There was extensive discussion of the USS dispute to which members of HEC in other pension schemes also contributed, but only members in USS institutions participated in the final votes. Policy agreed at the USS Conference in September had two main elements:
(i) a dispute with the employers – an industrial action ballot followed by action;
(ii) a wider political campaign with other organisations to defend pensions and highlight the problems with the way the fund is being valued and the requirement for this valuation to lead to no (notional) deficit.
The employers have made proposals to respond to this notional so-called deficit which will reduce all pensions, close the final salary scheme and move everyone to a CRB scheme and to a considerably worse defined contribution scheme after a salary cap (recently increased from £40,000 to £50,000). Despite the excellent ballot result for both strike action and action short of a strike, a UCU response (see UCUHE/234) was put forward to reduce the contested projected deficit. A prior meeting of UCU USS negotiators, directors and committee members agreed that any such response should be attractive, affordable and sustainable. The only way to meet all these three conditions is to reject the constraints of the valuation and the notional deficit. Otherwise, any proposal which is “affordable” and “sustainable” is a massive cut to members’ benefits and very unattractive.
Several UCU Left members made excellent arguments against this response, but it was passed. It was agreed to organise a meeting of pension officers plus one other from each branch (November 4) to present the proposals. UCU Left members of HEC, including one of the USS negotiators, strongly recommend that members attending this meeting speak and vote against it.
In response to proposals from UCU Left members of HEC, this action will be initiated by a day of action and there will be a lobby of the Institutions Meeting (USS employers) on 4 December. The ballot produced the strongest mandate for action in the history of UCU – really high vote for both strike action and action short of a strike on a good turnout. Local action committees need to start organising to start the action on assessment and examinations on 6 November.
Pay claim and the New JNCHES
There was extensive discussion of the claim, our campaign in support of it and the various resolutions passed at Higher Education Sector Conference this year. A preliminary timetable was presented to HEC. There was a lot of discussion about the need for a timely Higher Education Sector Conference (after an offer by the employers, but in time to action motions).
It was agreed to decide the date at the next HEC on February 27. The first stage is development of the claim followed by discussion with the other trade union with the aim of reaching consensus. The claim involves elements of catchup and keepup as well as equality issues, including on gender and casualisation. Work on the casualisation element of the previous pay claim has been initiated though a questionnaire to the employers’ side and looking at case studies from pre and post 92 institutions. Head Office will develop guidance for branches on the equality issues.
Bargaining guidance on ending zero hours contracts
Casualisation is one of HEC’s objectives for the year, with a particular focus on zero hours contracts. There was extensive discussion and various suggestions for changes were made, including noting that research, distance learning and academic related as well as teaching staff are on zero hours contracts; and that the opposition is to the contracts not the staff and any agreements should ensure that existing staff retain jobs on improved conditions.
The main aim is to move all staff on zero hours to fractional permanent contracts which take account of all the work they do. The fallback position involves fixed term fractional and permanent hourly paid contracts, but should only be considered if no progress is made in moving staff to permanent fractional contracts. The document will be revised to include most of the points, but not a suggestion to put material on fixed term fractional and permanent hourly paid contracts in an appendix to indicate that they are not part of the main bargaining agenda.
The revsed guidance will be available for the anti-casualisation day of action on 5 November. It includes a negotiating checklist for branches. The President offered to speak at branches on progressing this.
Data is only available on detriment to those who transferred out. The bigger issue is the existence of alternative providers who can undercut existing staff. There is no incentive for government to take a helpful approach. The newly established TPS pensions baord will reduce UCU lay member representation to one. Members are concerned over the lack of action on TPS when other trade unions are still active on pensions. There will be a valuation in a couple of years time
Health and Safety
A report was presented followed by brief discussion. This is a really important issue and a great pity that there was not time for a longer discussion. Threats to H&S reps and regulations were noted. These are the most powerful legal rights we have. The simple function of inspecting the workplace four times a year i.e. wandering around, looking at everything and talking to everyone is really powerful. We need more H&S reps, including more women. A suggestion was made to make other reps also H&S reps to increase their powers and protection.
Government is proposing the need to prove employer liability if someone is injured. If this goes through it will be increasingly important to flag up potential dangers. Ignoring warning from H&S reps will contribute to the case for negligence, though it is clearly preferable than management does take note of warnings. Institution H&S committees should not have more management than staff reps. Management are required to carry out risk assessments of all work and inform workers of the results. A potential campaign would involve all members asking managers for the results of their risk assessment. Local activities, emphasing workloads, loss of control by staff and managerialism should take place in Anti-Stress and Bullying Week, 17-21 November.
Bargaining guidance is available and branches should be implementing it.
As soon as there is capacity to do this UCU will measure its impact
Teaching in HE
The need for time for scholarship on education was noted. A significant number of people are being put onto ‘teaching only’ contracts in the pre-92 sector. In post-92 people joining are expected to go on lowest band, even if they have extensive experience. Draft guidance should be ready for branches in early spring.
Test cases on punitive deductions
There are a number of these following the pay dispute are going ahead. Only a small number of people registered that they experienced deductions/an interest in being test cases. This illustrates the problems with this individualistic approach.
The report highlighted the increasing number of private post-16 education providers, including ‘pathway providers’ for English language support in HE. UCU has principled opposition to for profit providers. After a lot of hard work a recognition agreement was obtained at Sheffield International College. The bargaining unit is all academic staff, including sessional staff. The campaign was successful largely due to the work of a local activist and support from the University branch. We should build on this success to push for union recognition at other private providers and develop strong arguments for opposing private for profit providers.
Motions of support
HEC passed a motion of support for FE members in England who are reballoting for industrial action after an injunction from the Association of Colleges forbidding industrial action. A message of support will got to the FBU over their action to defend pensions.
The work supporting health educators is progressing. The next meeting is on 13 November. Concerns over reductions in bechmarking (funding) and lack of long term contracts. Members were reminded to write to MPs about supporting restoration of the NHS.