitting fee claims when contracted hours have already been established in advance, as well as encouraging contract standardization, making it easier to establish parity of remuneration for staff with the same workload and on the same grade.

bridging fund support for fixed-term research staff. Our research Pathway 2 staff live from project to project, from grant to grant. We believe the modest step of the explicit ring-fencing of bridging funds at, for example, a Faculty level, will support staff in making funding applications, demonstrating a commitment to develop staff’s careers and potentially bringing in important research funding for this institution.

offering open-ended part-time contracts to long-serving hourly-paid staff with low contract hours. We would like to see a progressive revision to the existing policy to recognise those teaching staff that have been employed at Bristol for a substantive period of time, and currently do not have the minimum number of hours needed to be converted to more secure fractional ‘permanent’ contracts.

ending use of 9- and 10-month teaching contracts. Giving fixed-term teaching staff the necessary paid time to prepare and develop their teaching, or to carry out their scholarship duties, is a duty of the University. Stopping the issuing of contracts that do not take workload and career development into account is a principle that the University should support. Durham University has done it; why not Bristol?

What Next?

In advance of the start of the new academic year, the Humans. Not Resources campaign is planning to issue a leaflet highlighting our Claim and its demands. Publicizing the claim, versing the university community in its terms of debate is a vital branch task.

Bristol UCU recognises the positive partnership work that has been so far in this ‘project’. Work is ongoing – the Precarious Contract Working Group has an action grid and timeline, for instance. Branch negotiators are keen, though, to push for those parts of the Claim that we have not seen any movement on, and look to members’ support in doing so.

Bristol UCU’s anti-casualisation work, and UCU’s anti-casualisation work in general, is long-standing, and the progress of this branch Anti-Casualisation Claim is the fruit of these labours.

Bristol UCU Congress Report 2019

UCU Congress 2019 – a collection of delegates from UCU branches, regional committees and UK-level committees – came to debate and decide UCU policy at Harrogate Convention Centre. University of Bristol UCU had 4 delegates this year, a testimony to our large post-USS strike membership. Our branch delegates were Suzy Cheeke, Jamie Melrose, Paul Ayres and Celine Petitjean. Our incoming branch Membership and Recruitment Secretary Mercedes Villalba also attended Congress as a UCU South West Regional delegate.

Congress got off to a good start from a Bristol point of view when we saw that a photo from our ‘Post Your Vote’ event in February was the Congress agenda front cover.

The year’s Congress took some important decisions on USS and industrial action, on the representation of migrant members, on UCU membership fees and on the union’s position regarding gender identity and academic freedom. Congress also welcomed UCU’s new General Secretary Jo Grady. Jo addressed Congress on the opening day, noting how UCU was ‘one union…from professional services staff to prison educators, from the regions and nations to Carlow Street’ and pointing out ‘it’s time to restore our sense of self-worth and remember how much power and authority we have’ as university and college staff.

The motions that Congress votes on are submitted by UCU branches and regional committees across the UK. They are discussed at full Congress and at the sectorial conferences – the Higher Education Sector Conference (HESC) and the Further Education Sector Conference – which make up the second day of business.

It is incredibly difficult to summarise every decision taken at Congress. With over 150 motions, many with amendments, plus several late or emergency motions, Congress packs in a great deal. Suffice to say, UCU is not short of policy or position on a great many important issues for members, whether they be professional service staff, casualised, or on a research or teaching contract. UCU has a list of all the motions on its website – https://www.ucu.org.uk/Congress2019 – and Bristol UCU Congress delegates are happy to discuss further any questions/points members may have. It is also worth noting that a number of motions were not discussed because of lack of time, and also that a number of motions that were discussed are existing policy, that is, already on the UCU statute book.

USS

The headline regarding pensions coming out of Congress is the decision to ballot members over strike action in the event that USS employers, represented by Universities UK (UUK), do not agree to pay 100% of the scheduled October contribution rises. If UUK does not pick up the tab by Saturday, 1st June, UCU plans to initiate ‘an immediate campaign for industrial action, highlighting USS’s destructive role, with a ballot commencing 1st September 2019 which will give UCU negotiators the necessary leverage to save the USS defined benefit pension with no detriment to members’.

In addition, delegates voted to confirm UCU’s general position as regards a lack of confidence in USS leadership, our support for UCU trustee Jane Hutton and our opposition to Trinity College’s decision to exit the scheme. Congress also decided to run an industrial action ballot on equality, casualistion, workload and pay in the autumn, around the same time as the USS ballot.

Rule Changes

A dry topic perhaps, but incredibly important. For example, following Congress, UCU’s governing National Executive Committee (NEC) will now have two reserved seats for migrant members, a new standing committee and conference for migrant UCU members.

Members are reminded of the UCU Democracy Commission set up last year and whose interim report formed a good many of the proposed rule changes.

A majority of the rule change motions were remitted (not discussed but handed onto UCU’s NEC to decide, or to the planned Democracy Commission-themed Congress in November) because Congress 2019 ran out of the time: there was a good deal of contentious debate about one motion which endeavoured to make UCU UK-level representation fairer and more proportionate to branch membership. In doing so, though, it controversially halved Further Education delegate representation at Congress.

Those motions that were not remitted included proposals to transfer decision-making powers away from existing NEC committee such as UCU’s Higher Education Committee and Further Education Committee during industrial action, and to branch delegate dispute committees: no decision on any aspect of the conduct of the dispute could be taken without the approval of the dispute committee constituted for that dispute. The last proposal was not carried, having failed to secure the ⅔ Congress majority needed for any rule changes.

Workloads, Casualisation and Gender Pay Gap

On these important issues, UCU confirmed its general position: securing better terms and conditions for members on precarious contracts, closing the gender pay gap and fighting the exploitation norm of current HE workload.

For example, HESC committed to call on research funders to support 12-month minimum research staff contracts. UCU is also committed to push for collective agreements regarding the use of casualised contracts. Congress also voted to reduce subscription fees for those earning between £10K and £14,999 – £10.92 to 4.41 per month, and to slightly cut subs for members earning between £15K and £29,999. Congress also encouraged branches to follow in the footsteps of Bristol UCU and submit a ‘Close the Gap’ gender pay claim with UCU regional and national support. Congress reaffirmed UCU’s commitment to ‘reasonable workload allocation’ for all university staff – academic and academic-related. Mental health services were also debated with UCU committed to ‘campaign for better resourced counselling services’.

Also in HESC, we just about had enough time to emphasise UCU’s ‘campaign for employing institutions, possibly through UCEA, to agree not to return submission of compulsorily redundant staff’ in REF2021.

Equality

One of the most discussed motions at Congress was HE23 ‘Academic Freedom to Discuss Gender’. Brought to ‘re-affirm our commitment to academic freedom…and to the right of academics to participate in political debates’, the motion was opposed on the basis that it sanctioned trans-exclusionary or transphobic viewpoints and discriminatory practice. The motion fell.

Over the 3 days, Congress committed itself:

  • to campaign against the ethnic pay gap
  • organise and facilitate LGBT+ awareness raising actions within HE
  • to develop anti-racist materials aimed at exposing the far right to staff and students
  • to develop a campaign countering use of non-disclosure agreements involving accusations of sexual harassment

The proposal to expel UCU members ‘found guilty of sexual harassment’ was remitted for further consideration, the reason being that ‘by whom?’ needed to be more clearly specified.

Solidarity

UCU Congress called for a boycott of the University of London following the call by outsourced workers at Senate House. UCU also showed its support for the schoolchildren’s climate change strike, for a National Education Service and for victimised members of staff Tony Brown at UCL and Lee Humber at Ruskin College.