Pathway 2 – Concerns and Solutions

Please note this letter, sent early April 2022, is for information purposes primarily. Issues such as maternity pay and continuous service have been addressed in follow-up discussions, for example. In principle, the scenarios described here should not be so.

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6.4.22

Dear Judith,

At a brief meeting on 14 March, you asked UCU branch officers to follow up with you on concerns regarding pathway 2 (P2) staff and insecure working conditions which are causing difficulties. We have taken the past two weeks to consult with UCU members and University colleagues. This letter summarises the problems experienced by P2 colleagues and how we consider they could be addressed

P2 Roles/Contracts

Obviously, the greatest difficulty remains the temporary, short-term nature of P2 contacts due to the direct link between grants and the vast majority of UoB P2 staff members’ contracts, whether a fixed-term contract if the underlying funding is for less than 2 years, or open-ended with fixed-term funding if the funding is for 2 years or more. P2 staff’s lack of open-ended, core-funded University employment means that they:

a) are not usually eligible to apply for future funding

b) are constantly reapplying for their next position, meaning valuable time is spent on non-project-related activity, for example, redeployment or external job applications

c) are unable to plan ahead and cannot afford to make long-term commitments

d) suffer the wellbeing consequences of precarity

e) are not afforded the same career development opportunities as open-ended core-funded staff, meaning both the University and the individual miss out on mutually beneficial research outputs

As stated on the University’s Pathway 2 webpage [link], ‘[o]ur long-term aim must be to create a culture in which the direct link between a particular grant and a particular individual is broken and the University manages (i.e., recruits, manages, develops and promotes) a research staff resource that will meet the needs both of the current and future research contracts it holds and will hold’.

Breaking the link requires a shift in institution-wide employment hiring and redeployment practices, not doubling-down on career development training.

As a signatory to the Research Development Concordat, the University is committed ‘to improve job security for researchers, for example through more effective redeployment processes and greater use of open-ended contracts’. Presently, as regards this commitment, according to the latest Bristol Clear ‘Self-Assessment Report’, the University is piloting ‘a support programme for managers of researchers…[t]his will include a practical handbook, and targeted workshops to support staff in their role and with their responsibilities’. While better informing PIs of their responsibilities as regards supporting P2 staff, this action point does not suggest that better redeployment and ‘genuine’ open-ended contracts, as a matter of policy, are the priority.

Progression/Non-Progressable Roles

The use of P2 staff contracts which state that a role is ‘non-progressable’ is common. P2 staff in such roles do not progress between grades: senior P2 research staff, in terms of their qualifications and experience, are thus systematically undervalued, with P2 staff constantly faced, at the end of their contract, with applying for positions below their current grade. As a disproportionate number of those hired on these P2 research contracts are women, this systematically leads to the gender pay gap which is in evidence at the University of Bristol.

We are also concerned that University of Bristol staff have been hired on ongoing ‘guaranteed hour’ contracts, which only set very short periods of time, such as three hours per week, as the minimum hire. This creates problems regarding access to sick pay, for example and makes it difficult to demonstrate to a landlord or mortgage provider that one has the ongoing income to pay for housing. This is literally leaving some P2 members of staff homeless.

We have been made aware of a practice at the UoB, whereby some university employees who move from one short-term funded post to another are told that their continuous service is set to zero for any future redundancy pay. This has occurred, for example, when a P2 member of staff on a fractional contract takes on additional teaching responsibilities under a P3 contract, or a short-term project ‘secondment’ role. In these cases, continuity of service has been set to zero. It is strange that these additional contracts are being treated as distinct.

This practice is plain odd, given the current definition of continuous service in employment law. See, for example, the Government’s advice at https://www.gov.uk/continuous-employment-what-it-is and https://www.gov.uk/calculate-your-redundancy-pay. There is ongoing service for several years and yet P2 staff suffer a detrimental change in their terms and conditions by agreeing to further contracts. In one case, this has prompted the member of staff to move to work at another university, with flow-on effects for workload and research expertise in the School concerned.

We would like this practice to end, not because the contractual statement is likely to be enforceable, but because it is misleading and insulting to members of staff who have devoted service to the university.

Occupational Maternity Pay

Continuity of service for maternity leave can be accrued through working at any university in the UK, which should enable protection of the health and well-being of pregnant women working on any pathway. However, we have become aware of a problem for P2 staff who are on open-ended contracts but are due to take maternity leave during the time that the grant that funds their contract will expire. It appears that they will be treated as unable to return for the three months necessary to be eligible for occupational maternity pay (as opposed to more minimal statutory maternity allowance).

This means that P2 staff are being made redundant and denied occupational maternity pay, so that they personally bear the risk that work under a new grant may not be available when they return from maternity leave. Once again, it would be more appropriate for the University to take this risk in respect of pregnant staff/staff on maternity leave, so that it is presumed that their open-ended contracts continue in these circumstances. It should be the university’s responsibility to find three months’ appropriate work for these P2 staff after they return from maternity leave. Otherwise, they bear not only the costs of redundancy but experience poverty while on maternity leave, even though there may well be work available for them when maternity leave ends.

‘Human Cost’

The contractual arrangements mentioned above place on a P2 member of staff the numerous burdens of insecure precarious employment. While in employment, this creates tremendous stress as these colleagues seek both to publish research findings and secure grants to ensure continued contracts and income. These contractual arrangements also have follow-on effects for protection in circumstances of ill-health, eligibility for mortgages, tenancy agreements and the ability to start a family. They also have implications insofar as they compound inequality in the University of Bristol workplace.

These kinds of working conditions additionally have significant costs for the University. The stress and mental health effects of these types of contract diminishes the research capacity and productivity of P2 staff while employed and means that we too readily lose their skills, expertise and experience. It means that extensive resources are devoted to recruiting excellent people to meet commitments to funding bodies, but that we do not retain them. Instead, to the frustration of all University staff and administrators, we haemorrhage our best researchers to the commercial sector, which is prepared to make longer term investment in their employees.

Solutions

Open-ended, Core-Funded P2 Roles

UCU Bristol is therefore asking for the standard hire of P2 staff to be open-ended, core funded P2 roles (whether full or part time, but not zero hours or for negligible hours such as a three-hour minimum) that will continue even if specific grant funding expires. We would also like to see the University facilitating transition of existing P2 staff onto such contracts.

We note that there have been steps in this direction, but it is a far from uniform practice. Currently there is a pilot scheme in the Faculty of the Health Services that, if judged a success, should be rolled out across Faculties, and to which any application should be from internal candidates first.

Change to contractual arrangements would make a tremendous difference in terms of preventing harms to P2 colleagues, and also allow the University to retain excellent and highly qualified staff. This also would be a much fairer arrangement, which does not place the complete burden on a single individual researcher but shares the risk with the university. Financial planning could ensure that such risk is absorbed in research-intensive Schools where P2 are usually hired in considerable numbers. Contracts, even when entered into for the purpose of satisfying the terms of a particular grant with an external funder, should continue to be regarded as ongoing to enable return from maternity leave.

One constructive step that should be carried out is to provide a University-level audit of the financial consequences of this proposal for the University.

No doubt there will be resistance to UoB taking on a raft of new core-funded liabilities, in contrast to the HE sector norm. The issue, as mentioned, is the bearing of risk by the individual or the institution, though. Moving a tranche of P2 staff to open-ended, core-funded roles staff does not mean that these staff are ‘permanent’. Their jobs are still, to an extent, conditional on secure research funding: no role is immune from the role becoming redundant or performance-related capability proceedings. The University would need to disprove the financial proposition that incurring the costs associated with a core-funded role would not be offset by a generation of successful securely-employed UoB P2 staff, attracting and securing funding, developing the University’s research profile.

Career Advisory Support

To commit resources to providing Careers Advisory Services to P2 staff, for example, for those on fellowships or who would be looking to move on from a particular project, so that they are not harmed by having been hired to deliver research funded by grants.

Contractual Terms

That all P2 contracts are made progressable, even if there is no future funded role beyond the current P2 role, and that ‘continuity of service’ is not arbitrarily limited.

Ensuring the role is P2 progressable would be the default option.

This should be built into the institutional process for grant applications, which should place more emphasis on security of employment and adequate pay for research staff hired than generating overheads for the University. It should be clear that all P2 staff contracts have access to sick pay, holiday pay and maternity pay.

Bridging Funds

The University should mandate Faculty-level, ringfenced bridging funds to allow P2 researchers to continue being employed by the University of Bristol for a short-period (3-6 months) in order to retain P2 staff, which would also assist in the maternity leave scenario explained above. Staff would be in post if future funding were secured and allow them to produce high-quality research outputs.

We are very happy to meet to discuss these issues further.

With best wishes,

Jamie Melrose, Tonia Novitz and the UCU branch officer team

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