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UCU Bath update

UCU Bath local committee met on July 3rd to review the last six months and look ahead to the next period when pay promises to be the big issue …

This report summarises the main issues in national and local UCU since January with a view to deciding how we organise the branch’s priorities for the next six months. There is no separate report from Congress, but where appropriate there is a reference to what Congress decided when it met at the end of May. The best available list of the debates and decisions is on the Congress blog but Congress delegates Hedley Bashforth and Tim Barrett will respond to any questions about what happened at Congress and how we voted.

2013 national negotiations on pay and other matters UCU Congress agreed that members in HE should be consulted on the employers’ final offer in response to this year’s claim, which has been submitted jointly with other unions. The offer on pay is for a 1% increase on all salary points, and no concessions on non-pay matters such as disability leave or gender equality. The consultation will open in early July and close early September and members will be recommended to reject the employers’ offer on both pay and non-pay matters. If the consultative ballot rejects the offer there is likely to be a formal ballot for action in late September/early October. UCU National HE officer Michael MacNeill will speak at a meeting in Bath in September.

Remuneration Day 27th June 2013 The University Remuneration Committee held its annual meeting on June 27th. The three unions (UCU, UNISON and Unite) wrote a joint letter to the members of the Remuneration Committee and set up a petition calling on them to postpone their decisions until our own pay claim has been settled, and to award increases no higher than those we are able to secure. Staff are still signing the petition which is on the Bath UCU blog – 350 so far. We also wrote to all members of Council, which ‘owns’ the Remuneration Committee and which met immediately after the Committee. We (and presumably Council also) does not know what the Remuneration Committee decided, and won’t know until October. I have been in correspondence with several members of Court who replied to the letter we sent to them prior to its meeting in March. One encouraging feature of the campaign was the joint union meeting with UNISON and Unite held at lunchtime on Remuneration Day. About 30 members from the three unions attended.

JUCNC and JACNC These are the two formal meetings between the university managers and the unions JUCNC involves all three unions meeting every couple of months with HR. JUCNC receives regular updates on university finances and changes to corporate strategy Items discussed recently include

  • Sickness Absence. The unions have successfully resisted attempts to use the Bradford Factor, a crude tool for monitoring sickness absence that can lead to punitive action against people who are sick.
  • Disability Leave. Despite the lack of progress in national negotiations, Bath HR have been more proactive on this issue and we are close to agreeing a policy which would be a real improvement for all staff.
  • University finances. Since 2007 Bath, in common with most other universities, has been hoarding financial surpluses. Over £1 billion is now held in surpluses by UK universities. Surpluses since 2007 in Bath have been: 2007 £ 2.0 million 2008 3.2 2009 12.2 2010 16.5 2011 17.4 2012 10.8 2013 £ 11-13 (forecast) 2014 £10.3 million (forecast)

About £2 million of the current year surplus is attributable to staff costs below budget. We have registered our concern that the proportion of university expenditure paid out in staff costs has fallen from 61% to about 56% in the last three years.

  • Job evaluation and regrading appeals The unions have negotiated representation on the appeals panel that considers rejected cases of regarding or job revaluation.
  • Social space. All three unions have repeatedly registered a concern at the lack of social spaces where staff can take the time away from work that they are entitled to under the Working Time Regulations. There has been a flat refusal by management to act on this. The recent staff survey will show that we are right to persist in this matter. Bath’s motion to UCU Congress this year called for national action on the lack of social spaces in FHE institutions.
  • Redundancy policy The redundancies in UKOLN, though immediately caused by the withdrawal of external funding, have exposed problems in the university’s policy on redundancies. For some time we have argued that the university should pay more than the statutory minimum redundancy pay – most others do. But the response has always been that ‘it is not a problem here’. Of course it is – the number of redundancies is concealed by the high number of fixed term contracts. On top of that the weaknesses of the redeployment process have been exposed by the way the UKOLN redundancies have been handled. Individuals are appealing and the branch is considering a tribunal case against the university.

JACNC is a twice yearly meeting between the VC, her deputies and assistants and the Director of HR and UCU. Management rarely if ever table agenda items so meetings have consisted of UCU tabling a number of items, and the VC or one of her assistants noting what has been said. We have raised a number items relating to teaching only contracts, REF, academic freedom but made little progress on any of them. The items that relate most directly to JACNC that have surfaced in the branch recently are:

Casualisation and job security

We do not know how much of the work done by people we represent is done by people on fixed term or casual contracts. HR say they are unable to put a figure on it. Research contracts are typically fixed term so it is difficult to organise membership in this area, but we have not so far done much by way of a recruitment drive. We have not carried out any surveys or held meetings  with people on these contracts so this should be on our list of things to do. An increasing amount of teaching work is being done by people on casual or fixed term contracts and we have held a series of meetings with staff in different parts of the university. We also carried out a survey of casual teachers, and over 100 responded, most of them angry and frustrated at their treatment. A couple of meetings with HR, where we raised some of the main concerns coming out of the survey, looked at one point as if they might lead somewhere, but HR have not brought any proposals to JACNC, or anywhere else.

Teaching only contracts

We have raised separately the terms and conditions on which teaching fellows and casual teaching assistants are employed, but it is clear that the university is able to continue the use of Grades 6 and 7 for an increasing amount of its teaching work because there is absolutely no coherence to the use of teaching only contracts. Despite lip service to the idea of ‘parity of esteem’ between those on teaching only contracts and those on teaching and research contracts, the gap between them has widened over the last year with the growing use of 10 month contracts and the slashing of pay rates for many casual teachers. This has been done in different ways in different parts of the university. We have requested a joint review of the use of teaching only contracts and are waiting for a response to this. But the surveys we have done and the increasing levels of grievance among those on teaching only contracts both suggest that our members are way ahead of us on this issue.

REF

We secured a meaningful ‘no detriment’ clause to the REF Code of Practice towards the end of last year. As REF submissions are now being finalised it is important to monitor the impact of non-inclusion on the terms, conditions and prospects of those who have not been included.

Academic freedom The university is rewriting its corporate strategy and there will for the first time be departmental targets. We registered our view that such targets should not be linked in any way to the SDPR process as this compromises academic freedom.

 

Other matters

Reps training A branch is only as strong as its members and we need more members to become active. UCU will provide basic training and you are entitled to attend. The following courses are coming up in the next year. We particularly need more trained reps so courses Rep 1 and Rep 2 are especially important to us. Introduction to Pensions 11th and 12th November 2013, UCU Exeter Office, Exeter Branch Officer Course 5TH December 2013, UCU Exeter Office, Exeter Rep 1: Induction 27th, 28th and 29th January 2014, Unison House, Taunton Rep 2: Representing UCU members 26th,27th and 28th March 2014, Unison House, Taunton You can find out more about the training here but if you are interested please contact Hedley Bashforth hb202@bath.ac.uk in the first instance

Membership We have a small drop in membership mainly due to people leaving the university. Since January, 37 members have left (nearly all because they have left the university) and 21 new members have joined. This is in line with national trends. Quite a few of our members appear to be paying subs at the wrong level, probably because they have not updated their membership details if they have been promoted or increments have raised their pay to a level where higher subs are due. Congress effectively deferred a decision on raising subscriptions because there was no agreement about how much they should be increased by. The matter has been referred to the National Executive for further discussion.

Convention for Higher Education Michael Carley attended this event in Brighton on May 24/5. It brought together people from the Campaign for the Public University, the Council for the Defence of British Universities and others. Michael’s report MC and subsequent blogs about the attempt to produce a ‘charter’ for HE make the point that the initiative needs greater engagement with academics who work in the natural sciences.

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