External examiners resign in strike protest

We, the undersigned, have tendered our collective resignation from the School of Law and Social Justice at the University of Liverpool in protest at the University’s advice to students in respect of the UCU industrial action which begins today (Monday, 25 November) and expected to last until Wednesday, 4 December.

We have taken this decision out of concern at the University of Liverpool’s misrepresentation of the law regarding support for official pickets and its weaponising of the UK immigration system against visa-holding students.

The University of Liverpool, in an email signed off by Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education, Professor Gavin Brown on Friday, 22 November, warned students that it is unlawful to join pickets and that if they choose not to attend any lectures or tutorials, they will be marked as absent with an effect on their attendance record and that they may not have access to alternative learning materials and no consideration will be given to these absences at exam boards. Further, the University warned international students that should they choose not to cross picket lines to attend teaching sessions, they risk jeopardising their visa because the University’s usual policy on absences among international students will apply. The University’s policy can be found here.

As examiners, we are especially concerned by the failure to assure students that it is entirely lawful to support an official picket at the same time as informing them that joining a picket per se is unlawful for non-Union members. We are also deeply concerned by the University’s weaponisation of the UK’s immigration system by failing to put into place systems for visa holding students to ensure that they can support action by not crossing a picket line, should that be their choice. Other institutions are putting in place appropriate systems for their protection, respectful of diversity of opinion and conscience across their university community.

Universities rely on the modestly remunerated work and collegiality of external examiners to deliver their programmes. We are grateful for, impressed by, and supportive of the excellent educational work undertaken by our colleagues in Liverpool.

However, in the light of what we consider to be a combative and intimidatory approach to student support for industrial action, we cannot continue to support the University of Liverpool through the provision of our labour.

We urge other external examiners who are similarly concerned with the University of Liverpool policy to do the same.

Prof Fiona de Londras, Birmingham Law School, University of Birmingham
Dr Natasa Mavronicola, Birmingham Law School, University of Birmingham
Dr Jed Meers, York Law School, University of York
Dr Yoriko Otomo, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
Prof Sally Sheldon, Kent Law School, University of Kent
Dr Celine Tan, School of Law, University of Warwick
Dr Anil Yilmaz Vastardis, School of Law, University of Essex

The full text of our resignation can be found here.

Statement of Solidarity with Warwick Occupy

 
Warwick UCU is writing to express our solidarity with students currently occupying the SU building, which follows a protest on Tuesday regarding the Jewish Israeli Society’s hosting a speaker from the IDF. We share their concern with the issues that they have brought to the attention of the campus. 
 
We have seen rising incidents of racism and islamophobia in our country and in our institutions. For years, staff and students at University of Warwick have engaged in anti-racist organising together. We have fought against the PREVENT agenda because it is discriminatory and encourages disproportionate surveillance of Muslim and BME students. We’ve fought side by side to ensure that the survivors of the racist, anti-Semitic, and sexist group chat received the justice they deserved. We’ve fought to prevent deeply racist and reactionary speakers from coming onto our campus. And now students have voted to support staff as we strike to end the racial pay gap at Warwick and nationally. 
 
But this racist and islamophobic culture is pernicious and it has permeated our society, our University, and the institutions therein.
 
This occupation is important as are occupiers’ demands that we as a University community finally begin to take serious, coordinated, and concerted action to tackle these problems.
 
We call on our members to stay up to date with the demands of the occupiers: https://twitter.com/WarwickOccupy and, if able, to consider supporting the occupiers. https://justgiving.com/crowdfunding/warwick-occupy
 
We ask that the SU ensure the rights of the occupiers and their safety.
 
And we call on the University to launch an official and widespread investigation into racism on campus, and particularly the ways that it is embedded in processes ranging from pay gaps to the external speaker policy.

Solidarity Fund & Support for Casual Staff/Workers

Warwick UCU will support casual staff and workers to engage in Industrial Action

Warwick UCU recognises that the prospect of lost income during Industrial Action – comprising both total withdrawal of labour and working to contract (or “Action Short of Strike” ASOS) –  causes great concern for workers on hourly paid contracts and for casual staff on low pay and/or fixed term contracts.

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. Warwick UCU explicitly supports members on Tier 4 and Tier 2 visas, as well as UK and EU nationals, in their applications to the Solidarity Fund. It is with regret that we can offer support only to those on Warwick University contracts, not those on agency contracts, such as Unitemps.

STP/hourly paid workers, fixed term staff, and those earning below £30k per annum, will be able to claim lost income of up to £75 per day from day one of strike action, as a considerable improvement compared to last year’s arrangements. During the last period of Industrial Action, Warwick UCU was able to refund all applications in a swift manner and we aim to do the same this year, though our exact capacities will depend on the number of applications and donations to the fund.

Warwick UCU Solidarity Fund applications will require a minimum of evidence to validate the application, such as a previous pay slip or a screenshot of the last full week of teaching hours on the STP online form. Full details will become available as the online application goes live. Warwick UCU pledge to treat applications by casual and precarious members with high priority and to authorise approved high priority payments prior to Friday 20 December 2019. 

Warwick UCU also support applications to the Solidarity Fund from members on secure and permanent contracts. Priority will be given to those on lower annual incomes and with support and/or care commitments in their household, as well as those households where participants in this Industrial Action are the sole earner or where both earners are participating. These members can apply to the local Solidarity Fund for the first 3 days of Industrial Action which are not covered by the National Strike Fund

Warwick UCU calls on all members to apply to the local Solidarity Fund primarily where precarious work and pay conditions exist and swift payments are essential to secure basic living costs. Other members should apply to the national strike fund first and can apply to the local strike fund to balance any short-comings afterwards.

Warwick UCU values all members and specifically recognises the risk taken by casual and precariously employed members, as well as members on Tier 4 and Tier 2 visas, who participate in Industrial Action. We commit to robustly and consistently support those members throughout. 

 

Payment outline:

We will provide a link to the claims form as soon as it becomes available.

Payments will be made in this order for as long as funds are available. Submissions made by 11th December will be processed as fast as possible, with payments made by 20th December at the latest. Those on STP/hourly pay will be given priority before casual staff on more secure income, who will be considered before securely employed staff.

  1. STPs/hourly paid workers will be able to claim up to £225 from the local Solidarity Fund and can claim any remaining loss of income from the National Strike Fund whose claim limit is £500. Evidence required for the local Solidarity Fund: screenshots of timesheet(s) from a regular working week & screenshot of contract(s). National will require payslips in addition.
  2. Fixed-term/casual staff and staff on incomes lower than £30k will be able to claim for the first £75 to £225 in lost income, i.e. the equivalent of the first 3 strike days and can claim any remaining loss of income from the National Strike Fund whose claim limit is £500. Evidence required for local Solidarity Fund: screenshot of copy of contract plus an indication of working hours.

    Those on more secure working contracts, i.e. salaried staff, are encouraged to apply to the National Strike Fund after day 1 of Industrial Action.

    For 1. and 2. Additional circumstances will be taken into consideration, such as studentships, bursaries, scholarships, and potential income unaffected by participation Industrial Action. Also taken into consideration are care commitments, children, and dependants in the household, sole earners, and households with two incomes affected by Industrial Action.

  3. The local Solidarity fund will also consider applications by those earning above £30k and will fund £150, i.e. the equivalent of the first three days of Industrial Action. The National Strike Fund can be applied to for the remaining loss of income up to a limit of £500.

A review of available funds will take place in January. In case of remaining funds, the Solidarity Fund will reopen for applications for remaining lost income. In this case members will be notified.

Please note that you must not claim more than lost earnings as this will draw the attention of HMRC.

A note for STPs: Please remember that your contracts require you to declare your intention to participate in Industrial Action PRIOR to taking action but does not stipulate a specific timeframe. We encourage declaration on a day to day basis by email to STP@warwick.ac.uk with your HoD in CC.

Solidarity Fund Donations

Warwick UCU has a local solidarity fund to support members taking industrial action. The branch has donated funds to this but we are also seeking donations from members and non-members.

We are particularly directing this appeal for donations to our members who are either on leave or who are otherwise not expected to be part of the action [and to any members who feel they have no option but to attend certain meetings and events – please claim your salary for these so as not to give the University more free labour!] and to staff members at Warwick who, whilst they have not joined UCU, support our actions on their behalf.

In addition, we welcome donations from members of the public and other organisations who believe as we do that industrial action and the fight to protect pensions, eliminate precarity and pay a fair wage to all is essential.

The local solidarity fund is designed to complement the provision from the National Fighting Fund, and where possible to fill in any potential “gaps”. It will prioritise members on hourly paid and other precarious contracts, and support people who would be left financially vulnerable after deductions.

Donations can be received by bank transfer or cheque.

For bank transfer the account details are:
UCU Warwick
60 83 01
20391524

 Please quote the reference: “Solidarity Fund”

It would be helpful to also send remittance advice to treasurer@warwickucu.org.uk  confirming the amount and the name of the donor(s) so we can have a record

Or by Cheque

Please make cheques payable to “UCU Warwick” and send to Treasurer, UCU Office, Avon Building WA1.12, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL.

All donations are recorded for auditing purposes and held in a separate account that is used only for hardship fund requests.

Thank you to everyone who is able to donate.  This is extraordinarily important in enabling staff and workers on lower incomes to take part in the industrial action – without this some would be at risk of substantial financial hardship.

Warwick UCU Strike Committee

 

 

Strike FAQ for Warwick students

This is information for all Warwick students who would like to know more about why lecturers, librarians, IT and other professional service staff at Warwick are taking industrial action.

For a PDF version click here.


What is the strike about
What is it we want? What would constitute a win?
Why should students care?
How does industrial action affect you?
How can Warwick students help?


What is the strike about? 

There are two reasons why we are striking:  
  • First, to protect staff pensions, which are under renewed attack after last year’s dispute.
  • Second, to fight for the rights of casualised, female and BAME staff. Growing numbers of staff are working on short-term or precarious contracts that don’t pay them enough to make ends meet. There is also a persistent gender and racial pay gap. This means that at Warwick, for instance, women earn 74p for every £1 earned by men and BAME staff are paid an average of 25% less than their white colleagues. This action is about stopping the downgrading of pensions, ending casualisation and closing the gender and racial pay gap.

UCU Strikes Summary (PDF slides)

What is it we want? What would constitute a win? 

Our demands are simple:
  • Protect staff pensions so that we can retire without facing poverty;
  • Pay a £10/hour minimum rate for directly employed staff, and commit to the Living Wage Foundation’s pay rates for the lowest paid on campus;
  • Agree to develop a programme to close the gender and BAME pay gap; 
  • Agree to create a framework to eliminate precarious employment and to tackle rising workloads;
  • Ensure that staff pay keeps up with inflation (salaries have fallen 20% on average over the past decade)

These demands are easy to meet. We’re asking UUK (Universities UK, the association of university employers) to work with us to end the rampant levels of inequality in our workplaces and to make sure that people can actually afford to live on the pay for the jobs they do.

Why should students care? 

We know that you have incurred a large debt to attend university. Many of us fought hard against the meteoric rise of tuition fees. But the high fees you pay are not used to pay more to those who teach you. Gaps in gender and BAME pay, casualisation of staff and erosion of staff pensions are part of a decade-long assault on the integrity of universities as public institutions. As a result, we’ve seen the tripling of student fees, a trend toward short-term or sessional contracts at the expense of secure employment, the greater use of outsourcing models  and the ballooning of managerial pay – and with these developments, the persistence of racist and sexist cultures at our university.  

If we want an environment committed to fairness and transparency, where teaching, learning and research – not profit – are at the heart of what we do, then we must collectively take a stand.

How does industrial action affect you? 

We love teaching and working with students, and we do not take strike action lightly, any more than nurses or doctors do. The UCU has called for eight days of strike action from November 25th to December 4th. On these days:

  • UCU members won’t be teaching, holding office hours, marking or answering emails
  • Any work missed, including teaching, will not be rescheduled
  • After December 4th, UCU members will be observing action short of a strike (ASOS): this means working to contract, or working only the 36.5 hours per week stipulated in our contracts (most academics work 60+ hours, including weekends)

How can Warwick students help? 

In partnership with Warwick’s Student-Staff Solidarity Network, we will be holding a series of themed events on the picket lines, giving you a chance to join discussions about fees, debt, the future of work and radical alternatives to the status quo. We want you to be part of these activities. Join us! As Emma Goldman almost says, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be in your demonstration.”

Warwick Students Union voted to support the strikes – as individuals you can too.

If you want to help us stop hugely damaging changes to higher education, here are some ideas:

Remember: the more people support the strike, and the more unified that support, the sooner it’s likely to end.

With that in mind, please:

  • Boycott lectures and seminars on strike days – do not cross the picket line!
  • Join us as sympathetic onlookers/active supporters
  • Help organise alternative student-led events
  • Get in touch with any questions

Solidarity for all – together we can win this!

Warwick UCU Recommendations on Lecture Capture

We are thrilled to announce that at our All Member Meeting on Wednesday 16 October 2019, we passed our a motion endorsing our new Recommendations on Lecture Capture. This policy, which is the result of months of research and consultation with our members, lays out the problems in the University’s current lecture capture policy and the changes we think are necessary to create a fair, equitable, and working policy. Huge thanks to our research committee.

Elements of current lecture capture policy to keep:

  • opt in policy

Elements to improve:

Acknowledgement of pros and cons of lecture capture

An objective presentation of lecture capture to students that outlines both the pros and the cons of lecture capture to students and staff. Currently the policy presentation on the website is biased to articulating positive aspects (see first paragraph here: …). The UCU has found out, however, that the decision of many academic staff to not opt in is based on reasonable concerns of surrounding matters of learning and inclusion. Furthermore, academic research exists to support both pros and cons thus the decision to solely present the pros of lecture capture is biased and it has direct implications for student experience and for the relationship between students and academic staff.

By presenting solely the positive aspects of lecture capture the policy nurtured feelings of dissatisfaction among students who are not informed about the reasons why many lecturers choose not to use lecture capture. We therefore recommend that the policy outlined the pros but also the cons of lecture capture in the “Key points about Lecture Capture” (https://warwick.ac.uk/services/its/servicessupport/av/lecture_capture/review/) in the “Lecture Capture Policy” (https://warwick.ac.uk/services/aro/dar/quality/categories/goodpractice/lecturecapturepolicy) and in the “https://warwick.ac.uk/services/aro/dar/quality/recordinglectures/”.

As an example, an important issue of lecture capture concerns inclusion: students may not participate to interactive activities knowing that they are being recorded, particularly students with anxiety (the detrimental effects of recording on individuals ability to debate challenging ideas and to participate has been document by several psychological studies).

At the moment the policy states that “If there is an interactive element to your lecture, individuals may not wish to be recorded and can therefore choose to refrain from participating” which essentially normalises the idea that some students will be deterred from participating. We do not find this acceptable and we believe that academic staff worries about student participation raise a reasonable concern that should be acknowledged in the way we communicate lecture capture to students on the university website.

Recommendation: To re-open a consultation between the university and the UCU representing academic staff to produce a ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ list to be assimilated on the Lecture Capture presentation online.

 

Intellectual Property Issues

The current provisions in the Consent Form are:

“In order to enhance the student learning experience, the University of Warwick (the “University”) wishes to make available to its current students digital recordings of University lectures, presentations and seminars (“Recordings”) for learning and teaching purposes.

Recordings will not be used for any other purpose, and will be stored securely within the EU for a period of four years, after which time they will be deleted/destroyed.”

Recommendations:

  1. Intellectual property provision should define ‘current students’ as the student cohort for that particular module that the lecturer chooses to use lecture capture recordings for in that particular moment in time.
  2. The university policy should include clear guidelines as to what constitutes ‘fair educational use’ of lecture capture material.
  3. Lecture capture recordings should be deleted/destroyed if a member of staff is no longer an employee of the university. The lecturer may have the choice of explicitly agreeing not to destroy the recordings after employment ends but in this case the Intellectual Property should be shared between the university and the lecturer, such that the lecturer has the right to rescind permission for the use of the material at any point.
  4. If the lecturer continues to be an employee at the university but decides to no longer use lecture capture, the previous lecture capture materials should be deleted/destroyed as soon as the students from the taught cohort that were provided with lecture recordings graduate (the cohort graduation date applies). The lecturer may have the choice of explicitly agreeing not to destroy the recordings after the graduation of the taught cohort that benefited from his/her recordings but in this case the Intellectual Property should be shared between the university and the lecturer.
  5. In the context of strike, lecture capture materials should be made unavailable to students.

Overall Recommendation: To re-open a consultation between the university and the UCU representing academic staff to expand the current lecture capture policy accordingly.

Warwick UCU Response to Warwick’s Climate Emergency Declaration 

On Friday 20 September, following the lead of numerous organisations and local governments, the University declared a climate emergency. To meet this challenge, Warwick “aims to reach net zero carbon from our direct emissions and the energy we buy by 2030,” with the further goal of net zero emissions by 2050. The first goal refers to so-called scope 1-2 carbon neutrality, which encompasses direct emissions produced by Warwick, as well as indirect emissions generated by energy we purchase. The second goal (‘scope 3’ neutrality, or zero total emissions) only puts the University in line with the binding legal target of the whole of the UK.

While we welcome the University’s recognition of climate breakdown, it is clear that its proposed goals are simply not ambitious enough, given the scale of the crisis we face. Far larger organisations have committed to scope 1-2 carbon neutrality by 2025. And reducing emissions by 2050 is too late to avoid potentially catastrophic levels of global heating. Furthermore, the University’s own position –as both a regional hub and an international educational institution – requires it to take a much more robust role in leading the fight against climate injustice.

This spring our branch brought a motion to UCU Congress to commit all our institutions to achieving “‘scope 3’ carbon neutrality by 2030.” This means a commitment to eliminating all indirect emissions that occur in an institution’s value chain, including emissions associated with business travel, procurement, waste and water. Such emissions make up the greatest share of Warwick’s footprint. We must undertake a wholesale review of the University’s processes, plans and relationships in order to begin decarbonising at the scale and speed required by this emergency.

We have other concerns as well. The University’s commitment to net neutrality means that it doesn’t necessarily need to reduce its emissions in total, but can instead just offset them through various schemes. It’s worrying too that the University has hedged its bets by announcing that it will meet its commitments only if “national governments (and our partners in local and regional policy making) deliver on their commitments.” We want to see the University play a role in actively leading, not simply following, a just-transition campaign to a cleaner, fairer society.

What does this look like? To us, it requires a genuine transformation in the way the University runs and operates. Among other things, it requires an acknowledgement of Warwick’s complicity in the climate crisis – local as well as global – and its avoidance of real consultation with the people who make the University what it is: staff, students, and the local community. The recognition of an ‘emergency’ clearly demands a different approach from business as usual.

In addition to achieving scope 3 neutrality by 2030, we call for the creation of an ongoing shared governance platform with UCU, Unite, Unison, the SU, and other representative bodies on campus to create a genuine leadership role for the university on climate breakdown. This will involve more than just technical targets; it will require, as any campaign to renovate Warwick’s partnerships must, a commitment to ethical investment, workers’ rights and lasting collaborations with the surrounding community. A good place to start would see the University lobbying the Home Office to end its hostile environment policy and to open the doors to climate migrants. And there is much more to be done – locally, nationally and internationally.

For these reasons, we remain fully committed to Friday’s climate strike and urge our members to attend the protest, on Friday 27 September at noon outside of Senate House. We reiterate our demand that the University step up and show leadership in the fight for a just transition to a genuinely sustainable society.

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.

Get the Vote Out Events

As part of our GTVO campaign, Warwick UCU is hosting a number of exciting public events. Come join us!

Wednesday 25 September
Door Knocking and Organising Training Session, 16:00-17:00, Humanities Studio

Want to help but not sure how to talk to people about the strike? We’re here to help. We’ll be providing a debriefing and training on both the key issues in this ballot as well as how to talk to members and potential members.

Followed by our……
Wednesday 9 October,

An evening with our new GS, Jo Grady, and social, 17:00-19:00, Room TBA. 

This event is open to the public so feel free to bring comrades, friends and family. Please register here.

* Wednesday 16 October
All Members Meeting, 13:00-15:00, Humanities Studio

This is our fall semester meeting. In addition to answering questions about the ballot, we will also be discussing important issues around lecture capture, casualisation, and the recognition agreement.

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)