LUCU News September 2021
As we start a new academic year, LUCU is responding to the ongoing difficulties associated with the Covid pandemic and new threats to our pensions following UUK’s latest actions.
Representatives from LUCU continue to meet with the other campus unions and representatives from HR and University Health and Safety on a weekly basis. Plans remain fluid as we continue to monitor case rates locally, nationally, and internationally, though a general plan for the beginning of the semester has been put together.
For large lectures, teaching will initially be blended, with half of a class attending in person and half attending via MS Teams, with the halves switching on a weekly basis. This policy will be reviewed on a two-weekly basis. Seminars are expected to be 100% in-person using rooms that have a normal (i.e. pre-Covid) capacity of approximately twice that of the class size. In some instances, this may not be possible to accommodate, and in those cases the seminar will either take place completely online, or in a room of as great a capacity as possible which also has additional ventilation. Social distancing will remain at 2m for staff/student interactions, but it will almost certainly be completely relaxed for students themselves (except in labs which will remain at 1m+ because it has received positive feedback).
The University is strongly encouraging students to test before they travel. However, all students staying in on-campus accommodation will be required to have a Lateral Flow Test upon arrival. Anyone with a positive result will be denied access to their accommodation and asked to return home; it is accepted that this will not be possible in all cases so alternative plans are being drawn up to house students in this situation. It is the intention that a similar test-to-access scheme will be in place for students who are resident in the town centre and third-party halls of residence, but these plans are not fully formed yet. Our on-campus test facilities are currently guaranteed to be in place until the end of September, and the University is pushing DfE and PHE to extend this to at least the end of October.
The University is conducting wastewater monitoring in all but two halls of residence on campus (the two which aren’t subject to testing are because of issues about the locations of sampling points). This has already detected a positive case where an individual was self-isolating due to a positive result, so it demonstrates that even with small case numbers it can prove useful. A vaccination hub will be created on campus that will operate for five days from late September into early October to encourage and help students to get vaccinated. International students will also be able to get vaccinated on campus.
Staff and students will be expected to wear face coverings when moving around indoor spaces. Students won’t be expected to wear face coverings when sitting in lectures or study spaces. The University position is that face coverings are not needed where there is social distancing of 2m between staff and students as well as additional ventilation. Notwithstanding, staff should still feel empowered to politely request the use of face coverings (unless someone is exempt), but you should be aware that individuals have the right to refuse the request. LUCU and the other campus trade unions have argued that management should robustly enforce the use of face coverings on campus indoors, as they have the right to do.
Office spaces will remain at reduced occupancy levels, although where there is a need for increased staffing local mitigations (such as carefully placed perspex screens) will be used where appropriate and subject to suitable risk assessments and monitoring. The University is also increasing the use of CO2 monitors to check ventilation levels in areas of concern.
If you have any concerns about the safety of your workplace relevant to Covid (or any other H&S issue), please contact your UCU Rep, or committee at UCU@lboro.ac.uk.
USS Pensions – Update
You will have received an important email from Jo Grady, UCU’s General Secretary, with the subject line ‘Important Update on Today’s USS Negotiations.’
Unfortunately, UUK has pushed through their proposal to significantly cut our benefits, even though they consider the 2020 valuation unjustified: they propose to reduce the salary cap for defined benefits from £60,000 to £40,000 per annum, cap indexation at 2.5 per cent per annum, and reduce the accrual rate from 1/75th of salary to 1/85th of salary.
At the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC), UCU put forward a compromise position, which would have involved sharing the cost of the unreasonable USS valuation between employers and employees. Unfortunately, UUK effectively blocked this proposal from being considered by refusing to provide any ‘covenant support’ (the commitment that employers make to pension schemes) if the UCU proposals were implemented. The net result is that UUK want employees to bear the full cost of USS’s flawed valuation.
On September 3, UCU held a members’ briefing that addressed USS, as well as Covid and the Four Fights campaign. If you like more detail about pensions negotiations and how UCU proposes to respond to the JNC decision, you can watch the recording here: UCU higher education briefing, 03 September 2021 – YouTube
How much will this cost you?
You can see how much pension you will lose if the UUK proposals come into force by using the First Actuarial modeller at: http://ucu.org.uk/ussmodeller.
Please Check Your Details
Assuming the JNC’s recommendation is approved by the USS trustees, a 60-day consultation will follow with scheme members. This means that industrial action will likely be needed if UUK are to revisit their position. Because the law requires that industrial action ballots are conducted by post, it is extremely important that UCU has an up-to-date postal address for you that you check regularly (i.e. if you are mostly working from home at the moment, it would be better to receive your ballot paper at home).
The Oxbridge Joint Statement
Recently, Cambridge UCU and Oxford UCU branches published a joint statement with their universities calling for reform of the USS scheme. The proposed new design would involve conditional indexation – a form of member risk-and-reward-sharing. This would not solve the problem of the 2020 valuation, but it could offer a long-term solution to funding USS that would ensure members receive a good pension. LUCU and Lboro management share the belief that conditional indexation is a viable option for pension scheme redesign, and we will be joining several other institutions in issuing a joint statement to this effect. Although the USS pension dispute cannot be resolved at a local level, LUCU committee will work with Lboro management to protect pension benefits wherever possible.
Joint Union Activity
Over the past year LUCU has worked closely with the other campus trade unions to increase our leverage in negotiations, and we will continue to collaborate with Unite and UNISON where this enables us to best serve members’ interests. Currently, we are working together on issues of pay, restructures, the reform of grievance procedures and disciplinary procedures, as well as workplace health and safety.
A combined trades union meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, September 14, 2021, from 1:00 – 2:00 pm on Teams. You can join the meeting via this link: Click here to join the meeting
The purpose of this EGM is two-fold:
1) to canvass members’ opinions on the health and safety measures that the University has planned for the start of term in October;
2) to update members on decisions reached at the UCU Special HE Sector Conference (September 9th) where USS will be a key agenda item.