Higher Education Committee 30 June 2017 Report

Reject the pay offer: Consultation begins NOW

UCU HEC voted by a majority to initiate an immediate consultation on the employers 1.7% pay offer. The offer fails to address any of our concerns over the gender pay gap, or other pay inequalities. Similarly they refuse to negotiate an end to the abuse of causalisation or address our demands to provide protection over workloads. Instead they insist that a pay cut is all that is to be offered. Inflation is currently running at 2.7% so a 1.7% pay rise is a 1.0% pay cut.

UCU Left argued for a publicity campaign to explain why pay matters prior to the consultation and also for a recommendation to reject the offer by the NEC but both of these proposals were rejected. Activists now need to ensure we mobilise as wide a layer of members to reject the offer.

The May government is facing a series of revolts, the latest over the public sector pay cap. If we fight over pay we can help bring an end to the austerity in the public sector. But to do that requires branches and activists to mobilise as wide a layer of members as possible to reject the pay offer.

Many of our members are facing low pay on the lowest grades, zero hours contracts and increased casualisation. When we don’t fight over pay the employers then come back for more in terms of jobs, workloads and shortly it will be pensions. In all of these cases women, BME and casualised staff suffer most when we don’t fight over pay.

The majority on HEC voted to consult without any information and publicity to members and are not even prepared to offer a collective view on whether or not to accept or reject the offer. Still worse the majority even voted to impose a criteria on the consultation, in terms of requiring over 50% turnout of members before a rejection would be considered to be valid. Even the Tory anti-union laws don’t require this. Why do we then not need a 50% turnout to accept the offer? It is not good enough to say as an elected member of the HEC that you reluctantly agree or we need to keep our powder dry when members are facing falling real pay.

Activists need to ensure pay remains a central issue for our union. Campaign to reject the offer

USS Pensions: Lies, damn lies and valuations

The employers and Trustees of USS are setting up to attack our pensions. The valuation of the pension scheme is currently under discussion and a figure has to be agreed for its value. The value chosen in terms of how much its assets are currently worth are easy to value, around £60b but the costs of providing our pensions is open to lots of interpretation. The reason for this is that we don’t know what our salary increases will be in the future or what mortality rates will be for members in decades to come but also how high interest rates will be or what rates of return on our assets will be in decades to come.

In the past USS settled upon one figure which demonstrated a so called ‘deficit’. Their methodology for choosing this figure was severely criticised and as a result they are working on a spread of values some more conservative than others. But these valuations are so sensitive that simply a tiny change in interest rates (0.5%) for example can create or wipe out any deficit. Where we are now is that many estimates from USS show the scheme to be in surplus while others show a deficit.

There is a fundamental reason why we should not trust the estimates which create deficits and that is they all assume Higher Education is more vulnerable to going bankrupt than is plausible. Education is not a sector which is likely to disappear, we are not comparable to a manufacturer of black and white televisions.

Our concern is that a deficit figure is chosen and forces either cuts in benefits or increases in costs for members. Either of these outcomes will undermine the scheme in terms of members’ confidence and in comparison with other pension schemes. If we are to maintain member’s rights to a pension we need to start campaigning now to defend our rights to a retirement free from poverty.

Gender Pay Gap. Step up the action

There were several papers and references to this at the meeting. The first paper (agenda item 8) sought to update on ‘progress’ with gender pay. However there is minimal actually happening although the spin tends to focus upon ‘branch claims’ which when unravelled tend to mean branch officers (sometimes with regional officials) meeting their Hr depts. ‘Claims’ has been clarified by national officials as meaning asking for the data then analysing it. It was reported at the meeting that the national  JNCHES working group on this matter were not really delivering what they had set out in their terms of reference agreed in August 2016 i.e. organising a national event in ‘early Summer’ 2017 to publicise revised guidance. UCU (comprising the President and an official) we were told had suggested changes to the revised guidance. So the plan is for an updated UCU report in October. The second document (agenda item 12) provided ‘gender pay gap data’ which was published on 26 May and gained widespread media publicity. It showed, for example, that the gender pay gap for academics remains at 12%. UCU nationally have produced a report which is available in hard copy for branches.

All in all the realities are that nothing much is happening to redress these injustices. At Congress we asked and got agreed that extra faculty time should be given to local branch officers and reps to deal with this time consuming practice of meeting local management but to date, nothing has been sorted out. Additionally we still have no reason why UCU nationally organised the Congress gender pay meeting at exactly the same time as the official Women members Standing committee meeting (and refused to combine the 2 meetings).

Women are getting a raw deal and we need to start organising local and regional meetings on this matter!

Casualisation HEC report.

An update on the number and success of local claims was made. However the point was raised that this information is not proactively publicised enough especially given that casualised members are often less reachable and branches do not always pass this information to casualised staff. Therefore it was requested that a review of the way casualisation wins; trends and figures are publicised is reviewed and an energetic social media campaign is utilised to reach members and publicise what the branches are doing.

A brief report on the Ratification panel was made and a correction to the new ratification checklist highlighted from the floor . The National Ratification Panel (Hourly Paid) in part serves to root out casualising and other disadvantageous clauses in HPL assimilation agreements. It was taken on board that the checklist needs to be applied more widely to all kinds of agreements for casualised members.

Clearly casualisation is more prevalent amongst women members and also BME members. Therefore the equalities issues need to be considered and integrated into any campaign. HEC heard that the lack of any real intersection between these issues in the reports derived from the fact that casualised pay data was not available from HESA in a way that it could be linked to the gender pay gap. We need to challenge this so that the root reasons for pay inequalities for both groups are properly understood and challenged. In equalities terms this also has an implication for the disabled pay gap and the BME members pay gap.

Londonmet: Make the Boycott effective

A report was given at HEC on the Londonmet International Academic boycott. It noted that although some progress had been made during 3 meetings at ACAS in the past two weeks it is not enough to settle the dispute.

A change management policy is nearing agreement; we have agreed a freeze on employing new HPLs and a new notice period for allocations and reductions of work for our HPL staff. The main two demands of the boycott remain unresolved. Management still refuses to fractionalise any of our vast army of workers on zero hour contracts.  On workload we are demanding a new work allocation model to replace the presently imposed allocation model which takes no account of the many essential non activities which lecturers have to do which are not accounted for. This is the result of the recent and still ongoing programme of mass redundancies. This cost cutting model of threatens the national contract provisions including research and scholarly time. Londonmet management maintains their inability to be able to resolve this problem is because it is too expensive. We say they cannot afford not to provide the proper staff resources we need to teach our students properly. Londonmet management maintains these measures are improving outcomes for students. This is woefully untrue. The boycott therefore continues.

The Londonmet motion passed at HEC calls for much more proactive strategic publicity to be increased and circulated amongst the membership. It should be fully resourced to increase leverage to resolve the dispute. We called for a THE article and advert to be strategically placed to make an impact on clearing; that members across UCU be regularly encouraged to write to our Vice Chancellor; to take our pledge and to express their solidarity with the boycott. If the reputational potential of the boycott is not utilised and then it will become a blunted weapon in UCU’s armoury. We need to win this dispute for our members and for the union. These issues at stake are important especially in the context of the HE bill and the TEF which our VC is fully promoting.

Finally given the redundancy programme and the recent victimisation of our branch reps the motion called for resources to rebuild the confidence of our branch and to rebuild our branch leadership: one cannot happen without the other.

Leeds fighting to defend academic freedom

Leeds Uni UCU dispute over changes to statutes was highlighted as significant. Management is trying to introduce ‘some other substantial reason’ (sosr) as grounds for dismissing staff – a challenge to academic freedom.  If this change goes through privy council in the face of local opposition it will be the first test of the climate following the HE bill. The branch has taken a day’s strike action and is engaged in a work to contract. HQ will be sending a lobby letter to members of the privy council and local MPs. The branch is discussing the next steps. Outside pressure on  management will bolster the union action, solidarity is crucial


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