January 2022 ASOS Changes

New ASOS terms were received yesterday from HQ.

They are as follows:

  • working to contract
  • not covering for absent colleagues
  • removing uploaded materials related to, and/or not sharing materials related to, lectures or classes that will be or have been cancelled as a result of strike action
  • not rescheduling classes and lectures cancelled due to strike action
  • not undertaking any voluntary activities. 

The major change here is the addition of not rescheduling classes and lectures cancelled due to strike action. This was not added onto the previous terms on the premise that staff could reschedule sessions, but that doing so would take up time. Management would have to then decide what duties would not be done in order to accommodate the rescheduled teaching. Whilst this might in principle have been a good idea for full time staff (work allocation should be a management concern, not a worker concern), it proved very difficult for part time staff who felt unable to push back against requests.

That being said, Martin Atkinson has reassured UCU that there will be no punishment for staff who do not reschedule sessions, in line with Kent’s HR policy now stemming back a number of years. There are a number of reasons why this might be and you can take your pick based upon your level of cynicism: no time in calendars to facilitate rescheduling, no wo/man-power available to do the rescheduling, or goodwill gestures by management who know how stressed workers are.

Traditionally our management has also not enforced a policy where class materials are lifted from previous years to facilitate teaching during industrial action in favour of removing references to this content in assessments. However, we recommend that members still remove this content from Moodle anyway – just to make sure.

USS Complaint Response and Legal Action

The USS has responded to our second stage USS complaint which we submitted on behalf of 3,383 colleagues from across the UK on 18th August 2021, which followed our first stage complaint submitted on 22nd January 2021.

In their response, and rather than answering any of the questions, they closed our complaint because we have submitted an application to the high court to proceed with legal action on behalf of USS Limited, the company that runs our pension scheme, against the directors. In total, our complaint was under consideration by the USS for 187 days.

Here are some extracts from the second complaint:

Continue reading

Kent’s Results in the Four Fights & USS 2021 Ballot

Ballot Results

The Kent branch recently returned unprecedented levels of support for industrial action in response to the USS and Four Fights ballots. They are as follows:

  • 53.4% turnout and 79% yes vote for the USS ballot,
  • 53.4% turnout and 74.9% yes vote for the Four Fights ballot.

In addition, Kent UCU members have voted 99% in favour to proceed with a local industrial action ballot to defend jobs & workloads at the university. This ballot will be in the post soon and we will keep you up to date with its progress.

 

Strike Action

There have been two periods of industrial action declared by HEC:

  • Strike days Weds 1st – Fri 3rd December over USS pensions & the 4 Fights,
  • A continuous period of ASOS from 1st December to 3rd May 2022.

HEC said that there may be further strike action next term, should employers and USS not meet our reasonable demands.

 

Industrial Action and Pay

The University has announced its industrial action pay policy. Overall, it is an improvement on previous years for staff on precarious contracts. 

The policy includes:

  • No deductions for GTAs at all.
  • HPLs can still claim ‘for the associated preparation and marking’ even if they strike during scheduled teaching events. 
  • No deductions for the ASOS UCU have planned (such as working to contract)..
  • 1/365 pay deduction per strike day for substantive staff.  
  • For part-time substantive staff ‘pay deduction may be pro-rated based on the actual hours they were due to work on each strike day.’
  •  No detriment to full pension contributions for strike days or ASOS. 
  • More detailed information has been published by the University and can be found here.

More information about the strike from UCU will be circulated early next week, including emails and powerpoints to inform students.

 

Strike Hardship Funds

We are awaiting confirmation from UCU HQ about the available strike/ hardship funds. In addition, at a local level we will be using branch funds to supplement national funds. In the past this has been at the rate of around £50 per day.

Kent UCU has enough money to cover any financial hardship members might feel would get in the way of striking. Money will be no obstacle to you using your democratic right to fight for your pension, pay and working conditions.

 

Donate to the Kent UCU Hardship Fund

If you are able to do so & want to support your colleagues further, make a donation to the Kent UCU branch hardship fund:

Account name: UCU Kent LA26

Account number: 20391184

Sort code: 60-83-01

Unity Trust Bank

Notice of Failure to Agree

Our regional rep., Mike Moran, has today sent the following notice of failure to agree to Karen Cox. It is the preliminary stage of a ballot for industrial action in our defence of jobs and working conditions, although we sincerely hope to get these reassurances without the need to go to ballot.

 

Dear Professor Cox,

Re: Notice of Failure to Agree

UCU hereby give notice of a ‘Failure to Agree’ on the following issues, having requested a positive response by no later than 5pm on the 13th October to the letter from the branch committee to you on 7th October 2021.

  1. We seek a commitment from you that no one within the UCU bargaining group will be made compulsory redundant in the calendar years 2022 and 2023.
  2. In consultation with UCU, an urgent review of PS and academic workloads under the new OFS structures must be undertaken in 2021, and published by March 2022. This review must include a survey to all staff and consider all options in improving working conditions, including hiring more staff and reverting back to previous School/ Department specific PS roles. This review must also take into account the different workload capacities of staff from different marginalised groups. 
  3. No detriment to the WAM of academics under the new standardised Divisional WAM structures, in the calendar years 2022 and 2023.
  4. All staff workloads are affected by how many precarious staff the university employs. We therefore require a commitment that, in the academic year 22-23, the University will preserve 100% of the budgets for precarious teaching staff within each School/ area compared to the academic year 2019/20 (pre-pandemic). If the budgets have increased in some areas in the academic year 21/22, the higher figure should be maintained.

We sincerely hope you are able to provide the assurances we have requested and there is no need to enter into a formal trade dispute. Please formally respond by 5pm on Wednesday 20th October 2021.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Moran
Regional Official HE & FE South East Region

USS Pension Update: Complaint to UUK

A complaint has been lodged to USS on behalf over over 3,000 UCU USS members in a letter that can be read here. The text below has been modified from an email sent out by Neil Davies, a member highly active in the USS dispute.

The second stage of the complaints process should be passed onto an advisory committee of the USS which is made up of three UUK members (Mr C Vidgeon, Dr A Bruce, Mr D Linfoot) and three UCU members (Marion Hersh, Chris Grocott Renee Prendergast). Neil believes the USS has a further 4 months to respond.

However, Neil does not believe that it is likely that the USS will uphold our complaint. The next stage of this process is to escalate the complaint to the Pensions Ombudsman. Again, it is unclear whether the Pensions Ombudsman would uphold our complaint, however it is important to use these complaints process to demonstrate the USS’s accountability to members. 

This is one of the reasons why legal action is so important. We have raised the £50k required to get this underway. Thanks so much to everyone who donated. Please do not donate further to the crowd fund, Ewan and I will be in touch with donors asap once this gets underway.

What are the key dates? 

At the end of August the USS Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) will respond to the USS proposals for the 2020 valuation. UUK has submitted a proposal that involves very substantial benefit cuts which could reduce the value of the pension we earn in future by £100,000s. Please see the pensions modeller to see how it could affect you. If the JNC accepts the UUK cuts, then USS will aim to finalise the valuation and implement the changes by April 2022. 

What else can we do?

  1. Let the Chair of the USS Trustees know your view. 
  2. Find out what the university’s position is on the UUK proposal (there are details in the updates below, but ask Chris for details or, better still, email Karen Cox to ask). There have been few (no?) public statements of support. However, many institutions responded to a short UUK consultation in June, in which UUK claims most institutions support the proposals. Ask your VC whether they support the proposals.
  3. If you have legal expertise, especially in company, regulation, pension, or trust law, and would like to help, please get in touch. 
  4. If you know, or know how to contact government special advisors, especially at the Treasury, Department for Work and Pensions, or the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, please let me know.
  5. Finally – let your colleagues know about what is being proposed, and how it could affect them. Ask them if they could retire if the max USS pension someone could earn was about £20k/year? 

Motions Passed at Branch Meeting 21.07.21

At a branch meeting on the 21st July 2021 the branch voted to adopt the following four motions:

Vote Number 1 – Subs Increase

This motion set local subs rates for the year. Please contact any of the branch officers for details.

 

Motion 2 – Against Victimization of UCU reps

Branch notes:

  1. Senior management have victimised Kent UCU reps in the past.
  2. The basic requirement not to victimise reps also applies to all UCU members and is a condition of membership. National UCU Rule 13: procedure for the regulation of conduct of members: members must ‘refrain from conduct detrimental to the interest of the union’.

Branch resolves:

  1. To stand shoulder to shoulder with our reps, who undertake a difficult role in fighting for members within the University.
  2. To promote a zero-tolerance policy on victimisation of our reps.
  3. Where necessary, to seek protection of our reps through national UCU, which ‘takes discrimination against union members and representatives seriously and will actively pursue protections under law’.

 

Motion 3 – In Support of UCU Leicester and UCU Liverpool

Branch notes:

  1. Staff at the University of Leicester have been threatened with over 100 compulsory redundancies.
  2. The long-running dispute has led to UCU greylisting the University; UCU members have also begun a marking and assessment boycott, and, having seen no meaningful engagement from the university, are engaging in full strike action.
  3. Management of the University of Liverpool, are attempting to sack 21 members of staff.
  4. Having already begun a marking boycott, around 1,300 UCU members at the university went on strike for three consecutive weeks from Monday 24 May to Friday 11 June. 
  5. The University of Liverpool has now refused to meet with UCU, or to allow Acas to mediate between UCU and management.
  6. The UCU has also greylisted the University of Liverpool.

Branch resolves:

  1. To boycott all activity with the Universities of Leicester and Liverpool until their industrial action is resolved.
  2. To write to the the University of Leicester’s president Nishan Canagarajah, and vice-chancellor Gary Dixon, and the University of Liverpool’s vice-chancellor Janet Beer, to explain why we have withdrawn our interest and association.
  3. To donate £100 to each branch’s strike fund.

 

Motion 4 – Against the Non-Democratic Adoption of the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism at Council

Branch notes:

  1. Antisemitism, like all forms of racism, must be strongly opposed whenever it occurs.
  2. Like all definitions, the IHRA definition of antisemitism is contested, though is notably subject to strong political support and opposition. 
  3. As part of a growing tendency towards government intervention in Universities, the Minister for Education, Gavin Williamson, has pressured Universities to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism. This political pressure was recognised in the letter to Council proposing the motion to adopt the IHRA definition.
  4. The University of Kent surveyed both its staff and students regarding whether or not it should adopt the IHRA. With some exceptions, the staff survey largely rejected the adoption of the IHRA definition in favour of the Jerusalem Definition, a position which attendees to JSNCC reinforced to management.
  5. At an extraordinary meeting of the Senate on 28 April 2021, the Senate voted 25-0 (with 3 abstentions) ‘to recommend to Council that the University endorse the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism as a more appropriate working definition than the IHRA.’

  6. In particular, staff reported that the IHRA definition conflates antisemitism with legitimate criticism of Israeli foreign policy and would thus prohibit academic research.
  7. Nevertheless, on 25th June 2021, Council approved the IHRA definition with the proviso that the JDA should be used as a guiding principle.

Branch resolves:

  1. To condemn the anti-democratic practice, employed by Council, of adopting policy that is rejected by the majority of its staff base.
  2. To write a letter to the Head of Council requesting,
    1. a full account of why the University is substituting democratic principles for submission to Government’s pressure.
    2. that changes to Council’s operating principles are brought forward so that Council acts in accordance with democratic views, when they are put forward.

Kent UCU Victory! University Commits to no Compulsory Redundancies of UCU Members in 2021

🎉Congratulations! 🎉 You have defended your job and those of fellow UCU members!

Our agreement with the University gives UCU members protection from job cuts in 2021.

E-Vote Result:

Do you accept the agreement between UCU and the university to resolve the dispute over compulsory redundancies in 2021?

Yes: 96%

Thanks to your vote in the ballot and your agreement to accept a deal, our dispute over compulsory redundancies in 2021 is now closed. Your ballot beat job cuts!

Before your vote in the industrial action ballot, Kent University was:

  • Drawing up redundancy selection criteria for academics. 
  • Aiming to cut £2 million from staff “costs” 
  • Refusing to rule out compulsory redundancies (CRs) in 2021

What have we won?

  • No CRs as part of 2million ‘cost savings’
  • No CRs due to recruitment 
  • No CRs due to any shortfalls in income

UoK UCU & senior management’s full dispute resolution statement can be read here

USS Update: HQ and UUK Surveys on USS Proposal

Short Summary (TL; DR)

  • Please oppose Option A in the upcoming survey on the USS that management is about to send out. It involves huge cuts to pensions based on an unjustified and debunked valuation.
  • Please complete the HQ survey (previously circulated by email) to indicate when would be the best time to take action as a national union to defend pensions & pay.

Full Update

Following a series of back and forth communications, the USS Trustees released a new proposal for UUK’s consideration, who are now consulting member Universities between 18 June – 5 July. Following a sub-JSNCC meeting earlier this week, EG will themselves consult members of staff on the proposal, ‘Option A’.

In line with the national UCU position, I am writing to recommend that you strongly oppose Option A, which would be to accept devastating cuts to staff pensions. In specific, Option A amounts to a cap on indexation of 2.5%, a reduction from 60k to 40k in the Direct Benefit hybrid, and a cut in accrual from 1/75 to 1/85. In general, UUK says we should pay more, work longer, have fewer guarantees, for a worse pension that will not track inflation.

UUK was highly critical of the 2020 valuation and requested a review, which USS rejected on 29 March. UUK then conducted an in-depth consultation between 7 April – 24 May, that asked questions about covenant support, USS governance and proposed changes to the scheme.

Reporting on this consultation UUK has so far issued only a short statement, 15 June, promising further detail this month. Yet, this statement repeated the incorrect claim that:

UUK’s proposal would lead to a headline reduction of about 12% in future pension benefits.

UUK know this statement is incorrect as UUK’s own actuary confirmed the average cut is 21%, while UCU’s individual modeller, designed by their actuary, demonstrates the high level of individual cuts, with the largest falling disproportionately on younger members of staff and so also disproportionately impacting those from under-represented groups.

UCU has rightly referred to UUK’s behaviour as a PR exercise to justify slashing pensions. UUK has now opened this second consultation, with a two week deadline, that contains almost no mention of the level of cuts or detail on proposals for flexible options.

For these reasons, and given that all stakeholders consider the valuation unjustified, I recommend you firmly reject Option A, which would slash staff pensions. I also recommend you call on UUK in the survey to join with UCU on the JNC to propose sustainable reforms to the governance of USS, to publicly lobby for a better understanding of the strength of the sector and to defend staff pensions against this unjustified attack.

What you can do

  • Oppose Option A in the upcoming survey that management are about to release. This will demonstrate the strength of members’ will and encourage them to adopt an opposing position.
  • Please complete the HQ survey (previously circulated by email) to indicate when would be the best time to take action as a national union to defend pensions & pay.
  • Fill in the USS modeller to see how the current proposals will impact your pensions.

USS update: resources

This is a short update with a list of resources that members can use to navigate their way through recent events with USS, and to see what your elected representatives and actuarial advisers have been saying about them. As always, if you have any questions or would like anything clarifying, please get in contact with one of the branch officers.

UCU Resources

FAQ for members (this will be updated regularly)
Email from Jo to members, 19 May 2021
Email from Jo to members, 27 April 2021
Briefing for USS branches, 19 April 2021
Email from Jo to members, 5 March 2021
Jo’s blog on the USS valuation for the Higher Education Policy Institute, February 2021
USS campaign updates tend to get posted at this link

Actuarial Resources

First Actuarial comments on the USS 2020 valuation technical provisions consultation, September 2021
First Actuarial note on funding and prudence in the 2020 USS valuation, April 2021
First Actuarial note on security of accrued benefits, April 2021
First Actuarial analysis of impact of changes to USS, 2011-2019 (this was commissioned and published for the last strike ballot in 2019 but remains relevant and very useful)

Senate Discussion: IHRA Definition of Antisemitism

We’d like to give you an update on an issue that we think is becoming very critical in recent months: the IHRA definition of antisemitism. We’re sure all of you know how complicated this issue is and we know that many of you have different opinions and concerns as to these complexities, the long held debates (both within and beyond the university), the legitimate and illegitimate arguments on both sides, etc.

We also understand that a consultative survey has been circulated to gain feedback from staff and students before this issue is taken back to Council. This is great news! For context, in lieu of the possible financial penalisation accrued from the government, university management initially decided to funnel this definition through as a ‘governance issue’. Meaning that it was only subject to a discussion concerning its manner of implementation into university structures, and not to any critical debate as to the viability of the definition itself for staff and students. It is only due to the great work carried out by the members of Senate that it this critical discussion has now been given space to occur.

As a committee, we have significant concerns over the adoption of any IHRA definition in any of its forms (with or without the more recent modifications made by the Home Affairs Select Committee). This is due to, 

  • Concern that it will restrict the capacity for carrying out nuanced and necessary research into racism, antisemitism, the Israel/Palestine conflict, etc, as well as inhibit academic autonomy in a larger sense. 
  • Concern that the definition is vague in language and lacking in content, mischaracterises antisemitism, conflates antisemitism with valid criticism of Israel. All of which makes the definition virtually unusable.
  • Concern that it doesn’t have the unified support of Jewish communities. 

We, like Senate, are keen to explore alternative definitions. We feel that the JDA definition, in particular, contains a far more balanced, concrete and usable set of guidelines for effectively dealing with cases antisemitism within our institution.

We also would like to make the point that, if these conversations concerning definitions are being raised in correlation to an ingrained systemic problem within institutional structures (as we’re sure they are), then this would be a great opportunity for management to reflect on the university’s provisions and approach to harassment and discrimination in the more general sense. Regardless of any definition adopted, harassment and discrimination provision needs to be better. Staff and students need to feel safe in their workspaces and know that, when they raise harassment and discrimination allegations, they will be taken seriously and in ways that meaningfully resolve the situation.

This IHRA definition has been tagged for a discussion at a JSNCC meeting this Wednesday and so we are keen to hear from members. Please email any feedback to the committee.