LUCU News: August 2021

LUCU News: August 2021

Covid Update

LUCU Health and Safety officers continue to meet weekly with management to inform and monitor how the University is responding to the pandemic. We are pleased that the University is planning to retain the use of masks, social distancing, and increased ventilation, as well as the testing, track and trace regime.

While returning to work on campus is currently permitted, it is not mandatory at present: decisions about returning to campus working are devolved to individual schools and services to manage on a justifiable as-required basis.  If you have a significant concern about being required to come back to campus that you feel is not being handled appropriately by your line management, contact your LUCU area Rep or committee at UCU@lboro.ac.uk.  

The University has produced an updated set of Q&As for staff, which may be found here: https://www.lboro.ac.uk/internal/studying-working-living/staff/faqs/

USS Update

The fall-out from the flawed March 2020 valuation of the USS pension scheme continues. Following a consultation with employers, including Loughborough, we now know that Universities UK (UUK) intends to propose ~25% cuts to the value of your pension. LUCU strongly encourages you to use the UCU modeller to calculate how much annual income in retirement you personally stand to lose if UUK is able to force through these cuts. The modeller has been produced by First Actuarial (a professional firm of actuaries), is easy to use, and is available here: https://www.ucu.org.uk/ussmodeller.

The next important stage in the process is the August meeting of the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC), when it is expected that UUK plans to formally propose these cuts to your pension. The JNC is made up of equal numbers of representatives from UUK and UCU, plus an independent chair. If the independent chair decides to vote with the UUK representatives then, unfortunately, it is likely that industrial action will be required to protect our pensions. 

For background on the dispute, and details of why UUK’s proposed cuts are unjustified, two helpful

sources are:

– Woon Wong’s article in the Newsletter of the Royal Economic Society, entitled “Universities’ superannuation fund is accumulating surplus assets!”: https://www.res.org.uk/resources-page/universities-superannuation-fund-is-accumulating-surplus-assets.html.

– Sam Marsh’s article in USSBriefs entitled “How extreme prudence and misguided risk-management sent the USS into crisis”: https://medium.com/ussbriefs/how-extreme-prudence-and-misguided-risk-management-sent-the-uss-into-crisis-baf78c35d9e1.

Casework Update

We have reported before in the newsletter on the personal casework undertaken by members of the Branch. At this point in the academic cycle, with the year heading to a close, it might be helpful to provide an update on our recent casework activity. Since October 2020, we have supported 24 members who approached us seeking advice and representation. These cases have ranged from grievances to disciplinary hearings, and from workload issues to restructures and redundancies. The number also includes several colleagues whom we have assisted in securing exemption from in-person teaching at the height of the pandemic. 

Many of these cases are complex, involving caseworkers in significant preparation and multiple meetings. Some of them are ongoing and not to be resolved until the next academic year (by which time other members seeking our support will doubtless have come forward). In each instance, however, we hope that we have been able to offer colleagues facing difficult circumstances both practical guidance and emotional support.

We should say a word about the place of casework in the Branch’s activity at large. Although each case is inevitably individual in its focus, supporting a particular colleague, it is far from true that casework is cut off from our broader campaigning. Regular meetings of the casework team identify patterns and tendencies – how the University is managing restructures, for example – and this then informs our negotiations with the institution. What seems to be a narrowly personal activity is thus always collective in its implications.

As members know, our caseworkers are all volunteers, taking on this task in addition to their day jobs in the institution. Currently we have an excellent team of dedicated people – but more caseworkers are always very welcome. A short training session, delivered either on campus or online by the Union’s regional office, will be arranged for the early autumn – so, if you think you might be interested in becoming a caseworker, do look out for details in due course. In the meantime, if anyone would like to talk about what the role entails, or would like casework support, please contact our Personal Casework Co-ordinator Andrew Dix (A.Dix@lboro.ac.uk).

UCU National Campaign: Building Power in the Workplace

We would like to call attention to this guide that UCU has produced for members, which outlines how to bring about deeper levels of organising to produce the power necessary to win significant victories on the four fights: Pensions, Pay, Casualisation and Workload. https://www.ucu.org.uk/media/11564/Building-power-in-workplace-an-introduction/pdf/Building_power_in_workplace_June21.pdf

LUCU Newsletter

Committee has been discussing how best to use the newsletter to communicate with members. We are moving away from lengthy newsletters issued every two months in favour of a shorter newsletter that we will send out during the first week of each month. We will continue to send email briefings about urgent matters as they occur.

LUCU Committee – 02/08/2021

LUCU News – March/April

LUCU News – March/April

Restructures/Redundancy/PDR/Casework/LUCUDiscuss

Restructures and the Threat of Redundancy

Currently three areas are undergoing a restructure: Careers, Organisational Development, and the School of Science, where the restructure impacts on technicians.  Management is only obliged to consult where 25 jobs or more will be affected.  However, we are fortunate that in keeping with best practice the three campus trade unions, along with affected staff, are always consulted on proposed changes.  The purpose of consultation is to allow staff and/or their representatives input into the restructure. Note that ‘consultation with’ the campus trade unions does not necessarily equate to ‘agreed by’ the campus trade unions.

An unpleasant fact of restructures is that they may result in staff being required to apply for a new post when the role they currently hold is made ‘redundant’, and they have not been ‘slotted in’ to the new role (‘slotting in’ is where the new role contains at least 60% of the duties of the previous role, as determined by the list of duties in the new and the old job descriptions).  If there is a reduction in the number of posts available, then some staff may face redundancy. Whilst the direct impact of the current restructures is on Professional Services staff, the consequences may also impact on the workloads of academic colleagues.

The campus trade unions are united in opposing job losses because of these restructures. We will also fight against staff being asked to perform the same duties as previously at a lower pay grade or staff facing intensified workloads by being given additional duties for the same pay.

If you are/were involved in a restructure and believe trade union representatives have not been involved, we want to know: ucu@lboro.ac.uk. Please do this so that we can monitor whether a pattern is developing whereby work is being pushed down onto lower grades, with higher grades being made redundant.

PDR

It has been brought to our attention that recent updates re: the PDR have not reached all members. In response to the pandemic, the University has announced that the deadline for PDR discussions has been extended to the end of April 2021.

These are 3 points we feel that we should bring to your attention.

  1. No colleague will be assessed against objectives that have been so significantly affected by the pandemic that such an approach would be unreasonable. Last year’s objectives should be considered in-the-round and in the light of the challenges that we have all faced. This includes both different ways of working and domestic pressures such as home-schooling children or looking after dependents.
  1. If objectives remain relevant, calculate a new time frame for their completion to be discussed with your reviewer. If no longer relevant say so and write them off – long justifications are not necessary for undeliverable objectives. A clear explanation of the legacy impact of Covid on your research will help ensure that you are not held to a set of unfair objectives in future.
  1. The PDR discussion should focus on the coming year from the perspective of objectives, support and professional development.

Personal casework

Much of the work undertaken by the branch happens in plain sight: think, for example, of our brokering the Partnership Agreement with the University or our organisation of strike activity in support of national campaigns for better pay and pensions. By its very nature, however, personal casework, as undertaken on campus by a small team comprising a number of Committee colleagues and several department or section reps, is liable to go unnoticed. The work involves meeting members who contact us for support on a wide range of issues, reading material relevant to their cases, offering advice, and accompanying them to meetings with managers. The volume of work involved is significant. The rewards, however, are greater still, for in casework we encounter members who are facing difficult, worrying, even distressing situations, and we hope that they find our involvement supportive and constructive.

Sometimes a case with which a member approaches us can be resolved quite quickly and informally. On other occasions, however, the member may need advice in preparing a complex grievance claim or may be facing disciplinary action that has dismissal as one of its possible outcomes. High demands are made on the caseworker in these circumstances to be not only a source of support and counsel, but to be fully prepared.

In this academic year to date, we have offered formal casework support to 18 of our members. Many of these cases are ongoing. In the current, complex circumstances, we do not anticipate that the demands on the caseworking team will lighten.

We are grateful to those members who, either for the first time or as a refresher, attended the recent caseworker training session led by Joe Rooney from the union’s Regional Office. If you feel you might like to get involved in casework and want to find out more, please get in touch with our Personal Casework Coordinator Andrew Dix (A.Dix@lboro.ac.uk). Likewise, do contact Andrew if you would like union support and advice with any issue that you have in the workplace.

Launch of “LUCU Discuss”

Following the motion ‘Building LUCU’, the branch has set up a discussion list where members may raise issues of interest or concern, ask questions of each other, share ideas, and develop solidarity. We know work is especially isolating for many at the moment, and we hope that this might help bring our members together.

To join, please send an email to ucu@lboro.ac.uk with the subject “Subscribe to LUCU Discuss”. In the body, please write your name and the preferred email address you have listed for your UCU membership (this can be checked via MyUCU). You must join the list with the email address your UCU account is registered to (this is the email address through which you receive current UCU information).

Attached to this email are a set of rules and guidelines for LUCU Discuss that we would ask members to read before registering. We hope that members will find the discussion list useful and enjoyable. If you have any questions, please email ucu@lboro.ac.uk.

Meet Our Reps

Jen De Lillo, Library Services: I am Academic Librarian for English and Communication and Media Studies and work within the Library’s Academic Services Team. I’ve been in this role since 2016 having previously worked on research projects on digital scholarly editions of medieval texts after finishing my PhD in 2001. Given my experience, I understand first-hand the precarious nature of research positions.  I became the union rep for the Library as I believe it is important for professional service staff to be represented and, as a part-time worker myself, I feel that it is essential for us to have a voice. I have found union colleagues invaluable when it comes to discussing matters informally and hope to be able to support others whilst keeping the local branch informed of any issues we may be facing within the Library.  

Eef Hogervorst, School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences: I am a Professor of Psychology and UCU rep for SSEHS. I very much support the solidarity principle and have personally had much benefit from being a LUCU member over the past years. I research mental health, with a focus on cognitive impairment. My particular interest is in menopause and dementia. During peri-menopause, many women find it hard to focus on work and mental health issues such as anxiety and depression that play a significant role in midlife. With HR and colleagues, I am developing a course for WHEN to help women navigate this.  I have also given several lectures on career progression in academia. I am passionate about reducing gender differences in pay and career opportunities. I am training to become a LUCU caseworker.

LUCU Committee