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The real “Trade Union Update” – beware HR spin

Please do not be misled into thinking the Staffnet “Trade Union Update” from the Director of HR, Karen Heaton, on Monday about current talks between the unions and the Senior Leadership Team in any way reflects the positions of UCU or the other campus trade unions.

Here is our response:

  • the heading “Trade Union Update” is misleading. The fundamental position of your union is to protect jobs and this Update should not be read to mean that UCU, Unite or Unison in any way endorse the management proposals. It is true that the campus trade unions, supported by our Regional Officials, are involved in talks about these proposals but the Update is a report and attempted justification of certain management proposals.
  • the Redeployment Policy (which the Update for the first time openly admits management want to abolish) is not an unsustainable luxury. It was negotiated five years ago as a result of our campaign against compulsory redundancies in IT Services. Up till then, the University had leaders who believed that no university claiming to be world class could entertain mass compulsory redundancies. Today, the Redeployment Policy provides much-needed protection against the current senior management of the University who have repeatedly threatened large-scale compulsory redundancies – including the ongoing Student Experience Project restructure affecting hundreds of staff. Is our University now world leading in its constant attacks on the job security of its staff?
  • the statement by the employer that the Policy “severely hampers the ability of the University to progress work to deliver our strategic plan, Our Future, and recover from the current crisis” very disturbingly indicates that the University has no intention of altering its “strategic plan” in the face of the crisis and is instead planning a large number of compulsory redundancies. The protections within the Policy which they wish to remove are only invoked in a redundancy situation and can only “hamper” the university if that is its real intention.
Senior Management says that “pausing salary increments and temporary, graded pay reductions” are under discussion. The union position is that it is far too early to consider such draconian steps and that we would first need greater certainty about the financial position and strong confidence that all reasonable other cost-saving measures have been exhausted. While we have been provided with some of the information we require, we have asked further detailed questions. In particular, the announcement on June 27 of a government package to compensate research-intensive universities for up to 80% of the loss in overseas student fee income has changed the financial situation considerably, as has last week’s House of Lords amendment to the government’s Pension Schemes Bill, which vindicates UCU’s criticisms of the methodology used by USS and the Pensions Regulator to value “open” defined benefits schemes and undermines management claims of a huge USS deficit.

Under previous leaderships, the University has always followed a “No compulsory redundancies” approach. It has weathered many financial crises in this way. The Redeployment Policy and related security of employment policies continue that tradition and ethos; they are essential to protecting collegiality as well as a highly skilled workforce. The employer’s Update tries to argue that these policies are too good, and are even bad for staff. On the contrary, everyone in the University should be proud that we have sector-leading policies – not use the excuse of a crisis to try to get rid of them.

We must and will defend the Redeployment Policy.  Our fundamental position is “Jobs First” in accordance with the national UCU  “Fund the Future”  campaign and the branch’s own  “Towards a Better Normal” manifesto

Bottom line: 

  • there is no need for the University to panic and force through drastic policy changes,
  • September student numbers are the crux of the situation,
  • more certainty is required before considering draconian cuts to pay or jobs,
  • do not believe management spin.

In solidarity,

The UMUCU Executive Committee

Union meeting with SLT about impact of Covid-19 – transparency, inclusivity, accountability and collegiality needed

The UMUCU, Unison and Unite senior officers met with the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) on Monday and discussed furloughing and the message the President and V-C, Nancy Rothwell, sent to staff last week. We reiterated our concerns about both the tone of the President’s email and the SLT’s general approach to the Covid-19, which seeks to frame the discussion purely in terms of reducing costs. In particular, we pressed the SLT to:
protect the jobs, pay and health and safety of staff rather than rushing to make up any income shortfall immediately;
adopt a transparent and inclusive approach, sharing its models and underlying data and consulting the campus trades unions and staff generally rather than imposing change by edict from on high.
The above, we argued, are necessary if staff are to understand, accept and have trust in SLT proposals , and are therefore necessary if the University is to continue to deliver on its core goals in teaching, research and social responsibility.

We raised a number of specific issues and questions about furloughing and the financial implications of Covid-19 – see below for details.

Furloughing
The University has applied to HMRC for funding to furlough around 1550 staff under the government’s Job Retention Scheme, and informed those staff accordingly. We are pressing management to furlough fixed-term contract staff beyond the end of their contract but it is not clear what HMRC will agree to since, although the Scheme’s rules suggest most HE staff are not eligible because they are publicly funded, neither the rules nor who is and who is not funded publicly in a university are clear. Furloughing will initially be for three weeks periods and it may be possible to rotate staff in some teams. The trade unions have asked for a breakdown of furloughed staff by role and grade so we can better understand what the University is doing. If you are concerned you are not being treated fairly please get in touch with the UMUCU office: ucu@manchester.ac.uk.

Financial implications of Covid-19
Nancy Rothwell’s message last Thursday warning that the University faces the possibility of losing 25% of its total income next academic year received a good deal of media coverage: e.g. Times Higher Education, Mancunion, The Guardian, Manchester Evening News, University Business, Research Professional News.

As you will have seen, her message reported the impact of between 50 and 80% reductions in international student numbers and a 20% reduction in Home/EU students, but focused on the 80% scenario and consequent £270 million, 25% loss in total income. We pointed out that, while we fully recognise the seriousness of the current emergency, the London Economics report commissioned by UCU on the impact of the pandemic on student numbers and HE finances is not nearly so pessimistic because it estimates Home first year student enrollments will decline by 16% and EU/non-EU first year enrollments by 47%, whereas the University’s £270 million estimate is based on reductions of 20% and 80% respectively. This means the London Economics estimate of the average income reduction facing universities like Manchester is £37m, i.e. one seventh the size of Manchester’s £270 estimate. As we told them on Monday, this risks creating the impression that the SLT chose a worst-case scenario in order to soften up staff for job cuts.

The SLT is considering a range of possible measures to mitigate a possible drop in student numbers and income in September. These include non-pay costs like travel and building projects and pay costs such as deferring increments for promotions (but not the promotions themselves), a shorter working week, an ERVS package (on less generous terms than the current scheme), unpaid holidays, and more widespread voluntary pay cuts by senior staff emulating the 20% already accepted by the SLT. We and the other unions made it clear we do not accept that cuts are necessary and that our priority is the protection of jobs and salaries, especially of lower paid, early career and precarious staff, and more generally the wholesale reform of post-16 education funding.

Openness, transparency, accountability and collegiality
We urged the SLT to share their modelling of both the financial impact of falls in student recruitment and retention next year and the various measure they are considering to mitigate them, so that the trade unions and staff generally can better understand and have more trust in the latter. We are pleased to report that they agreed to this as it means the campus trade unions and staff generally, especially those with expertise in financial modelling and crisis management, can help in planning a way out of the crisis that – instead of focusing solely on short-term financial imperatives – is consistent with the University’s core values and long-term aims as a community of students, scholars and researchers and those who support them, i.e. genuine collegiality rather than a business enterprise model of HE.

If you have not already done so, please complete our Health & Safety effect of working at home SURVEY, whose results will help inform our negotiations with the SLT.

USS/Four Fights industrial action and ASOS end this Thursday
The six month mandate for strikes and Action Short of a Strike (ASOS) ends on April 30th so please make sure you turn of any email auto-replies saying you are working to contract etc. It is unlikely but if you do not there is a risk that you might be charged with taking industrial action illegally.

Finally, a reminder of some dates for your diary:

UMUCU Coffee Break: 12.30-1.15pm, Wednesday 29th April
Drop in session to share issues, discuss wider strategies in a more informal way than regular branch meetings. https://zoom.us/j/91401639854. Meeting ID: 914 0163 9854, Password: 721158

Teach-out: 12-1pm, Friday 1st May
UMUCU’s recent recruit, award winning journalist and now Prof. Gary Younge will lead a session on ‘The NHS, Windrush and why migrants have always been key workers’. https://zoom.us/j/94654306467. Meeting ID: 946 5430 6467 Password: 055810

Branch Meeting: 12.30-1.15pm, Wednesday 6th May
Includes latest on crisis, and responding to attacks on our language tutors. Please make every effort to attend. https://zoom.us/j/93357291604. Meeting ID: 933 5729 1604 Password: 935497

UMUCU statement Covid-19

Dear Member,
We are in the midst the Covid-19 pandemic. This is a volatile, rapidly changing situation which is causing great concern throughout society. Our immediate concern is the health of students and staff at the University of Manchester. We are also mindful of our responsibilities to the wider society. We note that a number of UK Universities have announced the immediate cessation of face to face teaching for the duration of the health emergency. We note the concerns which have been raised by over 200 academic scientists regarding the Government’s strategy for dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. We note that expecting staff and students to attend university exposes them to a number of risks including possible exposure to the virus whilst travelling to and from work, as well as in work. We note that some of the most elementary precautions regarding Covid-19, such as maintaining a distance of 1 metre from other people, are very difficult, if not impossible, to observe in the context of face to face teaching. We believe that the number of international students and staff at the University of Manchester confers additional responsibilities on us to do everything which we can do to minimise the transmission of Covid-19.
In the current situation we believe that the wisest course is to follow the precautionary principle. As a result, we are making the following recommendations:
1) All face-to-face teaching and activities where social distancing is not possible should end now. We note that the School of Arts, Languages & Cultures has already announced its intention to move all of its teaching online with immediate effect. We applaud the leadership shown by Professor Schiesaro in this matter and call on other Schools to follow his lead. If you have concerns about continuing face to face teaching, we advise you to raise your concerns with your line manager. If you are not satisfied or reassured by their response, we advise you to contact us immediately. We remind you that existing health and safety legislation (see in particular Section 7 of the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1974/37/section/7 which places a duty on every employee to take reasonable care both for their own health and safety and that of other people who may be affected by their acts or omissions at work. Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 empowers any employee to remove themself from circumstances of danger http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1996/18/section/44 We will support any member in the exercise of this legal right.
2) Teaching activities should be moved online with the dual aims of (i) minimising, as far as is possible, the disruption of student learning, and (ii) mitigating the effects of increased social isolation. All activities should be designed with both aims in mind.
3) The design and delivery of good online teaching requires extensive training and experience. It is not reasonable to expect tutors to develop these skills, nor develop extensive new teaching materials, in a matter of hours. Do not put undue pressure on yourself to deliver perfect online courses. Students will understand if things don’t work either immediately or perfectly. We will ask the Senior Leadership of the University to ensure that students are made aware of the constraints within which tutors are operating during this period.
UCU will resist pressures for undue expectations of staff in this emergency. We will ask for a clear statement that the Senior Leadership understands that the priority of moving to online teaching will necessarily affect other areas of work. particularly research. We will work to protect the rights of all staff, and will work to secure the support required from the university for this temporary shift to online activities. We note that the University of Sheffield has announced that all casual workers will receive full pay for Covid-19 related absence/closure. We call on the Senior Leadership at Manchester to ensure that there is no loss of pay to any member of staff as a result of virus-related closure or isolation, regardless of contract type or visa status. We also ask that additional hours incurred by hourly paid staff for training and transferring resources to online facilities, as well as providing additional online support for students, are fully remunerated the University. Although our priority is the current health crisis we will also work to protect our terms and conditions during and after this crisis.
Finally, please do remember to look after your own health as far as you are able.

UMUCU Executive Committee

Week 3 strike plans – Jo Grady UCU General Secretary, 3rd March

Jo Grady, UCU General Secretary, will visit UoM pickets and speak at rally on Wednesday 4th March.

Many thanks for all your support which, as you may have seen from yesterdays email from Jo Grady, has forced both UUK and UCEA back to the negotiating table. The UCU negotiators clearly cannot say too much about what is going on behind closed doors but there are hopeful signs of movement by employers from their former, totally intransigent positions on the USS pensions and the “Four Fights” disputes.

However, we cannot assume this is the case so must keep up the pressure so here is the plan for four days of strikes next week on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday:

Picketting from 8:30-11:00 each day: if you’re not certain what to do, come to the Students Union foyer on Oxford Road or the Granby Row entrance to the Sackville Building and we’ll direct you.
Breakfast from 10:00 each day in the Student Union followed on Monday and Tuesday by strike meetings in the Student Union building while Thursday is a trade union solidarity day with Manchester Trades Council.
On Tuesday, following the strike meeting, we’ll be holding a “Get Involved – representing members” session. If personal case work and representing your colleagues is something you’d be interested in, then please come along, we desperately need volunteers.
On Wednesday, at 11.15, rally in St Peter’s Chaplaincy with UCU General Secretary, Jo Grady.
Teach-outs each in the Student Union from 12.00 details in our information area HERE

On Wednesday evening from 6.00pm, GTA social in Sandbar with pizza.

If you are staying at home, that is absolutely fine, but please take the time to write to:
Nancy Rothwell at President@manchester.ac.uk
Patrick Hackett, the Registrar, at patrick.hackett-REGISTRAR@manchester.ac.uk
Edward Astle, the Chair of the Board of Governors, at chair@manchester.ac.uk
Your MP – https://www.parliament.uk/get-involved/contact-your-mp/https://www.parliament.uk/get-involved/contact-your-mp/

We need to keep up the pressure, so please encourage your students to write to Nancy too, by downloading this flyer and QR code HERE

And if you do not feel able, for whatever reason, to strike please help those who are and face hundreds and even thousands of pounds in pay deductions in the fight for better pensions, pay and employment conditions for every employee of the university by donating to the UMUCU Branch Hardship Fund: Account name: UCU University of Manchester; Sort code: 60-83-01; Account Number: 20392565; Reference: Hardship Fund.

In solidarity,

The UMUCU Executive Committee

Reply from GTAs to the Dean of Humanities

Statement from the University of Manchester UCU GTA Committee, in response to Professor Keith Brown’s February Message from the Dean

Professor Brown’s February update concerns the issue of precarious employment, which he claims is not a significant issue at the University of Manchester. While the majority of his message focusses on diminishing the plight of fixed-term academic staff, this statement will focus on his brief statement with regards to Teaching Assistants, whose interests we advocate for as a committee.

First, in response to Professor Brown’s claim that TAs are contracted within “fair and agreed” terms: last year we conducted two university-wide surveys into GTA working conditions (with respondents coming from the Faculty of Humanities at rates of 51.25% and 43.68% respectively). By far the most common concern raised by respondents was that the number of hours paid for preparation, marking, and student contact were far below the actual number of hours worked. In one survey just 5.12% of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that the amount of paid time allocated for marking is realistic. We have never been given a clear answer about how the amount of paid time allocated to marking is determined.

Professor Brown describes TA work as a way for postgraduate students to earn “additional income.” This statement works on the basis that PhD students are receiving the majority of their funding from elsewhere, and while it is true that most PhD students at the University of Manchester are funded, this funding usually only lasts for 3 years, and a large percentage of students end up taking longer than that to submit, meaning that TA work is often their main source of income (67% of those surveyed said that TA income was very important or important to support their studies and research). This means that the issues reported by our members – late payment for work, receiving contracts late, being paid insufficient time for marking etc. – present a real threat to the livelihood of these employees, and should be taken seriously as such.

It is also important to note how the precarious working conditions faced by TAs are exacerbated when paired with other forms of marginalisation. The University of Manchester has large Ethnicity and Gender pay gaps, and this disparity is disheartening for those just beginning their academic careers – told that their current precarious situation is temporary, yet knowing they are much less likely to gain well-paid academic jobs than their more privileged peers. Although this university does not have significant pay gaps in pay grades 1-8, the fact that grades 9 and above have significant pay gaps because of under-representation of BAME workers points to the root of the problem. We are told that temporary contracts are a stepping stone to better and more secure jobs, yet research has shown that 11% of white academics are likely to be given professorial roles, compared to 3% of BAME academics. When this is coupled with the fact that Black academics are paid approximately 12% less than white academics of similar age and education, as shown by a recent UCEA report, dismissive comments about precarious contracts as a precursor to a fruitful and secure academic career are extremely unhelpful.

The precarious working conditions of TAs are also particularly difficult for those with caring responsibilities, for whom the meagre stipend received by PhD students is likely to be greatly insufficient (the UKRI minimum stipend for 2019/20 is £15,009). In addition, most PhD stipends provide very limited paid leave for illness, meaning that disabled and chronically/seriously ill TAs are more likely to go beyond their funded period, and end up relying on TA work as a major source of income.

TAs are a valuable and vital part of the teaching done at this University, and yet are treated as an afterthought (as in Professor Brown’s statement) not worthy of the same employment rights as our colleagues. We are members of staff like any other, with the same needs and personal responsibilities as more senior colleagues, and deserve the same level of respect shown to others. Therefore, we will continue the fight to improve the working conditions which shape the beginning of our academic careers, rather than merely accepting them as a stepping stone into an increasingly hostile sector.

Message from the Dean – February 2020 HERE

Join the UCU today to fight for better working conditions for TAs, and other precarious staff https://www.ucu.org.uk/join

 

UCU Graduate Teaching Assistant Survey

As part of UMUCU’s continuing efforts to improve the pay and contracts of employment of Graduate Teaching Assistants in the University, we are conducting this online survey, which we hope as many TAs as possible will participate in: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ZSG8TJB)

 

If you are a GTA, please complete the survey and encourage other GTAs to do so as well. If you are not a GTA yourself but know GTAs (e.g. as a supervisor or course convener), please share the above link with them and encourage them to participate. This survey is not just for UCU members: we would like to gather data for as wide a cross-section of the University’s GTAs as possible as the information will help us negotiate better terms and conditions for them.

 

More mass redundancies threatened in 2020?

As you may have seen from the Registrar & Secretary’s update about the Student Experience Programme in Staffnet, the University is embarking on another major restructuring exercise that is likely to lead to job losses in 2020:

Two areas of activity or “Themes” – Applications and Admissions, and Student Marketing and Recruitment – will be reorganised in early 2020, followed by a second and much larger cohort covering nine themes in the middle of the year. (We had been told that Digital/Blended/online/e-Learning would be in the first cohort but it appears to have been postponed till the second.)

The good news is that management appear to have learnt some lessons from the acrimonious IT Services and M2020 restructures of 2015 and 2017. Instead of not telling anybody what is going to happen until a “Section 188” notice is issued and staff are sent letters warning them that their jobs are at risk, HR and management in the affected areas have already begun holding meetings explaining their plans – i.e. three or four months ahead of implementation instead of the 34 minutes notice we were given about ITS redundancies in July 2015.

HR have also said they will consider our proposal that, instead of waiting until at-risk staff are put on the Redeployment Register, management will where possible give an indication of the skill sets that will be in demand after the restructures and make training available so that staff who anticipate they may be at risk have an opportunity to retrain and position themselves so they stand a better chance of being successfully redeployed.

Although HR tell us they do not know yet how many staff will be affected and how many jobs may go, these are definite improvements and show that our previous campaigns against job cuts – Including ballots on industrial action in 2015 and 2017 and two days of strikes by UCU members over M2020 – have paid off.

However, the bad news is that HR and the Senior Leadership Team are clearly still wedded to the gun-to-the-head, take an enhanced Voluntary Severance payment now or risk being made compulsorily redundant later, approach to managing organisational change. UCU, Unite and Unison are united in our opposition to this unnecessarily punitive approach to managing change and have reminded management that not so long ago the previous President & Vice-Chancellor of the University, Alan Gilbert, was vehemently opposed to using compulsory redundancy in this way, saying, to quote, “Such draconian measures… have no wider relevance in the strategies of a collegial community of the kind that we are committed to in Manchester.”

Sadly, our current Senior Leadership Team and HR are committed to the “draconian measures” of the corporate world rather than traditions of collegiality universities should be founded upon. This is also reflected in their lack of trust in staff and belief that without aggressive performance management too many colleagues would fail to pull their weight. While we may all have come across one or two such colleagues, we profoundly disagree with the Registrar & Secretary’s estimate (shared with us in another meeting about managing change) that such individuals account for 20% of the University’s staff!

We have also pointed out the stress and anxiety more rounds of redundancies will cause. If there are two Section 188s next year, it will mean this University will have had seven in six years, which may be a record for UK universities. (At least Manchester will be at the top of at least one league table!) We were informed of these plans on, ironically, World Mental Health Day, and requested that the University conduct a Health & Safety Executive (HSE) Organisational Stress Assessment on the grounds that such major organisational change constitutes an HSE stress “hazard”.  However, HR rubbished this suggestion on the grounds that: (a) it’s not a legal requirement, (b) they already know restructures cause stress so an assessment won’t tell us anything new, and (c) in any case we already have all the information on stress we need because the 2019 biennial Staff Survey included a Workload Stress Report.

While we acknowledge that the Workload Stress Report may satisfy legal requirements, it is not linked to a specific change such as the imminent restructure and is not, therefore, enough; indeed, we view HR’s response as mere lip service to caring about the stress and anxiety caused by the threat of mass redundancy.

In response to the above criticism, HR was keen to point out that 2019 Staff Survey indicates that 62% of staff say their job security is good and 89% say they are proud to work for the University. They did not, however, mention that the 2019 Survey also found that only 48% of staff believe change within the University is managed well (down from 54% in 2017) and that only 42% believe the President’s and SLT listen to and respond to the views of staff (down from 47% in 2017), or that these are the lowest satisfaction scores found in the surveys!

When we know more for definite we will organise meetings for members in the affected areas. In the meantime, please do all you can to persuade non-members to join the relevant trade union; the more members we have, the more management has to listen to us.

Global Climate Strikes – join us in Manchester on Friday 20th September

CLIMATE EMERGENCY called by our University

CLIMATE EMERGENCY called out by school children!

 

We in UCU have voted nationally to support them this Friday 20th Sept. They will be in the centre of Manchester, in St Peters Square, outside Central Library, from 10-4 (marching around town from 1-2).

UCU members will be taking time to join them, leaving from the Students Union at 12.00. We will meet up with colleagues and students from MMU at All Saints (12.15) and progress down to listen to what the Climate Strike school students have to tell us (12.30)

Please support this work place action in whatever ways you can. Office and classroom-based activities are as important too, so think about how you can draw attention to dealing with the Climate Emergency in your own work setting and in your dealings with students on this day – and going forward.   See HERE for more information.

Greta Thunberg will be outside the White House. We will be out on the street.

 Please join us.

Lydia (UMUCU Environment Officer)

David (UMUCU President) adds:

We contacted The VC’s office following the motion passed last week at the TUC calling for 30 minutes workplace action on the day (a motion that first originated in our branch), to ask that staff taking part over lunchtime and an additional 30 mins can do so without repercussions. They have said that it is “a matter of personal choice and they are free to support it if they choose to do so”, and “hopefully this can be accommodated within lunchtime. If this is not possible then, subject to the continuity of services across the university, we would encourage line managers to be flexible in allowing staff who wish to participate to do so, within the usual procedures for making allowance for such activities”. i.e. so long as you are not seriously disrupting anything, and have discussed it with anyone who needs to know, then you should be able to attend.

 

USS and Pay

Welcome back for the start of a new, exciting academic year.

You will have received two recent announcements letting you know that it is more expensive than ever to work here. First, news of the 2019-2020 imposed pay award, which – contrary to management’s usual spin – fails substantially to meet UCU’s demands and continues the annual tradition of sub-inflation increases that have led to real pay declining by 20% since 2009. Second, an announcement from USS on August 23rd  that members’ contributions will, if implemented, increase from the current 8.8% to 9.6% on Oct 1st (and then to 11% on Oct 1st 2021 unless altered by a 2020 valuation).

The University’s pay award announcement correctly says that this year’s pay increase is between 1.8% and 3.65%, but the increases are tapered towards the lower three bands of the pay scale. We fully support higher increases for staff on the lowest wages. Nevertheless, the award for UCU members is only 1.8% and we object to the University’s outrageous claim the average pay increase “is above inflation and has also been above inflation over the past five and ten year periods”, which they arrive at by adding annual increments to the 1.8%. This ignores that fact that 50% of staff are at the top of their pay grades, and therefore receive no incremental uplift and rely entirely upon annual pay settlements to maintain their and their families’ standard of living, and is an insult to the loyalty of all staff who stay beyond 4-8 years (depending on the length of grade).

 

We have also received updated information on pay equality at the University of Manchester. Earlier this year, we learned that the University’s mean gender pay gap increased, rising from 17.1% the previous year to 18.4% this year. But not to worry, we were assured, most of this inequality is explained by the University’s high rate of casualized academic labour (“arises primarily from an increase in the number of casual employees” – Karen Heaton, HR, 14 March 2019), which as we all know is highly feminized.

 

This is all against the backdrop of unceasing growth in university incomes and continuing healthy surpluses. At the University of Manchester, payroll cost as a percentage of the total running cost of the University has fallen over the last decade. Meanwhile, University financial statements continue to classify the University’s £400 million in (growing) estates debt as a prudent and essential investment, but the £200 million in (stable) liabilities for staff pensions as a volatile source of uncertainty.

Turning to USS pensions, intense negotiations have been taking place throughout the summer. There were further talks between UCU and UUK last Wednesday and the union’s Higher Education Committee (HEC) met last Friday to discuss developments. Our pressure had led to an offer limiting the immediate rise in contributions to 9.1%  (initially  with an impossible-to-accept demand that UCU agree to a two-year moratorium on strike action over USS –  but this was subsequently dropped). However, HEC determined that the offer did not come close enough to meeting our demands, still leaving a future increase to 11% (if the valuation remains the same but potentially more if it doesn’t), and failing fully to implement the recommendations of the JEP first report or  to address fundamental concerns over valuation methodology. We either lock ourselves in to unnecessary ongoing contribution hikes and declining benefits, or we put a stop to it now. An article by Sam Marsh, one of UCU’s negotiators, which explains the background very well, can be found here. UUK’s perspective on their offer can be found here.

You may not closely follow the acronym-soup of USS, UUK, JNC, JEP, HEC and on and on. But you know that the UK’s university system is reaching breaking point. The goodwill upon which it has relied for so long – and which springs from our own passion for our work – has been taken for granted. Its value, in economic and psychological terms, is now obvious to all.

 

All of these issues – pensions, pay, the gender pay gap, casualisation and workload – are intimately connected. They cannot be solved in isolation. This is why UCU is running a ballot in the coming weeks that will prepare our sector for strike action to make concrete gains in each of these areas.

 

The autumn will be volatile for myriad reasons in the UK. But that is not an excuse to acquiesce to disastrous working conditions that steadily corrode and erode our educational institutions. We must mobilize and act in solidarity because it is our only option.

Industrial action ballots on USS and pay

Following UCU’s declaration last month of a trade dispute over USS at 69 universities, the union’s Higher Education Committee (HEC) on Friday set out a timetable for two ballots calling for industrial action in the autumn – one over USS in pre-1992 universities and another over pay across the whole HE sector.

The ballots will be disaggregated (i.e. institutions will be polled separately) and run alongside each other from 9th September to 30th October. For the UCU announcement see: https://ucu.org.uk/article/10187/Universities-on-strike-warning-as-UCU-announces-pay-and-pension-ballots?list=1676

Many of you will have noticed that USS has been much in the news in past weeks and in particular that a parliamentary select committee is investigating the governance of the scheme in the light of recent whistle-blower revelations. UCU also recently addressed letters to university employers updating them on the motions passed at Congress relating to pension contribution increases and requesting that employers cover the total cost of any additional contributions called for by USS Board.

In light of these ongoing developments, we think it important to send around some links and information for those looking to stay up-to-date on the dispute and hear from the parties involved.

On the parliamentary inquiry, please see here: https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/work-and-pensions-committee/news-parliament-2017/the-pensions-regulator-17-19/

The President of the Sheffield branch of UCU and national USS negotiator Sam Marsh has composed a recent overview briefing with up-to-date information on the dispute here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DTeSm0s4Yms&feature=youtu.be

Professor Jane Hutton, one of the three USS trustee directors nominated by UCU, appeared on the BBC 4 Today programme outlining her concerns about governance failings at USS. A recording is available here:

https://ucu.org.uk/article/10180/Professor-Hutton-speaks-to-Radio-4-on-USS-failings

Finally, you can access our own university’s response on 19th June to UCU’s trade dispute letter here:

https://www.staffnet.manchester.ac.uk/news/display/?id=22151.

In the latter response, the University of Manchester indicates a preference for USS’s Option 3 for finalising the 2018 valuation. If accepted by employers and the Pensions Regulator, this would see members’ pension contributions increase from 8.8% to 9.6% in October and employers’ contributions go up from 19.5% to 21.1%, with no change in benefits; this arrangement would hold for for two years and the next valuation would be brought forward to 2020, by which time the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) will have submitted its second report on USS governance and the schemes’ valuation methodology.

This is not in line with the UCU’s ‘No Detriment’ policy and, more importantly, does not implement the full slate of recommendations from the first, September 2018, report of the JEP, which was set up by UCU and UUK in exchange for ending the industrial dispute last year. Importantly, the letter indicates that the University rejects UCU’s demand that employers absorb all the cost of any extra contributions, rather than passing them on to members. As UCU’s incoming General Secretary, Jo Grady, indicated in an email message to members on June 24th: “Instead of holding USS to account, employers are willing to make us pay more and more for the same pension.”