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Branch Bulletin – Jan 2022

Branch General Meeting – reminder
‘Four Fights’ survey – please respond as soon as you can
Covid update
Message from Green Rep – please get involved

Branch General Meeting, Wednesday 19th January
A reminder that the first general meeting of the branch of 2022 is on Wednesday, 19th January 13.30 – 15.00 via Teams. Check your email for the meeting link.

‘Four Fights’ Survey – please respond as soon as possible.
As you may have seen in emails from UCU Head Office, the branch has been asked to canvass members’ opinions on how best to prosecute the “4 Fights” dispute in 2022. Unfortunately, the Delegate Meeting is on Tuesday 18th January, the day before our Branch General Meeting – and the questions we have been asked to put to members were only communicated to us TODAY, so there is no time to call an EGM. We are therefore asking members to answer the four questions in the survey below by 12 noon on Monday 17th January. Our delegates will then be able to report back to the BGM on Wednesday.
Here’s the link to the survey: https://forms.gle/SsV2iRC51WTXx6Zu7


Covid update
UCU, Unison and Unite are continuing to meet with Management each week to discuss the ongoing Covid situation. As previously reported, UCU has urged Management go beyond the current Government ‘Plan B’ and Department of Education guidelines by, for example, shifting any teaching that can be done remotely to on-line delivery in order to reduce the number of people on campus. We also protested the lack of provision for the risk assessment of clinically vulnerable colleagues (again, the D of E guidelines state that these are not necessary). Management have refused to do this and are intent on adhering to letter of the Government guidance, in breach of an understanding reached between Management and unions last year (at the peak of the first wave) that that the University would not slavishly follow Government guidelines but would strive to do ‘the right thing’. It is now evident that for the University as well as for the Government – ‘business continuity’ is the driver of their approach to Covid.

Face coverings
After initial reluctance Management has agreed that students and staff should wear face coverings in all indoor settings in the University, including classrooms. It is ‘not expected’ that academics wear face coverings whilst teaching, but we urge colleagues to so unless there is a sound pedagogic reason why they shouldn’t – and even then only where the teaching space is well ventilated and/or physical distancing is possible between themselves and students. The clear visors offered by the University are not an effective form of mitigation. UCU proposed using the PC screensaver (‘Where opportunity creates success’) to communicate a message reminding everyone to wear a face covering when on campus. Management have said this is ‘not possible’ (no explanation given), which demonstrates all too clearly how defending the University’s ‘brand identity’ is a higher priority than communicating an important public health message.

Ventilation
We are continuing to highlight problems relating to ventilation where we become aware of them. At the last meeting we also pressed Management on the provision and use of CO₂ monitors. We have also asked that time for the replenishment of air in teaching spaces be built into timetabling so that one session does not immediately follow another without the air supply having been refreshed. Longer term, it is clear that the University’ HVAC systems will require extensive overhaul to deal with future outbreaks. In the meantime, colleagues should continue to report ventilation problems to Estates Services via ESHelpdesk@uclan.ac.uk and contact us if there is undue delay or an unsatisfactory response.

Testing
Face coverings, ventilation, physical distancing etc. are means of managing the spread of infections whilst on campus. But clearly the best way to reduce infections on campus to reduce (preferably to zero) the number of people coming to the University with Covid in the first place, which is why testing is so crucial. We urge all colleagues to follow advice on this and to take a Lateral Flow Test before coming to work. The fewer people who bring Covid on to campus, the more effective the other measures are likely to be.

We will update members further at next week’s branch meeting. In the meantime, if you have any concerns relating to Covid, our advice remains to raise them with your Head of School in the first instance. If that doesn’t resolve it, email ucu@uclan.ac.uk indicating ‘Covid’ in the subject line.

Message from the Branch Green Rep.
There will be a meeting on Wednesday 16th February for any UCU members interested in working on green issues at UCLan. The meeting will be on Teams between 2 – 4 pm: check email for the meeting link.

Green issues obviously cover a large field. What I would like to do is have a discussion about what people are interested in and to choose 2 or 3 areas to focus on for the coming year. I would like to try and link these to objectives which have come out of the COP-26 meeting to give them more strength, as well as considering approaches to greening the curriculum at UCLan. The meeting will include some breakout room discussions, both to help draw up ideas and also to distil these further and select the ones we want to focus on. If anyone has any particular issues which interest them then please feel free to contact me, Elaine Hill, in advance about them eashill@uclan.ac.uk 

UCU Branch Committee

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News: Threat lifted and strikes postponed

Statement from UCLan UCU Branch Committee

 

Colleagues,

Following talks between UCU and Management today, the following statement has been agreed:

Over the past few weeks, the University and UCU have worked jointly to identify solutions for the remaining numbers of academic colleagues who are at risk of compulsory redundancy as a result of the restructuring exercises.

 This joint work has continued to deliver positive outcomes for colleagues, to the extent that the number of roles at risk has been reduced to four, with further discussions to be held over the coming days. The University is confident that the number will reduce still further as a result.

 Given the progress to date, the University and UCU have agreed that the priority is to give ourselves the time to pursue the work on finding individual solutions for those people concerned. As a result, the University has agreed to suspend its formal redundancy selection process and UCU has agreed to suspend the planned industrial action and explore redeployment options for the outstanding roles. The University and UCU are committed to remaining in constructive dialogue.

 

Does this resolve the dispute?

No. The dispute is not resolved because members remain at risk.

 

So what has changed?

Two weeks ago Management sought to meet UCU to discuss the criteria to be used to select individuals for compulsory redundancy. UCU declined to discuss selection criteria because we considered that there were viable alternatives to compulsory redundancy available that we wished to explore. The fact that Management were intent on pushing forward with selection for redundancy is why the Branch Committee felt it had no alternative but to issue the threat of strike action in order to defend our members’ jobs.

Management have now agreed to suspend selection for redundancy to allow further discussions to take place with UCU to resolve the remaining at risk posts. The members at risk have been informed of this development.

 

What about the industrial action?

In return for Management’s decision to suspend selection for redundancy, the UCU Branch Committee has agreed to suspend the industrial action (strike action and action short of a strike) planned for March and April.

However, the mandate for industrial action provided by members in the ballot remains live and UCU reserves the right to take industrial action if the current talks fail to resolve the dispute or if Management attempt to proceed to selection for compulsory redundancy.

 

What happens next?

 UCU and Management have committed to intensify efforts aimed at resolving the dispute by removing the prospect of compulsory redundancy. There is no guarantee of success, which is why the ballot mandate remains live. We will keep members informed about the progress of these discussions.

 

Thank you for your support so far.

 The Branch Committee wishes to thank members for the magnificent support you have shown so far. We know from the ballot results and from the many emails we have received ever since the redundancies were announced that you have demonstrated a willingness to stand up for your colleagues. There is no doubt that this has helped provide your branch negotiators with this opportunity to secure the livelihoods of those at risk. Your support was – and remains – crucial as we strive for a successful outcome.

 

UCU Branch Committee

 

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Strike 2021 – VC’s Statement

UCU response to the VC’s statement on forthcoming strike action.

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The statement posted by Graham Baldwin on the intranet on Friday is reproduced below, with UCU’s responses in bold.

 

VC: ‘We have previously updated you on our restructure programme and the essential changes required to ensure our future financial stability. Over the last few years, our people costs had been rising and unfortunately those cost increases exceeded the growth in our income. This placed the University at a level of annual deficit which, if left unchecked, would have had very serious implications for our future’.

 

UCU:  The ‘unsustainable’ rise in staffing costs is a consequence of the failure of Management oversight and control of costs over many years, something which Management themselves have admitted.  Management has also admitted that is does not have a sound method for actually measuring the overall costs for particular courses or subject areas.  It is wrong that staff should have to pay for that incompetence with their jobs. The University is in sound financial health – with cash reserves of £100 million – and is planning to spend £50 million on new buildings this year alone. This cannot justify enforced loss of livelihoods.

 

VC: ‘Our priority has therefore been to restore our people costs to a sustainable level. The ambition was and remains to achieve these significant savings through voluntary means if possible. We have made considerable progress towards this as 253 colleagues have opted to move on from UCLan through voluntary redundancy arrangements and a further 17 have taken up more flexible working arrangements through the new partial voluntary redundancy scheme. These schemes, together with the redeployment process, have been huge contributors towards our future sustainability and again I would like to thank all those who have supported colleagues throughout this process which is now coming to an end. We have worked closely with the trade unions and with those colleagues affected, to ensure they have the support that they need’.

 

UCU: Management has not been proactive in redeploying the skills experience and expertise of ‘at risk’ staff to address areas where there is a shortage of labour in the institution. Whilst many ‘at risk’ colleagues have demonstrated flexibility in this respect, including agreeing changes to their roles, this has not been matched by Management who are in the best position to facilitate proper redeployment that addresses the needs of the University whist safeguarding jobs.    

 

VC: ‘Our improving financial position has made it possible to maintain the student experience throughout the pandemic. For students we have purchased thousands of new laptops and dongles, refunded accommodation fees and supported students through the Hardship Fund. Unlike many other universities, none of our colleagues have been furloughed and we have been able to retain everyone on full pay, regardless of whether or not they are able do their job remotely. We have also been able to increase our staffing numbers in areas of student growth, which are so important to our longer-term success, and of course wherever possible we have redeployed colleagues into these new roles to continue their UCLan careers’.

 

UCU: Throughout the pandemic UCU has worked to keep staff and students at the University safe. UCU members have worked tirelessly for the past year, making the shift to online delivery or delivering practical skills face-to-face as safely as possible. Academic staff have worked far beyond their agreed workloads to ensure that students progress and graduate. It is unacceptable that any of them should, as a ‘reward’ for their efforts, be threatened with compulsory redundancy.     

 

VC: ‘The progress we have made in voluntary redundancy and redeployment has taken us a very long way towards achieving our savings targets, and these efforts continue. There are six roles in the Faculty of Culture and Creative Industries that remain at risk and the reason these roles are at risk is because particular subject areas have seen a sustained decline in student numbers over recent years, so we do not have sufficient students to maintain the current staffing levels. The number of applications received to date in those areas show that the issue will only be compounded if we do not complete the process of reducing our staffing costs’.

 

UCU: The reason the VC gives is, by Management’s own admission, not applicable to all staff at risk. Where it is ostensibly applicable, the fact is that student numbers do go up and down, but these course teams have been selected in a narrow-minded fashion that ignores their contributions to other courses and all the work they do for their Schools and the wider University. A responsible, competent Management identifies these fluctuations and addresses them through improved marketing, course mergers or by innovating to design new programmes. An irresponsible Management allows a trend to go unchecked and then wrings its hands and forces people out of work.

 

VC: ‘We are very disappointed that UCU has chosen to schedule six days of strike action beginning in less than two weeks, while we are still in the midst of our work to mitigate the impact on the colleagues affected. We will, however, continue to explore every opportunity to achieve the required cost savings through voluntary means. Individual discussions with affected colleagues are progressing and we are very confident that the number of at risk colleagues will reduce even further over the coming days’.

 

Despite the claim to be exploring alternatives to voluntary redundancy, Management want to press ahead with selection for compulsory redundancy as we speak. It is UCU that continues to press Management to lift the threat of compulsory redundancy and negotiate solutions that work both for the University and for those members still at risk. UCU has always – and will always be – ready to discuss with Management the challenges facing the University – it is in our members’ interests that we do so. But it is now in Management’s hands to step back from the brink and avoid a dispute which will have consequences for industrial relations for a long time to come.     

 

For a view of the dispute from the perspective of a dedicated UCU rep who has been supporting colleagues at risk, see the following personal reflection from Tara Styles-Lightowlers:

 

‘On Friday the VC provided an update on the UCU strike ballot and action. I would just like to fill in some of the glaring gaps. Most importantly, the omission of the very real people in the ‘people costs’ that the VC makes reference to.

Since we first learned of the members at risk of redundancy in CCI, I have lost many nights sleep or found myself sobbing into my pillow in the early hours of the morning. My own post is not at risk, but I have seen first-hand the very real distress that the VC’s message glosses over with its focus on ‘people costs’ and ‘savings targets’. I have sat at the other end of a computer screen, watching members struggle and cry, terrified and confused, not knowing what to do: worrying about mortgages, children, a possible end to their careers… all on top of the added stresses caused by the pandemic and lockdown. Even in those cases where the savings have been made via redeployment, this has involved difficult decisions being made by members, at a time when they are already working so hard to counter the problems that have been posed by Covid. These seemingly voluntary decisions have been made by members terrified of losing their jobs. I cannot stand by and watch this dehumanisation of people, seeing them reduced to mere commodities in this cost-saving exercise despite the years of hard work and dedication they have given to UCLan. The refusal to remove the threat of compulsory redundancy is not, due to financial necessity, it is a political decision. This is why I wipe away the tears and continue to stand in solidarity with the at risk members and continue to fight any threat to the livelihoods of our members.’

 

Stand with Tara. Support your colleagues at risk. Support the strike action. 

 

UCU Branch Committee

 

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First Post!

After several years of maintaining our pages on the staff intranet at UCLan, we are taking the plunge onto the public website at ucu.org.uk. This is largely because of an influx of postgraduate student members joining UCU for FREE (hit the “Join” button on the right to find out more) who, we realised, would not have access to the staff pages. So here we go!

Over the next few weeks we will be moving all our archives over to this new site. After that, we will stop maintaining the old intranet pages. For the moment, however, members who can access the staff network will find our old pages HERE.

Watch this space…

 

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