Email to members Friday 30 July 2021
This is your final email from me as Leeds UCU President. Chloe Wallace will be your brilliant new President from 1st August!
I wanted to update you on a number of things.
Health and safety, and return to campus
UCU continues to be concerned that the campus unions are not involved in the ‘Transitional Ways of Working’ and ‘Future Ways of Working’ groups, which are making decisions on how/when/who/where the return to campus should happen, and about future working arrangements. So we are having to react and raise concerns rather than working in partnership to ensure the best outcomes for staff and students which is a shame. We have repeatedly called for a cautious approach to the relaxing of rules on things like face coverings and social distancing, and this seems to have been taken on board to some extent. UCU has called for students to be strongly encouraged to get vaccinated, and for the government to make vaccines available to all students (but UCU does not support compulsion, see https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/11688/UCU-responds-to-reports-of-compulsory-vaccines-for-students). We understand that talks are underway to set up a vaccine centre on campus and that the lateral flow testing centre will continue. If you need Covid home testing kits, you can pick them up from campus or locally, see https://coronavirus.leeds.ac.uk/tests-and-vaccinations/free-asymptomatic-testing-centres-on-campus/.
As always, if you have health and safety concerns about working on campus, either because you feel arrangements in your area are or might become unsafe, or because you are concerned about your personal risk, contact email@example.com for support.
Yet again we’re hearing reports that staff in some departments have been told they cannot carry forward annual leave, or that it is restricted to ‘exceptional circumstances’. The annual leave policy does not say this and we have successfully challenged such edicts in a number of areas. Please get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org if you are having problems with carry forward.
I do hope though that you are able to take some time off over the next month or so, and that you have a lovely time, everyone deserves a good break after the difficult and hard working times we’ve had in the last 18 months.
We know that workload is a huge issue for many members. A sub group of our negotiating body JCUU (the Joint Committee of the University and the UCU) has been set up to work on this, and first signs are encouraging. Management can see from many posts in the Big Conversation that it’s not just a few union people making a fuss, unreasonable and growing workloads are common and are causing many problems. UCU is being consulted on new workload models in some areas, and we hope we can push for significant improvements.
As you know we’ve been working on this with HR for some time. Progress is awfully slow, but in some areas we’ve managed to successfully challenge jobs advertised as fixed term, and to get some members moved onto permanent posts. We also know there’s a lot more to do, and new problems keep coming up (eg ridiculously low “annualised hours” contracts), so we’ll continue to challenge, and will continue those negotiations into next year.
Megan Povey and I were elected as joint Equality Officer at the AGM, and I’m looking forward to getting stuck in to equality work. We’ll be holding meetings of the Equality Working Group in the new term, and would greatly welcome more members to get involved. I’m particularly conscious that we need to work on racism, and would appreciate any black members and members of colour who would be willing to have a chat about what we could be working on. Please email me.
If you contribute to a USS pension you’ll have received an email from USS “Your valuation questions answered” which I found frankly insulting. Sadly, UUK do not seem willing to join UCU in challenging the 2020 valuation, and want to proceed with detrimental changes – increased contributions, lower pension benefits, and a two-tier scheme which would disadvantage early career members. See this FAQ https://www.ucu.org.uk/uss-faqs A group of USS scheme members from UCU have put in a official complaint to USS which some of you may have signed in January. USS have rejected their concerns, so the group are now submitting a second letter to USS’s Internal Dispute Resolution process stage 2 – please read and sign it here https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScFswaq9XAcaLgG6BDl3eXrpd5_3mHx0rNGUY_nV0-0DZ1jNg/viewform. (If you signed the original complaint you will have been emailed about this already by Neil Davies from Bristol). They are also crowdfunding a legal challenge which I’d encourage you to contribute to if you can, see https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/save-pensions-and-planet/
The Four Fights dispute
Negotiations on ‘pay and related matters’ with university employers for 2021-22 have been going on for some while. The latest ‘offer’ is 1.5% pay increase (less than inflation, and following a 0% pay rise was imposed last year) together with ‘working groups’ (nothing concrete) on casualisation, equality and workloads. This is very disappointing, especially after we were starting to make progress as a result of the 2019-2020 industrial action. Our sister union Unison are balloting for industrial action now, and UCU has a Higher Education Sector Conference in September to discuss our next steps on this and USS.
… which leads neatly to …
Branch EGM 20th August 1-2 pm
Please come along to this branch meeting to discuss the two disputes. The deadline for motions to this meeting has passed, and the agenda will be circulated soon. This is your chance to have a say on next steps in these disputes, so please put the date in your diary and come long if you can. I won’t be chairing but I’ll be there, so I look forward to seeing you.
In solidarity and with hope for a better year ahead,
University of Leeds UCU President (for a very short while longer!)