December Branch News
As we’re now at the end of what has been one of the most challenging semesters on record, we want to thank all of you for your input over the last few months. This has been an incredibly busy period for the branch, and the fact that so many of us continue to turn out to regular meetings, emergency and extraordinary meetings, and campaigning events and action groups is testament to the commitment and energy of the branch membership. Thank you.
Below is a brief round up of news from the last month and looking ahead to the New Year. We don’t anticipate that things will become much easier as we head into semester two.
At the General Meeting on 24th November we gave an update on the current stage of the grievance that we launched with Unite and GMB over our ongoing health and safety concerns. Since the grievance was submitted, in mid-October, the picture has substantially changed and we are hoping that we can work towards a joint statement with the University that will bring an end to the process.
We have been pleased with the University’s response to some items in the grievance, including the end of face to face teaching in line with government guidelines in early December, our health and safety reps being given access to a directory of all risk assessments across the institution, and a commitment to joint working on plans for semester two.
All of the recognised trade unions have been asked for input into the planning for the spring semester, and we are interested to hear your thoughts. Please get in touch if you have them, and come along to the General Meeting in January (save the date reminders are at the bottom of this email).
We also met the Vice Chancellor recently and raised our concerns with him directly for the first time since the meeting where we were notified of the launch of the s188 consultation in the summer. The Vice Chancellor expressed his view that the consultation was necessary. We disagree, and encourage as many of you as possible to share your views on this and any other matters to the VC.
As ever we encourage all members with health and safety concerns to contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org and any member who would like to negotiate around face to face working of any kind to make use of the template letters produced by UCU, available here.
Health and safety update
More broadly on health and safety, we have discussed the testing programme in some detail with the University. It’s been an enormous logistical undertaking for those institutions participating and the outcomes of both the Winter Covid Plan and Christmas-specific easing of restrictions remain to be seen.
We encourage members to familiarise themselves with information available in the public domain about the testing programme using lateral flow tests, much of which is summarised in the briefing note here.
We continue to raise staff stress and wellbeing (including but not limited to workload) as an urgent concern and encourage those of you who are finding workloads are significantly unmanageable to work with your line manager/Head of Department and other colleagues to ensure that concerns are heard at all levels of the University.
National UCU update
You may remember that an interim online Congress was due to be held in mid-October and was postponed due to technical difficulties. The Higher Education Conference that forms part of this meeting has been rescheduled to 15th December. You can view the motions that were voted on and the results here and we will update and discuss further in January.
There will shortly be elections for UCU’s National Executive Committee. As ever, we strongly encourage members to vote in these elections since the NEC plays a very important role in determining UCU’s actions and strategies. There are a large number of candidates standing this year which is a very positive sign for lay member involvement in UCU’s democratic structures.
You will have seen in updates from UCU HQ that there are now multiple branches across the sector balloting for industrial action over current conditions or otherwise in dispute. Please offer your support as you can.
The programme of events that we put on for Disability History Month were very well-supported, many thanks to those who attended. You might also like to view our new leaflet on reasonable adjustments and rights for disabled staff at work.
You may have seen recently that the University has launched a listening exercise on issues of exclusion and inclusion. This consultation, headed up by the Chaplaincy, has been developed as a first step towards improving University policies dealing with antisemitism and all forms of racism. Reps from the branch committee have been involved in discussions around formulating this exercise and we encourage all of you to take part in the initial survey. . There’s more information including contact details for the project leads here. The branch committee views the listening exercise as a productive means of addressing issues of exclusion at the university, and made clear its view that the University should not bypass proper consultation and rush into an implementation of the problematic IHRA definition of antisemitism which both this branch and UCU nationally have rejected insofar as it conflates the very real problem of antisemitism with legitimate criticism of Israel.
We were deeply frustrated to learn this week that Council did agree to adopt the IHRA definition.
We are also aware that there is work ongoing on experiences of parental leave at the University with a view to reviewing and improving existing provision and support, and we encourage all members who this affects to complete the survey here.
We continue to build our network of anti-casualisation representatives in departments. We are planning a series of training sessions in the new year. If you’re interested in getting involved please get in touch with Steffan Blayney: email@example.com
In September UCU’s special sector conference passed a motion to acknowledge PGR original research as labour and to campaign for the recognition of PGRs as members of staff in order to combat casualisation from the bottom up. A first campaign-launch discussion took place in November. We will continue the discussions locally and UK-wide.If you want to get involved, please get in touch with Elena Simon: firstname.lastname@example.org
Finally we want to express our severe reservations against the UKRI decision to ignore its own research on the effect of the pandemic on PGR colleagues and to not provide extensions for PGRs finishing after 30 March 2021. Please support PGR colleagues in their struggle for crisis mitigation such as funded extensions for all, hardship funds, and fee waivers for self-funded PGRs by raising these issues in your department and faculty and making PGR colleagues aware of campaigns around the issue.
We’re really pleased that branch membership is looking very healthy at more than 2000 members. We are also very glad that our coverage of departmental reps and contacts is now approaching nearly all of our academic departments. If you work in a central professional services team that doesn’t have a UCU rep and you’re interested in hearing more or becoming a rep, please contact us. There are also some academic departments, particularly in MDH, who don’t yet have a rep. The time commitment is low (1 – 2 hours per month) but these roles are crucial to the functioning of the branch. We’re here to support you and there’s no need for prior knowledge or experience, just a commitment to building the union within your department or work area.
If you’re interested in learning more, please contact Membership Officer Katy Fox-Hodess on email@example.com
Please hold these dates for upcoming meetings in the New Year, when registration links will be sent out
- Departmental reps and contacts meeting Thursday 14th January 1.00 – 2.00pm
- General Meeting Thursday 21st January 1.00 – 2.00pm
- Nablus twinning initiative meeting Tuesday 12th January 7pm
- SUCU Climate Emergency Action Group, in cooperation with SustCom, Tues 12 January, 1-2pm, join here ; join googlegroup here
As we move ever closer to the end of semester, we’ll be looking forward to taking some well earned time off and treating ourselves, whatever the festive period may look like. Please make sure you take the Christmas closure period to switch off from work and relax. Remember too a motion we passed about making sure we remember to take all our annual leave, so if the conditions are right to extend the Christmas break, do so.
As we take the time to step back, it is important to remind ourselves of how much we have achieved collectively in spite of what this year has thrown at us. We went from sustained strike action to global crisis. We have all gone above and beyond to adapt and change in the face of the pandemic. Not only have we all shown immense resilience, strength and solidarity but we’ve also won significant concessions from University management. Some of the highlights include the agreed “do what you can” working over lockdown in early spring, the withdrawal of the ‘fire and rehire’ consultation under s188, 100% pay for staff on furlough, and the extension of a good proportion of fixed-term contracts that were due to end earlier this year. As ever, there remains much to do.
We’ll be back in the New Year and look forward to discussing our next steps as a branch collectively, including ensuring that the ‘new normal’ doesn’t mean any erosion of our rights at work.
Seasons greetings to you all, and here to sing us out, you might remember this Christmas number from December 2018: All I Want for Christmas is UCU