Bristol UCU Statement: Exceptional Recognition Payment, June 2022

University of Bristol UCU, along with our fellow University of Bristol campus trades unions Unite and Unison, welcome a one-off payment in recognition of the hard work carried out by University of Bristol staff over the past academic year. A one-off, all-staff bonus, reflecting the demands placed upon staff during the height of the COVID crisis and the University’s strong financial position, has been consistently called for by campus unions.

We are concerned by the terms on which this one-off payment is made. It is worth noting that campus trade unions were not involved in the design of the Exceptional Recognition Payment: branch union reps had a few hours’ notice of the University Executive Board decision to award the Payment. We believe that there was a missed opportunity to involve trade union reps: neither the principle nor the nature of the Payment was brought to our May Joint Consultative and Negotiation Committee, for example. Trade union involvement would have addressed the points we raise here.

The main failings of the Exceptional Recognition Payment are the manifest disparity between full-time and part-time staff’s Recognition Payment, the arbitrary length of service required to receive the payment (‘Staff must have started employment with the University on or before the 5 January 2022 [this acknowledges that University closure days will have resulted in some staff being unable to start work until 5 January 2022] and still be in University employment in July 2022 to receive the recognition payment. This means that they will have been employed by the University for a minimum of six months of 2021/22 University year’) and the arbitrary cap of 180 hours for variable hours/hourly-paid staff.

We note that full-time established staff with over seven months’ service benefit the most from a £1000 payment; part-time fractional staff gain a pro-rata payment. However, for those staff on variable hours, only a £200 payment is proposed. Surely what is fairer is that all part-time staff, whether on fractional or hourly-paid contracts, receive a fraction of the £1000 payment as per their full-time equivalent role (FTE). 

The six-months’ service requirement discriminates against colleagues hired on short-term, term time contracts, who mainly taught in Teaching Block 1. It offers next to no recognition of the immense efforts that they have made to keep the university running. It also creates an arbitrary cut-off for colleagues who may have left the institution prior to July 2020 but who have made telling contributions, nevertheless.

The policy sets a 180-hour threshold for variable hours/hourly-paid staff which some colleagues will narrowly and arbitrarily miss. A significant proportion of variable hours staff will be excluded. This particularly affects staff engaged on Teaching Support Role contracts or in the Temporary Staff Service – precisely those staff bearing the brunt of the current cost-of-living crisis.

For example, according to our calculations, in the School of Humanities, only 13 of 85 HPT/TSR colleagues have contracts of over 180 hours: a sizeable majority of frontline HPT/TSR workers and their work will go unrecognised in the current scheme.

In short, UCU, along with Unison and Unite, believe that all University of Bristol staff should be able to receive some form of recognition payment on a fractional, FTE basis.

We therefore call upon the University Executive Board to urgently address the terms of the payment for short-term and variable hours contract staff. We would also like to reiterate our willingness as trade unions to work with University management in advance of such announcements in the hope of achieving a fair and smooth processes.

It would be remiss not to end this statement with a recognition of how little this payment addresses long-term cuts to our USS pensions and the continual failure of Bristol along with the rest of university managements across the sector to remunerate their staff properly and to offer secure employment.

Bristol UCU continues to ask for the restoration of USS pension benefits, as well as a fair pay rise that reflects the increased cost of living in Bristol.

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