UCU’s annual congress is its supreme policy making body and it met this year over the May Bank Holiday in Harrogate. This report is an attempt to summarise three very full days of intense and important debates on the various areas with which UCU is concerned. Motion numbers are included in brackets for reference: a full account of all motions with decisions can be found here: www.ucu.org.uk/Congress2019
Congress business is ordered according to the business of various committees: equality; education; recruitment, organising and campaigning (ROC) and strategy and finance. There was a further section on democracy and rule changes. On the second day of congress, delegates divide into a Higher Education Sector Conference and a Further Education Sector Conference. The agenda was very busy indeed. As a result, some motions could not be debated. Those relating to rule changes will be sent to the special Democracy Conference to be held in November; the rest are remitted to the National Executive Committee (NEC) for decision.
Leeds University UCU sent five branch delegates to Congress: Arunima Bhattacharya; Dima Chami, Laura Loyola, Megan Povey and Chloe Wallace. In addition, Lesley McGorrigan attended as delegate from the Yorkshire and Humberside Regional Committee, and Vicky Blake attended as a member of NEC (and Vice-President elect!). The branch did not formally mandate delegates to vote in any particular way on any motions. The vast majority of motions that were voted on passed unanimously or overwhelmingly. On those which were tighter, branch delegates tried to vote in line with existing branch policy and, mostly, voted together; this report states how we voted in such cases.
The report that follows is a detailed account of what was decided, in order to give members a clear sense of the range and depth of issues discussed. Highlights for us included:
- Inclusion for the first time of migration status as a protected characteristic under UCU structures, with the creation of a Migrant Member Standing Group, and two migrant members places on NEC, and a commitment from UCU to actively campaign on behalf of migrant members;
- A range of motions making it clear that UCU is placing itself squarely at the forefront of the fight against harassment and hate speech and forces hostile to the diversity which is our strength;
- Emphasis throughout on working with students and other education unions to fight the growing threat that is the climate emergency;
- The extent to which the anti-casualisation campaigns are now front and centre of all of our work on issues such as pay, workload, mental health;
- The reinvigoration of the Academic-Related and Professional Services Services Staff committee, ensuring the position of those staff are fully included within campaign and negotiation
- Agreement to ballot in the autumn on the issues of precarious employment, pay inequality, workload and salary erosion;
- Agreement to ballot in the autumn if employers refuse to pay all the additional pension contributions demanded by USS, as this would contravene our no detriment position, combined with a fighting attitude against the behaviour of the USS Trustees, including supporting Professor Jane Hutton, who has recused herself from the trustee board after criticising the valuation methodology.
Detailed report on sections of Congress
- Recruitment, Organising and Campaigning
- Higher Education: Pay
- Higher Education: USS pensions
- Higher Education: Anti-casualisation, equality and workload
- Strategy and Finance
- Democracy Commission and Rule Changes
Congress passed a range of important motions on fighting harassment in learning spaces (1); fighting for better mental health support, particularly for reps (2) and LGBT+ staff and students (3); opposing hate speech on our campuses and the rise of the far-right (4, 5, 6, L1); and supporting citizenship rights and opposing deportations (7, 8).
Motion 9 was Leeds UCU’s first motion, joined with a motion from the University of Manchester, calling UCU to recognise migrant status as a protected characteristic under UCU equality structures, make necessary rule changes to achieve this and to ensure that protection of migrant members is a priority for UCU. Proposed eloquently by Dima Chami, it was carried unanimously (with a friendly amendment), as was Motion 10, from the University of Cambridge, which requires UCU to negotiate nationally for universities to provide financial and HR support for migrant workers.
After lunch, Congress went on to pass motions demanding accessibility for disabled people, both within the union and outside of it (13) and to push employers to provide better data about LGBT+ employees in the sector (14). We also passed motions in support of the Stansted 15 (11) against the deportation of Bamidele Chika Agbakuribe, a blind Nigerian student at the University of Dundee (12), and in support of Feysi Ismail who has been employed on fixed term contracts at SOAS since 2011 and is being refused a permanent contract (L2), and we sent solidarity to the National Union of Journalists on the death of Lyra McKee, as well as approving a donation to her legacy fund. Motion 17 on sexual harassment in the union caused some debate and two points were removed from the motion and remitted. Point a, which would require UCU to expel from membership members found guilty of sexual harassment, needed, it was thought, further thinking, given the way disciplinary procedures can be used against our members (see motion HE29). Point c, requiring us to campaign for employers to refer sexual harassment cases to the police, needs rewording to clarify the need for survivors’ consent in this.
The rest of the motions were timed out, including motions 20 and 21, on gender identity after the Gender Recognition Act, and on dialogue on gender identity and diversity to which Leeds UCU has proposed amendments.
Congress called on UCU to focus on challenging managerialism in our schools and colleges (24), to support the development of National Education Service which promotes open and critical thinking (25), to sign the FSFE Public Money Public Code declaration on open software in education (26); and for UCU to continue to develop negotiating guidance on lecture capture (27). We also want to support school strikes and student organising around climate change, and call on our institutions to take measures to move us towards carbon neutrality in 2020, including divestment and reductions and offsets in travel (28).
The remaining motions were remitted to NEC.
Recruitment, organising and campaigning
Here we discussed many of the practical issues in organising a growing membership who want to campaign on equality, workload, but also on pay. We called on NEC to prioritise support for branches to recruit, organise and campaign, in dispute and out of it (32). We heard from and about those victimised by managements trying to stop us from organising, recruiting and communicating with our members: Tony Brown at UCL (33) and Lee Humber at Ruskin College, Oxford (B18)
We continue to oppose Prevent and the impact that it has on staff and students (34 and 35). There followed strong motions on anti-casualisation – not only challenging and opposing on an individual level (36) but also collective action backed up by industrial action to make the strongest possible case (37, 38), the building of national networks and awareness raising, particularly of the intersectional aspects of casualisation, including equal pay (39, 41) and the naming and shaming of companies profiting from casualisation in education (40). We heard about the issues faced by workers at private pathway providers such as Study Group, and passed unanimously a motion calling for organising amongst those workers (B6)
We called for a campaign against anti-Trade Union laws which make it harder for us to back up our positions with strong strike action (42, 43) and for improved organising training accessible to all members, funding for hubs to support smaller branches in particular (45) and a reps network to support reps who can feel isolated dealing with highly stressful confidential situations as part of their voluntary union activism (49). We called for environmental organising around the climate emergency; carbon neutrality, food waste and just transition (46, 47, 48), and for campaigning in defence of the welfare state (50) and to adequately fund social care (52).
We instructed UCU to commission critical accounting reviews and challenge in particular breaches of agreements driven by financialised motivations, drawing particular attention to the situation of Academic Related and Professional Services staff (ARPS), whose national agreement has never been implemented by HEIs (51). We supported the trade union Call It Out Campaign against bigotry, sectarianism and anti-Irish racism (L3) and the campaign to Save Stourbridge College (L7).
Higher Education Sector Conference
This part of Congress includes delegates from Higher Education only (there is a parallel Further Education Conference): we discussed the pay claim, pensions disputes and a range of other issues that affect our sector.
The first motion, HE1, asked us to approve the recommendations of the national negotiators on pay. Somewhat unusually, this was lost. The reason for this centred around the recommendation for a consultative e-ballot on the employers’ offer, followed, if members reject the offer that way, by a statutory postal ballot. It was argued that over-balloting is a problem in getting the vote out for statutory ballots, both because of the confusion it causes for members and the extra work it creates for officers in branches – it would be better to move immediately to a statutory ballot. Leeds University UCU delegates, noting that our branch had sent an amendment to a motion to the November 2018 HESC on pay calling for HEC to investigate these kinds of risks of consultative ballots, voted against the report.
A motion concerning multi-year pay negotiations and settlements was remitted to HEC (HE2) and another more complex one fell (HE3). The amendments to HE3 were voted in parts: Leeds University delegates voted in different ways on (i) of HE3A1, on going back to disaggregated ballots, as there is no clear branch view. They voted in favour of (ii) and (iii) of the same amendment. All parts of this amendment passed, meaning that the motion became one that required a return to disaggregated ballots. They also voted in favour of amendment HE3A.2 to remove the mandate for a multi-year claim, believing in particular that multi-year claims do not always work effectively for casualised staff. Even as amended, however, Leeds University delegates voted against HE3, on the basis that, on the issues of aggregated/disaggregated ballots and multi-year claims, it is important not to tie the hands of negotiators or HEC.
HE4, which was carried, called for campaigning to start now for a pay ballot in the autumn. In all of the debates on pay, the centrality of equality and anti-casualisation elements was made clear.
HE5 asked us to approve the recommendations of the Superannuation Working Group. The key question was whether the report was strong enough and whether we should be taking action now. Conference voted to reject recommendations 3, 4 and 5, on the grounds that they did not take a strong enough position in support of No Detriment (which is existing policy). Leeds University delegates voted to reject these recommendations. Once they were excluded, the report was carried.
Further, Conference called on employers to pick up any additional contributions, including contingent contributions and resolved to enter into dispute immediately if they do not do so, with Lesley McGorrigan making a particularly powerful contribution to the debate (HE6). We called for the resignation of Bill Galvin and resolved to mount a confident political campaign in defence of USS and against our employers using increased pension contributions to damage research projects. (HE7) We resolved not to accept any increase in member contributions, because there is no deficit (HE8).
HE9, calling for UCU to remain open to making a legal challenge against USS, was passed unanimously with a friendly amendment, adding more concrete instructions, from Leeds University UCU, moved by Chloe Wallace. L5 resolved that we have no confidence in the board of trustees and resolved, by an amendment, to instruct HEC to ballot for strike action in September if UUK refused to confirm by 1st June that they will not impose contribution increases. This was carried overwhelmingly. In a similar vein, HE10 called on UUK to join us in resisting contribution increases and further detriment. L6 offered strong support to Jane Hutton, the USS Trustee who has whistleblown with regard to the 2017 USS valuation, and seek advice on whether UCU trustees can remove themselves from the Trustee board until her concerns are addressed. L8 addressed Trinity College Cambridge’s decision to withdraw from USS and calls on staff to refuse to accept engagements and voluntary or discretionary roles at Trinity until they reverse their decision.
HE11 and HE12 concerned the Teachers Pension Scheme, on which Leeds delegates did not vote as we are not members of that scheme. These important motions called for campaigning against increased charges in this scheme, which is used in the Post ’92 sector and in FE.
Anti-casualisation, equality and workload
We then moved on to consider work on anti-casualisation, calling on UCU to explore the use of collective agreements to tackle casualization (HE13) and campaigning against short term contracts (HE14) and a national agreement against contracts shorter than 12 months (HE15). Vicky Blake moved a supportive amendment to include ARPS staff in HE 14 and Dima Chami spoke to highlight the particularly detrimental impact of short term contracts on migrant staff. HE15 called for post-contract support for precariously employed academics and for a boycott of Senate House to support of outsourced cleaning, catering and security staff.
A number of motions on equality issues followed, on addressing the gender pay gap (HE17), the race pay gap (HE18), highlighting and campaigning against workplace racism (HE19); the risk of restructures to LGBT+ studies and staff (HE20); challenging far right activity on campus (HE21); surveying LGBT+ colleagues’ confidence in universities when challenging hate speech; and developing a plan to support staff and students involved in cases of sexual harassment.
We moved on to workload, emphasising in particular the fact that workload is a health and safety issue (HE24). We resolved to work for the adoption of reasonable workload models (HE25) and to research workload planning more generally (HE26), acknowledging in debate that workload models are not the whole answer to the problem of workload. We recognise that workload stress is often a result of cuts and redundancies (HE27) and that it is a particular issue for disabled members and those with caring responsibilities (HE28).
HE29 drew our attention to the disproportionate overuse of disciplinary procedures against minority and protected groups, and we resolved to keep data and challenge this practice where it arises. We discussed our increasing concern about the use of lecture capture for disciplinary purposes in particular (HE30) and resolved to explore a national campaign to take back control of module questionnaires so that they are not used in inappropriate ways (HE31).
HE32, on academic freedom to discuss sex and gender, was a difficult debate. Leeds University delegates note that the wording of the motion repeats existing policy, but believe that the motion was brought in order to conflate the robust challenge of views on sex and gender identity with abuse of those holding certain views, and to suggest that the former, as well as the latter, constitutes a restriction on academic freedom. We believe that academic freedom does not extend to the right to denying the right to identity of our trans comrades and colleagues. The motion was amended by the LGBT+ committee to moderate it and Megan Povey moved the amendments. Leeds delegates voted in favour of both amendments but then voted against the amended motion, on the grounds that amendments did not make it clear that a space where transphobic views are permitted is not, by definition, a ‘safe space’. The motion fell.
Conference went on to instruct HEC to campaign for better- resourced student counselling services (HE33) and to launch a #loveourARPS campaign to ensure that academic-related and professional services staff are included in UCU campaigning, including specific campaigns on role profiles and CPD.
Finally, we discussed REF, resolving to campaign against the use of REF criteria for performance management, to demand that outputs from staff made redundant be ineligible and ultimately for the abolition of the REF (HE35 and 37) and to produce materials supporting the negotiation of REF codes of practice.
The remainder of the motions were remitted to HEC.
Strategy and Finance
After the appointment of auditors and the formal receipt of financial statements, Congress was asked to consider the proposed budget for 2019-20 and subscription rates. The debate here focused on the gradual move towards more proportionate subscription levels, increasing rates for members on higher incomes and decreasing them for members on lower incomes. Vicky Blake argued strongly against the proposed rates, on the basis that we need to move more quickly towards proportionate subs to make it easier for low paid casualised staff to join the union and be supported, in accordance with existing policy. Leeds University delegates voted against the proposed subs rates on this basis. The motions were carried and proposed subscription rates approved. We resolved to ensure that expenses are paid out promptly and that travel and accommodation should be booked by UCU for delegates directly where possible, using ways that preserve the dignity of low-paid members (57). We called for more efficient membership data management to facilitate our GTVO efforts for future ballots (58).
There followed a range of solidarity motions relating to UCU’s international work, highlighting in particular our solidarity with education unions in Brazil (61) and our support for trade unions involved in protests in Sudan (62). A motion on Venezuela proved more controversial: after a tight vote, on which Leeds University delegates took different positions, paragraph d was excluded on the basis of concerns about the legitimacy and behaviour of the current government of Venezuela. Once this was done, the rest of the motion, deploring US interventionism and economic warfare in Venezuela, was carried, with Leeds University delegates voting in favour.
An important motion on legal advice, grounded on a sense that the legal services provided through UCU are insufficiently accessible, particularly to casualised staff, was remitted for further consideration as to detail (66). Congress further resolved to challenge the increasingly common employers’ practice of monitoring electronic communications (68), to put in FoI requests to monitor the use of Non-Disclosure agreements (69) and to pay particular attention to their use in race discrimination cases (70).
The remaining motions were remitted to NEC.
Democracy commission and rule changes
This final session began with a report by the Democracy Commission, set up after Congress last year, to look at aspects of UCU’s operation, including recall of the General Secretary and the way in which disputes are organised. This work is ongoing, and whilst some motions came forward here, a Democracy Special Congress will be held in November. The provisional report was adopted by Congress (76)
The first rule change involved a removal of the cap of Congress delegate numbers per branch, to ensure that large or merged branches are sufficiently represented (77). This was uncontroversial. Motion 78, however, was anything but: this motion had the effect of substantially reducing the number of FE Congress delegates. After a protest, where large numbers of delegates from both FE and HE queued to be able to speak against the motion, it was overwhelmingly voted down. Leeds University delegates were proud to support the protest and our comrades in FE.
Congress then voted to reorder the agenda to allow for motions 83-85 to be debated first.
These motions followed from motion 9 and proposed rule changes to reflect in UCU structures the decision to recognise migration status as a protected characteristic. Motion 83 from UEA UCU was moved powerfully by Michael Kyriacou (UEA) and seconded by Dima Chami: it formally adds migration status to the list of characteristics against which UCU will actively oppose harassment, prejudice and unfair discrimination. Motions 84 and 85, from Leeds University UCU, were moved by Laura Loyola and seconded by Dave Muritu of the Black Members Standing Committee. They proposed the creation of a Migrant Members Standing Committee and the inclusion of migrant members representatives on NEC. They were carried overwhelmingly; the moving and emotional-charged speeches received the acclaim of Congress and brought much of the hall, not least the Leeds University delegation, to tears.
The final motion debated was 82, a rule change to create a disputes committee for managing disputes, comprised of branch representatives, rather than leaving decision making to NEC. Branch delegates voted in favour of this, but it narrowly missed the 2/3 majority required for a rule change, amidst concerns that it might be too large to function properly.
All other rule change motions were remitted to the November Democracy Congress, including Leeds University UCU’s motion to fix the problems of quoracy for special conferences.