Email from Leeds UCU Branch President to members 11th October 2021
I hope that this (somewhat exhausting) term is treating you well. In this email I wanted to briefly give you an account of what union officers have been doing on your behalf in relation to some of the issues on which we are currently campaigning.
- Anti-casualisation campaign. In January 2022 it will be three years since we put in our local anti-casualisation claim to the university – you can find the text of the claim here. Since that time, we have taken strike action in support of our national claim. We have heard occasional warm words from management, but across the university staff on fixed term contracts have continued to be made redundant, or made to apply for what are effectively their own jobs. Worryingly, over the summer, a new form of contract, known as an ongoing annualised contract, was introduced (without trade union consultation) which manages to make already precarious employees even more precarious, by requiring them to commit to an ongoing contract with a tiny number of guaranteed of hours, no clear progression or and, it seems, no access to the redeployment register. Officers have spent many hours in discussion with HR, leading to a situation where a major project on ‘contract types’ has been defined which is likely to take many months. Management have explicitly refused to commit to using this process to reduce the use of precarious contracts within our University. Caseworkers have supported staff in seeking permanent or extended contracts, an often distressing process exacerbated by the stress which job insecurity creates: casualisation, we are regularly reminded, is a health and safety issue. Whatever words we might hear from management, as we approach a ballot on a dispute in which our national anti-casualisation will take centre stage, we need action now to support staff currently casualised, as well as strategic planning for the future and and we are not seeing it.
- Workload. Reps and members are reporting unprecedented levels of workload and associated stress and ill health. Again, we have taken national strike action on this matter and thought it could not get worse – but it did. What was required of us all during the pandemic was excessive and in many cases unreasonable. And yet there was more to come. Chronic failure properly to staff services such as IT and the Student Education Service, which campus trades unions have been protesting for years, is harming staff in those services and having a knock on effect elsewhere, particularly in areas impacted by massive over recruitment of undergraduates. The causes of that over recruitment were not within the control of the University: the fact that the Schools and Services on the frontline of this crisis are already exhausted, have been unable to take sufficient annual leave and are in many cases understaffed, could have been avoided. Also within the control of management is the introduction of new systems and process, and requirement to engage in major strategic developments on top of already excessive workloads. Our management have failed to take responsibility for the health and wellbeing of their staff, and we need to see urgent action now. We are currently seeking discussions with management on this matter.
- Response to the COVID-19 situation. As most of us are now aware, the change of policy on face coverings was introduced too late, poorly communicated and compliance is too low. We were promised a series of FAQs for staff around how to approach and enforce this policy, which, by the end of week 2, has still not materialised. Many universities in England are doing better that this to protect their staff and students – government guidance is clearly not the barrier. I note again that the people suffering most from this are those who have, or live with people who have, clinical vulnerabilities, who are telling us that they feel now they have to choose between protecting themselves from COVID-19 and the benefits of some renewed in-person contact with colleagues and students, which is making a huge difference for some of us in mental health terms. This is not what an inclusive University looks like.
All of these issues are causing stress and distress right now to staff across the University. The answer to this should not be individualised: it is a sign of a broken institution and a broken sector, and the answer is to fix what is broken. I do want to acknowledge the incredibly important work done to support staff by colleagues in Staff Counselling and Occupational Health. Both services accept self referrals and are available if you just want a one-off informal conversation, as well as more sustained support, so please do make use of them if you need to.
Many thanks to all those who attended our General Meeting on Thursday 7th October – we set some important policy as well as changing some of our rules. You will see from those motions particular concerns about wholesale and anti-democratic changes to our University governance structures, and serious concern about the University’s willingness to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to the Climate Crisis. We will be in touch with you with more details and information about what you can do to fight back.
One thing that you can do, of course, is to prepare yourself to vote in the industrial action ballots, due to start on 18th October. I emailed you with more information about this on 23rd September. We will be holding some non-motion focused members meetings to discuss and answer your questions, including one for migrant members, and one for fixed term and hourly paid staff. Please watch out for more information on this. If you haven’t already, ensure that your address and phone number are up to date on MyUCU, prepare yourself to vote – and to let us know when you have voted, so that the branch can do everything we can to get the 50% turnout required by anti-union legislation and show management that we mean business.
Dr Chloe Wallace
President, Leeds University UCU
Associate Professor in Law
School of Law
University of Leeds
Co-Director, Centre for Innovation and Research in Legal Education
Programme Leader, School of Law 4 year programmes
This page was last updated on 11 October 2021