Warwick University’s Reliance on Fixed Term Contracts: How the Vulnerable Subsidise “Excellence with Purpose”

In 2002, UCEA agreed with the UCU that “fair and flexible employment arrangements should reflect … principles,” including the principle that  “indefinite contracts are the general form of employment relationship between employers and employees” (UCU 2002: 6).

Broadly across the UK, use of fixed term contracts in teaching and research (R&T) and teaching focused/teaching only (TF) jobs has declined, from 29% of staff performing these functions in 2004/5 to 24% in 2016/17 – the last year for which HEA data are currently available (Graph 1). (Analysis here intentionally excludes research focused/research only (RF) staff, whose fixed term contracts typically fall outside the direct responsibility of university management.)

Staffing at the University of Warwick (UoW) initially mirrored UK trends, as the percentage of staff on fixed term contracts, employed for T&R and TF functions, declined from 28% in 2004/05 to reach a low of 12% in 2012/13. However, as elsewhere in the Russell Group (8), as of 2014/15 this percentage not only grew but by 2016/17 had achieved an all-time high (since ‘digital records are available’) of 34% (Graph 2)!

Of course, it may be coincidental that this growth trend took off after the tuition fee cap was raised for the academic year 2012/13. But it is more likely that the expansion of recruitment in fixed term staff was driven and funded by the rise in fees, as UoW income from tuition and grants rose from £190 million in 2012/13 to £213 million in 2013/14, £240 million in 2014/15 and £275 million in 2015/16 (2).

The rapid rise in fixed term staff in 2015/16 mirrors a notable recovery in university gross operating surplus as well (that is, money left over after operational costs of research and teaching). The gross surplus rebounded from -2% in 2014/15 (following a dip from 3% in 2013/14 due to unexpected USS contribution increases) to a very healthy 9% in 2015/16, before further positive outcomes of 7% (2016/17) and 9% (2017/18) (2).

So while the sector as a whole has reduced its dependency on fixed term staff, the UoW appears to have used these staff to buffer changes to university funding, and to support growing student numbers (which had been on the decline since 2009/10, after the UK Parliament voted to increase the cap on fees to £9,000) (Graph 3).

Moreover, the reliance on fixed term contracts externalises the risk of taking on permanent staff, as these contracts hold open the opportunity for non-renewal and therefore free up capital for other purposes, thereby actively subsidising expansion of gross operating surplus – for which university management sets a target of 5% per annum (3). This surplus can then be prioritised for investment both in replacing and expanding infrastructure, and used to buffer future financial shocks.

Bottom line, without recourse to such high proportions of fixed term staff, the UoW would be entirely unable to  operate at anywhere near its current scale or level of academic quality and financial sustainability.

Administrators might argue that there are reasons to feel complacent about these developments. Such contracts do after all supply jobs to excellent colleagues who contribute in no small part to the overall output of university operations. Yet it’s clear that questions of collegial value take a back seat for senior decision-makers, as they ‘drive for efficiency’ (4) in pursuit of growth: “Warwick in 2030 will be larger than now, both in our student population and our research. That growth will be sustainable and will never compromise on quality” (5). By contrast, it seems little ‘accounting’ exists of the real cost to individuals working on fixed term and even more vulnerable STP contracts.

Indeed, in practical terms the ‘quality’ of experience here for these employees often brings them to tears (6). Anyone who has experienced working under fixed term conditions, or knows others who have, will be familiar with the omnipresent anxiety that intensifies as a contract nears its end. Concerns about paying the rent, repaying debts and supporting the family tend to blur into existential breakdown, growing self-doubt and an eroding sense of self-worth. Most staff will never report these worries to anyone other than their partners, often not even to work friends, given the widespread stigmatisation and discourses of those “unable to cope” – accentuated by a university culture of formal and informal completion for REF returns, promotion and general recognition. Those who suffer these experiences over repeated cycles find their personal lives coming under severe strain; in extreme cases, relationships may collapse and families must absorb the fallout.

Colleagues on permanent contracts, meanwhile, may be unaware or unconcerned that their departments have become honeycombed with precarity. They might even conclude that these legally temporary if ubquitous essentials of human resources are at least lucky enough to have some sort of job – even if they never manage to secure a pigeonhole, aren’t invited to staff meetings and don’t get a profile on the department webpages. There remains a widespread lack of awareness that without fixed term and STP staff, there would be many less permanent jobs to go around – the reality is, the security of some is subsidised by the insecurity foisted on others.

Line managers may make genuine efforts to support their staff, yet they face structural contradictions when attempting to do the decent thing. Even the best intentioned must deal with inflexible (irony noted!) university accounting cycles and resource allocation processes, while struggling to keep staffing at anything like sustainable and effective levels. They are often able to do no more than pay lip service to matters of work/life balance and mental health. Those with the right social capital may be able to free up resources by ‘talking to the Provost,’ but those without connections find themselves returning empty-handed from Academic Resourcing Committee (ARC) meetings, without the posts they need.

Warwick UCU believes that these conditions are unacceptable, full stop. But they are especially egregious in an HE sector that aspires to lead the world, and at a Russell Group university that claims to take the notion of ‘dignity at work’ seriously.

If you’re angry that casualisation has become business as usual in your workplace, we hope you’ll join our Four Fights campaign to end these conditions for vulnerable colleagues. We’re fighting to roll back the use of fixed term and vulnerable staff across UK HE; here on campus, it’s time to stop the subsidy extracted from the most vulnerable among us by Warwick University Ltd (7).

Wondering what steps to take? You can:

  1. Join the UCU right now – subscriptions are a small monthly sum, they support all our work at national and local levels, and they provide access to individual legal and case-worker support for you and others who encounter challenges at work.
  2. Contact the UCU and volunteer to take an active part in our campaign against precarity, as well as with our sister organisation the Warwick Anti-Casualization group.
  3. Show your unhappiness with the exploitative status quo by participating in our ongoing industrial action, or just by coming to talk to us on the picket line located at the bus exchange.

References

(1) Descriptive statistics generated by Warwick UCU, based on HESA 2020.

(2) Analysis by Warwick UCU, based on University of Warwick Financial Statements.

(3) UoW financial statements for the year ending 31 July 2018.

(4) Cf. UoW planning documents for the years 2014-18.

(5) UoW (2018). University Strategy: Excellence with Purpose.

(6) Cf. the testimonies collected in the #unistory project, as well as personal accounts offered by brave colleagues as part of the UCU-WAC precarity protest day, 3 March 2020.

(7) E. P. Thompson (2013). If you can’t get a copy of this foundational text from the ‘company’ library (as the record suggests, current demand is too great for the supply), this “40 years on” reflection by former students is a worthwhile 20 min read.

(8) UCU (2020). Fear of Reputational Damage.

Applying to our Local Warwick UCU Solidarity Fund

The solidarity form is now available for STP. If you have any questions please contact treasurer@warwickucu.org.uk directly.

We strongly encourage you to apply for solidarity support so that your commitment to Industrial Action is sustainable. Warwick UCU pledge to treat Solidarity Fund applications by precariously and casually employed tutors/workers/staff, as well as those earning below £30k per annum, as a matter of priority.

For the full guidance on the fund, please see here. Once you have read this, please follow this link to make an application.

The form will gather non-anonymous data to be used by Warwick UCU to manage our local solidarity funds. We have committed to ensure all those who are most vulnerable will be supported, and then we will allocate funds on a sliding basis of need. You will need to include evidence of your expected earnings in the period for which you have withdrawn your labour. (Please check the guidance).

If you have not been on strike and/or are able to contribute to the local Solidarity Fund please donate here.

Warwick Anticasualisation Rally

The deeply moving words below are the text of the speech given by Katja Laug on behalf of Warwick Anticasualisation on Day 2 of the UCU Strike 2019.  We reproduce these in full so people have the chance to understand why we are taking action and to understand the way that HE institutions, especially Warwick, treats these friends, colleagues, comrades.  The sector has changed to be unrecognisable from the one that many of us entered 20, 3o or 40 years ago.  Warwick UCU would like to reiterate our support for all workers at Warwick.  If you would like to support us in this, please donate to the solidarity fund which will help support low income members to take action, to fight, alongside us.


Education is not a commodity. Students are not customers. And educators are not service providers. Yet, these are the terms upon which Warwick and universities across the UK, conduct the education of its students.

According to the HESA Staff Record of 2015/16, collated by the UCU, Warwick ranked at #1 for Teaching Only and Teaching & Research Staff who were insecurely employed – this included our colleagues on fixed-term contracts, and those employed as Sessional Tutors. According to this data, 66.5% of teaching and research staff at this university are employed precariously. 60% of teaching delivered at this university is given by casualised “workers”.

Week in, week out, we have to justify that we deserve the pay for our work. Yet we cannot claim for the actual hours it takes us to prepare classes or grade papers as the university decides how many hours we can claim for marking and prep time. We do not gain benefits from continuous employment, which means that we do not know whether we will secure a paycheque beyond the immediate future.We cannot evidence income for visas or citizenship. We cannot plan – for the immediate or mid-term futures. Classes can be dropped at will, and our hours cut. If we were to become seriously ill, require compassionate leave, or become pregnant, we simply would not be paid, despite teaching, marking, and contributing to the accredited courses which Warwick “delivers” to its students. Through these processes, we are forced into antagonistic relationships not only with senior management at this university, but with our Heads of Department, our professional/administration teams, our colleagues and, ultimately, our students. This is not only not good enough, but it is simply unsustainable.

Strike action has been called to combat pay inequality in the university: the precarious nature of academia for early career researchers dictates what kind of researchers can realistically pursue a career in the academy. These kinds of insecure pay structures disproportionally affect women, disabled people, and BAME researchers.

The question we have to ask ourselves, our colleagues, our Heads of Department, our students, and most importantly of our senior management is: is this what the university should be like? Should knowledge, education, and research only be open to those who can afford it? To those who can afford to take the risks associated with becoming an academic in the neoliberal university?

We know that by working collectively, we can build a better university. We have won before, and can win again. In recent years, casualised staff fought off the university’s attempt to impose Teach Higher – a precursor to the current system. But that success was only possible with the solidarity from more established and secure colleagues.

We are pleased to welcome everyone to the picket line today. It is great to see so many of you voted in favour of fighting for our financial futures – for our pensions. But as casualised staff and early career researchers we also see the immediate need to address pay inequality and job insecurity, which hinder us from envisaging a ‘future’ in academia at all. That’s why we see the demands in both ballots inseparable and equally important – you cannot have one without the other. The marketisation of higher education is meant to divide us, and to stop us to fight as a collective. We can’t let it happen.

On this note, it has come to our attention that a number of departments have employed strike-breaking tactics which pose tremendous threats for casualised staff to take industrial action. Notably, the Philosophy department has sent an email to its students, asking them to report specific staff who have taken strike action. The online form that they have sent to students includes a mandatory field to report staff. STP tutors in Philosophy have also been asked to report to the department whether they were not striking, indirectly reporting to the department those who are striking. They have also been offered the opportunity to seek support from their Director of Graduate Studies, which blurs the line between being on an STP contract ad being a postgraduate student. Staff from the Chemistry department are also threatened by an email, saying that they should take their ‘future career prospect’ into consideration before taking industrial actions. We find it outrageous that departmental management deliberately attack our soft spots – in these circumstances our care for students and passion to pursue an academic career – to stop us from striking, rather than coming out with constructive plans to make the academic workforce and higher education more sustainable.

If you are employed via STP you should declare to the STP resource email account that you are striking every day, including days that you would not typically work, in order to cause disruption. They will reply asking you to fill in an online self-declaration form via SuccessFactors. DO NOT do this, you are under no legal or contractual obligation to do so.

As precarious workers we stand in solidarity with precarious workers everywhere. We call on UCL to end out-sourcing cleaning staff, and porters, we support the workers at Amazon in their fight for a living wage, our solidarity goes to the McStrikers, Goldsmiths cleaners, Uber drivers, the workers in Chile who mine the minerals for the ECars that are supposed to keep Europe clean, and all strikers and protesters for dignity, justice, and security in the UK and worldwide. We stand with WarwickOccupy and their anti-racist action and we stand with cleaners and porters at Warwick, who are disproportionately affected by Warwick’s plans to scrap the subsidised bus tickets with e Courcey under the guise of redirecting the money for the Green New Deal. These fights are interconnected and intersectional and we recognise that we, the academic precariat, are only the tip of the melting iceberg.

WAC, or Warwick Anti-casualisation, is a self-organised group of PGRs and ECRs from across the university that has been active since 2015. We work closely with the UCU, but we are not directly a part of the UCU. We have been organizing events to help people under STP understand their contracts and get support when something was incorrect or unfair on their contract. We welcome any ECR or PGR who is precariously employed to join our WhatsApp and Facebook organising groups.

Picket Line Plans, Teach Outs and Solidarity Events

Picket Line Events and Teachouts*
All events on the picket line unless otherwise marked

Week Three

Monday 2 March Meet at the Bus Loop 10am-1pm
Adopted by Sociology

11-12pm “Decolonisation/Decarbonisation” panel, hosted by Rebecca Brown (SU Environment and Ethics Officer) and the Warwick Decolonise Project

12pm “‘Once You’ve Listened, Then What?’: Democratising Political Education” (Naomi Waltham-Smith, CIM)

1pm History of Women’s Oppression (Warwick Marxists)

Tuesday 3 March / Meet at Bus Loop at 8am to go picketing and return to Bus Loop at 10
Day of Action on Precarity / Adopted by Philosophy

10:15  “Governing through Precarity: A Foucauldian Approach”

11am Warwick Anticasualisation Event: On the Day of Action on Precarity, WAC will run a teach-out to discuss the challenges faced by casualised colleagues at Warwick and organize together.

We look forward to seeing you there!

1pm-3pm “Prison Abolition” (Warsoc)

Wednesday 4 March / Meet at the Bus Loop 10am-1pm
Adopted by French & Hispanic Studies and Law

11am  “Dealing with Climate Denial and Discombobulation (Climate Strike Warm Up)” (Alastair Smith and Todd Oliver)

11am-2pm International Women’s Day Banner Making(MR2 in the SU, Warsoc)

1pm (The Graduate) “The Unexpected Subject: Identity in Contemporary Italian Feminism” (Carlotta Cassuta, Akwugo Emejulu and Laura Schwartz)

Thursday 5 March / Meet at Bus Loop at 8am to go picketing and return to Bus Loop at 10
Adopted by English & Comp Lit

10:00am Picket line line dancing, featuring hits from Saturday Night Fever and Chorus Line

1pm Workers and Labour Movements in History (The Graduate)

4pm-6pm Radical Reading Club: Things Fall Apart (Organised by Warwick Anti-Sexism Society (WASS) and Warwick Anti-Racism Society (WARSOC), in SU Building,Room MR2)

Week Four

Monday 9 March / Meet at the Bus Loop 10am-1pm
International Women’s Day on the picketline  / Adopted by Professional Service Staff and Sociology

11am Pay Gap Game (Version 2)

12pm “The Gendered Politics of Austerity” (Muireann O’Dwyer)

1:30pm Women’s march 

3pm-4:30pm Radical Reading Club: Text TBD (Organised by Warwick Anti-Sexism Society (WASS) and Warwick Anti-Racism Society (WARSOC), in SU Building,Room MR2)

Tuesday 10 March / Meet at Bus Loop at 8am to go picketing and return to Bus Loop at 10
Adopted by Law

1pm-4pm Blackademia (Warsoc)

Wednesday 11 March / Meet at the Bus Loop 10am-1pm
Preventing Prevent Day of Action / Adopted by French & Hispanic Studies 

10:30 Why We Need to Abolish Prevent and How: A Primer What is Prevent? Why should it be important to us as workers and students in the University? What does it have to do with the larger contexts of hostile environment and the rise of the far right? And how can we fight it? This interactive teach out will give us all the tools we need to understand Prevent and start collectively organising for how to fight it.

12pm “Stop HS2/ Climate Breakdown Poetry”
Members of local resistance to HS2, from the Crackley and Cubbington Wood camps, will visit the picket line to update us on their campaigns. There will be a reading of climate breakdown poetry up and down the line – bring poetry and/or songs. For suggestions, email jonathanskin@me.com

Thursday 12 March /Meet at Bus Loop at 8am to go picketing and return to Bus Loop at 10

10am Confidence to Stand up for Your Beliefs

1pm “Beyond Greece and Rome: Classics from a Global Perspective” (the Graduate)

3:30-6pm Institute of Advanced Protest: An Interdisciplinary Showcase on the Theme of Protest (Graduate)

Email instituteofadvancedprotest@gmail.com to sign up for a slot and/or lend items to the ‘gallery of protest’

Friday 13 March / Meet at the Bus Loop 10am-1pm
International Climate Strike / Adopted by English & Comp Lit

10:30am Climate Focus Group (Sarah Lever)

11:30am Furniture Upcycling Demo and Q&A (Sarah Lever)

                1pm “Climate Justice and a Post-Growth Society” (Tomi Amole)

1:30Social Activism on Screen”* (James C. Taylor, in The Graduate)

*The events listed here that do not take place on the picket line and are not during picketing hours are not official UCU events; they are organised independently by staff and students who are supportive of the strike and respect our picket line.

 

 

What is this strike about?: A Q&A primer for talking to students and colleagues

*A PDF version is available here for printing and distribution.

This is a two-ballot campaign, but the issues are united: it is a strike about dignity and equality. It is a strike about casualisation; about the pay gap for women, BMEs, and gay, lesbian, and queer staff; and it is a strike about whether we will be able to grow old with dignity. These issues are all connected, but we are going to talk a bit about the two ballots separately.

Pensions


We were just on strike about pensions just less than two years ago? Why are we doing out again?
When we agreed to end the strike of 2018, it was because of a commitment from UUK and USS that they were willing to disregard their previous valuation and set up a Joint Expert Panel (JEP) to carry out a new valuation. The problem with the old valuation process is that it led to conflict every three years in line with the valuation cycle; UCU argued and continues to argue that a fairer process, based on more reasonable assumptions will allow us to defend our pension benefits and move us away from these cyclical clashes.

The JEP’s report largely validated UCU’s position and made a number of recommendations. However, the USS has refused to accept the recommendations and valuations of the Joint Expert Panel (JEP), and instead scheduled massive contribution increases clearly violating our own ‘no detriment’ position. Our contributions will rise to 9.6% of salary from October 2019, and 11% of salary from October 2021.

Ok, but it’s only a couple percentage points. Won’t we lose that money anyways in the strike?
It’s true that it’s only a couple of percentage points now (though a couple of percentage points that will, over your career, take a big bite out of your salary), but this strike is really about defending the valuation process we were promised during the last strike in order to secure the future of our pension fund.

The last year has shown that the USS cannot be trusted and that when push comes to shove, our employers, UUK, aren’t willing to fight them. We were told that USS would accept the JEP’s valuation and this hasn’t happened. USS have shown that they will only accept valuations that work for them. If we don’t pressure UUK to stand up to UUK and if we don’t force USS to make good on their word, they will demand more increases every year until our pension is no longer sustainable.

Moreover, we have already lost so much. UCU commissioned a study that compared the situation members are in now to if the Scheme had continued in its pre-2011 state and found that for the average UCU member, your pension will cost 40k more, and will give you 200k less. We need to draw a line in the sand now.

I thought we struck to save our defined benefit pensions. Are they safe now?
Not really. Whilst they aren’t explicitly coming for our DB pensions this time, this is another way to destroy our pension. By making our pensions unaffordable, more and more people will drop out and then defined benefit  could then be at risk. Pensions need to be affordable for members to be sustainable.

Moreover, without valuation methodology which we can support, the chances of VCs pushing for de-risking (i.e. moving to defined contributions) at future valuation cycles are necessarily higher.

But if USS says our pensions aren’t sustainable, don’t we risk losing our pensions anyways?
Our pensions are sustainable. The myth of unsustainable pensions comes from USS treating our pensions as if the HE sector is a company like Carillion. But the HE sector is nothing like Carillion. It is far larger and far more stable.

Ok, I get why we’d want to take action  against USS. But that’s not the way which industrial action works. We’re striking against Warwick and Warwick’s position on pensions has been pretty good.
We need a ballot, paradoxically, to support Warwick’s position. Employers across the country are losing faith in the USS, and some (like our own) are starting to raise their voice, but neither their voice nor ours is being listened to. If we don’t push back now, USS will tighten their grip, and will almost assuredly ignore the second report of the JEP, employers will start planning to mitigate against the USS valuation, and this will pose enormous problems and instabilities for our pension.

If we didn’t win last time, how are we going to win this time?
We won the battle last time: we stopped them from eliminating our defined benefit pensions. Now we need to finish what we started by ensuring that USS does what they promised they’d do and listen to the JEP’s valuation.

Pay & Equality


In a time of rising unemployment, should we be grateful to be receiving a pay rise of 1.8%?
The employer’s 2% pay offer is below inflation and that means that it is a pay cut. Since 2009 average pay in HE has dropped in real terms by 17.8% (Retail Price Index) or 11.8% (Consumer Price Index). This in a context in which Warwick currently makes a surplus of £40-50 million a year. The University, and the sector can afford our demands.

But aren’t there more pressing concerns, such as the gender and race pay gap and casualisation?
Absolutely, but these concerns are intimately connected. This Pay Cut Disproportionately Affects Women, Ethnic Minorities, and Casualised Staff. At the same time as University’s are promoting diversity and equality programs to increase the number of women and BME staff, in real terms they are cutting our salaries, and increasingly casualising our workforce.

Gendered Pay Gap: According to The Boar, Warwick had the second worst Gender Pay gap of the Russell Group as of 2016 and more recent figures from the government are just as damning. Women’s mean hourly rate is 26.5% lower than men’s, which means that women earn 74p for every £1 that men earn. And women’s mean bonus pay is 58.4% lower than men’s.

BME Pay Gap: The situation is no better when it comes to race. According to the BBC, ethnic minority academics at Warwick are paid an average 25% less than their white colleagues. And there are only 26 black women professors in the UK and  a persistent culture of racism and bullying.

If the university sector is serious about closing the gender and racial pay gap and changing its culture, it needs to stop degrading the conditions of the very staff its ostensibly attracting.

How does casualisation fit into a ballot about pay? And what is casualisation?
‘Casualisation’ is the process through which employers whittle away the protections, rights, and security of their employees, by moving away from employing people on a full-time and permanent basis to using hourly-paid work, zero-hours contracts, temporary workers contracts, and other similar kinds of contracts. Casualised contracts mean that all staff – both permanent and casualised – feel more precarious and less able to stand up for their rights. And this means our employers can erode our pay and working conditions. A fair wage is only possible if we stamp out casualised contracts. 

But is casualisation that widespread?
The use of casualised contracts is soaring. According to HESA, as of 2016-7, 50.9% of academic staff are on insecure contracts. At Warwick it’s even worse, with two thirds, or 66.5%, of staff on fixed-term or hourly-paid contracts. Moreover, Warwick made national news in 2015 when they tried to innovate a whole new system for “in-sourcing” called Teach Higher in which the university tried to create a wholly-owned subsidiary to hire and manage hourly paid staff, thus denying those staff any employee rights. It was only a mass mobilisation by students and staff that stopped this from happening. It was also this resistance that led to the creation of the current payroll system, Sessional Teaching Payroll or STP.

But hasn’t Warwick committed to ending casualised contracts?Sort of. Because of the great work of our anti-casualisation reps and Warwick Anti-Casualisation, the University has agreed to try and introduce employmentcontracts for PhD students currently engaged via STP for the coming year . The details have yet to be finalised and the broad direction of travel has yet to be finalised.

Sounds good, right?
In principle. However, the devil is in details. While the University claims to be ending casualised work, it’s practices suggest that it is committed to upholding a two-tiered workforce. The University has refused to look at the current STP framework as part of the process of contractual change, including the issues of workload and pay, a matter of negotiation, instead offering only “consultation.” preferring to simply ‘consult’ with the union and with STP employed staff with no promises of taking their suggestions into account.

Moreover, the University has also refused to address the key issues of workload and pay for casualised staff. According to the UCU’s recent report on casualisation, 60% of casualised staff work well beyond their hours, but the University has refused to open up the STP framework for discussion and thus to address the problem of unpaid labour. The formal change to permanent contracts is welcome, but without a commitment to ending workload increases and unpaid labour, it doesn’t actually address the problem of casualisation.

Pension Ballots are Coming: Why We’re Balloting and What You Can Do

In just over three weeks, you will be receiving ballots on pension and pay. There are more details on the ballot below, but the quick version is this:

Watch your mailbox. Ballots are coming. UCU Warwick’s position is vote YES for action short of a strike, vote YES for a strike.

Want to contribute to the ongoing UCU campaign over USS, but don’t have very much time? Here is a short to do list:

1. Make sure you can vote by checking that your employment details and postal address are up to date. You can do so here.

2. Watch this talk given by Sheffield UCU’s branch president Sam Marsh yesterday at the Open University.

3. (A slightly larger time commitment item): We are going to need people to door knock, poster, email, tweet, and generally help us Get the Vote Out in September and October. If you’ll have a few moments to spare over the next couple of months, please email us at adminsitrator@warwickucu.org.uk.

4. (A larger time commitment item): We are in need of a new Treasurer. Please email us if you are interested at adminsitrator@warwickucu.org.uk.

In September, vote YES for pensions, pay, and equality.

Background Information

A new USS ballot

At the end of May, UCU’s Higher Education conference (which was held on the second day of Congress 2019) voted overwhelmingly to ramp up preparations for an industrial action ballot over USS to begin in September. And as of 7 June, employers including our own were served a letter inviting them to take steps to avoid a re-ignition of the dispute.

Why has UCU decided to ballot? When the Joint Expert Panel’s first report dropped in September, there was hope from all sides that it had the potential to end the dispute. Adopting its recommendations would mean a shift in philosophy from USS and rate increases low enough to negotiate over. Both UCU and Universities UK backed the JEP report, the latter with the strikes still fresh in the mind and eager to put the dispute to bed. The issue, as was always likely to be the case, has been with USS’ response.

A USS timeline from September 2018-now

The first side-step by USS was their proposal for a new, 2018 valuation as a way to incorporate the issues raised by the JEP. This would not replace the 2017 one, but instead follow close on its heels and intercept the large contribution increases that were a consequence of the original valuation. Support for this approach was secured from the employers, and the Joint Negotiating Committee were shown information that if the JEP’s recommendations were applied in full to the 2018 valuation, it would mean that the deficit would vanish and that contributions would fall (although no guarantees were made as to what the final figures would be).

As soon as agreement to proceed with a 2018 valuation was sealed, the USS executive team contacted the board and recommended dropping two of the three key proposals from the JEP report, while the only one that remained would be inextricably tied to ‘contingent contributions’ from employers. The justification for USS’s rejection of the JEP’s recommendations was that adopting them would send the ‘discount rate’ above the internal benchmarks the regulator uses to judge a valuation’s prudence. Yet these internal benchmarks don’t exist! The regulator has made this explicit via a cryptic stab at USS in its annual DB funding report. It is possible – indeed likely – that this was not the first that USS had heard of this issue from TPR. If true, USS’ public statements to the contrary are all the more disingenuous.

This leads to where we are now: USS has rejected both the JEP report and the overwhelming evidence that their methodology is flawed, and is still relying on Test 1. Nothing has changed in their mindset or approach. Based on this, they insist the correct contribution rate is 33.7% of pay, an increase of 7.7% since before the dispute.

The University of Warwick published its response in March, stating its disappointment with the USS’s failure to accept the JEP’s recommendations and calling on the USS to be reformed. This is not surprising. Employers and members alike are horrified at the mess that has developed for no clear reason. Added to this, Prof Jane Hutton, one of three UCU-nominated trustees, has recused herself from the board under “considerable pressure” after whistleblowing to the regulator on the obstruction she faced obtaining data on the valuation. This has now led to over 1,000 academics signing a petition to call for an inquiry into the scheme. Meanwhile the Academics for Pensions Justice group are also preparing a legal challenge to USS. There are serious issues here that need proper answers, and we suspect that we will continue to hear more about USS governance in the days to come.

What now?

So, to return to the initial question: why a ballot, especially given the University of Warwick’s largely supportive position? We need a ballot, paradoxically, to support Warwick’s position. Employers across the country are losing faith in the USS, and some (like our own) are starting to raise their voice, but neither their voice nor ours is being listened to. If we don’t push back now, USS will tighten their grip, and will almost assuredly ignore the second report of the JEP, employers will start planning to mitigate against the USS valuation, and this will pose enormous problems and instabilities for our pension.

In 2018, we battled to stop them from taking our defined benefit pension. Now we must fight to make sure our DB pension isn’t taken by other means. No one wants to ballot for a strike, but employers know what they need to do to avert it: work with UUK to make sure that there is a major change of direction in USS, or, failing that, pick up the tab for the contribution increases.

 

****(Thank you to Sheffield for sharing their materials and information with us)

How To and Not To Report Strike Action To Your Employer (Updated March 2020)

(updated March 2020)

Warwick UCU members have raised numerous concerns over the use of SucessFactors to record and store information about strike participation.

The committee have discussed these at length with the University and were told that there are only a limited number of individuals with access to this information and that the system is secure.

However, it was recently acknowledged that “the University has some significant information security weaknesses that we have to address” (UoW 2020), with no further details provided about which processes and systems are currently at risk.

On this basis, Warwick UCU remains concerned, and therefore recommends that:

· Members do not voluntarily declare strike participation in any form, and under any circumstances, until further notice.

· If asked directly whether you have been on strike by a representative of university management, the law requires you to respond truthfully, but no time frames or methods are legally specified. Therefore, you might consider constructively by asking the following questions:

a. On what basis you have been chosen to respond directly about your strike participation. Any such requests by an employer should be made on the basis of concrete evidence or an appropriately randomised method, to ensure there is no scope for retribution, bullying, discrimination, etc. You should ask to see evidence that supports any subsequent explanation, e.g. a copy of an unambiguous ‘Out of Office’ statement that the university has seen, a copy of any testimony that you have not discharged your duties, etc.

b. What concrete reassurances can be provided that the university is able to store information about strike participation securely, given its prior admission of security weaknesses.

We will update you if our position changes.

 


 

 

(updated December 2019)

We’ve been receiving reports that some line managers are emailing members on behalf of HR asking that they complete a self-declaration form  or use Success Factor. We want to make clear that you should not use the University of Warwick self-declaration form.

Having withdrawn your labour for 8 days in Weeks 9 and 10, you are legally required to state this truthfully if asked by your employer. Hourly paid tutors and contract workers will have a different procedure for reporting their participation in industrial action, which we outline at the bottom of this post.

Because university management has refused UCU requests to smooth deductions over more than one pay period, as many other universities have done, we suggest that you do the following:

– Declare only one day at a time. There is no legally defined time limit to declare participation in industrial action. Stagger any declarations over as long a period as you like (e.g., once a week for the days you went on strike, hence taking 8 weeks to declare).

– Use as many different communication channels as possible. There is no legally required means to declare. Send your notices to a variety of legitimate representatives of university management: your line manager, the Head of Human Resources, the VC, etc.

– Communicate in ways that are difficult for the university to administer. Some suggestions include:

  • Send an email without text, but containing information in an image form (you can hand-write and take a photo with your phone, then attach the file)
  • Consider password protecting the file as a security measure; do not send the password unless you are asked
  • Leave the subject line of your message blank, or label the communication without revealing its contents
  • Send handwritten communications via internal mail.

For each day you report, make sure to ask that your lost wages be donated to the student hardship fund, and state that you would like to continue with your USS contributions for those days.  

If you are an STP tutor, however, please declare in advance as your contract requires you to do so (as explained in the Warwick UCU FAQs for casualised staff).

The advice from the branch for STP tutors is: 1) declare that you are striking in advance, but as late as possible (e.g. only on the morning of the day that you are due to teach, or the evening before) by emailing stp@warwick.ac.uk, putting in blind copy administrator@warwickucu.org.uk; 2) do not fill in the HR self-reporting form even if you are asked to by the STP team; 3) do not declare ASOS as it does not apply to hourly paid staff.

If you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to let us know!