Statute 24 and casualisation: not in our name

Dear member of the Warwick University Assembly,

We are casualised seminar tutors, hourly paid lecturers, lab assistants, researchers. Without our work, the University would grind to a halt. And yet, we are not treated as employees but we are hired as casual hourly paid ‘workers’, without job security, career progression, staff benefits or collective bargaining entitlement. We are not even entitled to attend the University Assembly. However, our situation has been used as a bargaining chip in the process of driving forward the reform of Statute 24.

For over three years we have been campaigning to be re-classified as salaried employees hired on fractional contracts – as it is common practice in several institutions across the UK. But our demands have fallen on deaf ears. Hence, we unionised. And since 2016, UCU has been negotiating with the University to review the union recognition agreement to include workers, so that we could finally engage in collective bargaining with the University about our terms and conditions. But even this simple process has been in deadlock for months on end.

This is because the University has been stalling any meaningful discussion on addressing casualisation until after the reform of Statute 24 had been concluded. The reason was made clear by the Provost in a statement in December 2017: only once the employment processes had been streamlined, “the University will be able to review its contractual offering for academic staff with a view to reducing dependency on fixed term and casual contracts.” Or in other words, if it is easier to dismiss people on permanent contracts, they might be willing to offer permanent contracts more often. We joined UCU at the time in condemning this as a clear attempt to instrumentalise our situation and drive a wedge between casualised and permanent staff.

Whatever your opinion on the revised proposals for Statute 24 coming in front of you today, we just want to make one thing clear: the University has made no concrete offers or outlined any concrete steps about its professed intentions to address casualisation. Nothing has been put on the table; we still have no union recognition for workers, and are continuously excluded from any management discussions on reviewing our conditions. If the University were serious about addressing casualisation, they would not make it conditional on levelling down protections for permanent staff. We refuse to be used as ‘carrots’ in this process. If the University is determined to push through the reform of Statute 24, this will not be done in our name.

In solidarity,

Warwick Anti-Casualisation

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STP SURVEY – Make sure you leave your two cents

If you have been a STP tutor last academic year, you will have received an email by STP last week, with an invitation to participate in a survey, which will close THIS FRIDAY (14/09) at midnight.

You might have semi-ignored this message or thought to deal with it later, given that you are still on a well deserved break from teaching. Which is, of course, exactly the point of the timing of this survey, sent as it is during the last stretches of the summer holidays with little time to respond. Make no mistake; if they won’t be receiving enough, or critical enough, feedback, they will use it politically to claim that there are no problems with STP.

This is why it is important that as many tutors as possible respond to the survey, and this is why we ask you to respond to it before the deadline. It should be a rather quick exercise.

Of course every response should be individual.But we also realise that given the short frame of this survey, people might by default drop a very short feedback with the issues that immediately spring to mind rather than reflecting on experiences that date perhaps a bit further back. So if you are in need of some inspiration for the open comment boxes, here are some critical points that we brainstormed. Again, PLEASE DON’T COPY & PASTE, but express these points in your own way, and only make points that either reflect your individual experience or that are more general political points that you want to make. We’ll talk you through the survey question by question

Question 1:

How easy did you find the use of the Sessional Teaching payroll website including submitting your timesheet, finding contract information and requesting holiday pay?

  • I don’t understand why it is necessary to submit timesheets when I do the same hours every week
  • Contract information is, apart from the assignment statement, not available through the homepage. I know that there is a STP document library available on the HR homepage, including documents that are not included in the email I received at the beginning of term; I don’t understand why there is no link on the STP portal to that page
  • The website does not include a summary of hours claimed, leaving us to do the maths to make sure we don’t under/over claim

Question 2:

How did you find the overall STP process as explained by your department/STP Team ?

  • Departments have interpreted the framework wrongly and not paid the correct hours. Individuals often found out a lot later.
  • Especially, I was allocated the wrong  advice and feedback hours, and / or was in theory eligible for red-circling but was not told so and was paid too little. I only found out about it later.
  • I did not understand exactly how many hours I was entitled to and claimed less hours than I could have, finding out much later.
  • STP tutor forums were established late, and their purpose not explained properly. As far as I am aware, they were not mentioned in the handbook or T&Cs either, yet at one point I was told that these forums feed back into larger decision making about STP and are therefore quite important, which I was not aware about
  • My department has been unclear and intransparent in their communications about my teaching contract. I have been invited to apply only to find out later that I was barred from specific types of teaching or that my year was not going to be offered teaching at all. These communications were only passed on to those who queried the department’s teaching allocation and only after the deadline for teaching at other institutions had passed.
  • My department did not factor in that I need a second year of teaching in order to gain further teaching qualifications, such as APP:PGR. The department did not offer teaching to those who have already taught during their PhD, thus effectively preventing me from gaining additional qualifications.
  • My department has significantly cut down on PGR teaching after the introduction of STP, due to the higher cost. Given the job market and the introduction of lectureships (often to replace teaching fellowships) that require significant teaching experience (incl. Honours level teaching), this puts me in an even more precarious situation once I enter the job market. I feel that STP and my department are not doing enough to ensure I have good chances on the job market.

Question 3 :

(How would you rate your overall experience of being engaged through Sessional Teaching Payroll?

  • To be answered individually

Question 4:

Please leave any additional feedback or comments. We would be particularly keen to hear about any aspects of STP that you think were particularly good or indeed any aspects that caused you any concern; this information will be of particular value as we seek to improve the system. (4000 characters max.)

  • I don’t understand why a role that I teach was previously paid in FA 6/5 and is now FA 5/4
  • I find that the role description of my assignment does not match my experience level, and /or the work I am regularly doing as part of my role
  • I have a particular issue with my assignment – I find that I spend a lot more time on marking than I get paid / especially exam marking in comparison to essay marking
  • I am an STP tutor in CLL and I am appalled at the fact that my terms and conditions are so much worse than those of my colleagues in other departments
  • I have received an STP offer and calculated my finances on this basis only to have it withdrawn shortly before term started. This greatly impacted on my finances and I was extremely upset by how easily this kind of work was withdrawn
  • I was sick/ on maternity/ paternity/ adoption leave  during the period and was told I was not eligible to receive statutory pay / I am/ was worried of being sick /  maternity/ paternity/ adoption leave and am not sure whether I would be eligible for statutory pay
  • I am on a tier 4 visa and after having started to teach I was suddenly told that my Visa was incorrect and that I had no right to work currently. I had to suspend teaching and acquire a biometric residence permit and all of that resulted in a lot of personal and financial distress, including excess cost for express application and loss of income. This surely should have been avoided in the first place.
  • With the problem / all the problems I had it was extremely unclear to me how to proceed, who to speak to first, how to raise issues. I only later found out that there is a grievance resolution procedure, but could not find these in the handbook, or the terms and conditions.
  • Payment dates are extremely late. I received the first payments almost two months after starting to teach, and then subsequently, which meant that I was in money flow difficulties for most of the academic year. Regular employees receive their salaries at the latest at the end of the first month of working!
  • I did not get paid / paid only for parts of the induction course that was mandatory for me to attend. It should be paid
  • During the strike, I felt insecure about how striking would affect my situation. Most of HR communication was for regular staff members, yet most of these issues, I found out later, did not really apply to my situation. On the one hand we were told, in our T&C, that we can participate in industrial action, yet it was very unclear what consequences this would have for us. This could be communicated better in the future
  • For (some of the above) reasons, I would much prefer a fractional employment contract that includes all the rights and duties of a regular employee. I have heard from colleagues from other Universities that they have a fractional contract and I think tutors would be more motivated to deliver high quality teaching if they knew their work was valued as important by their University

 

These are only some potential points to be raised, and as said before, make your own points in your feedback. Thanks for telling them what you think!

Casualised staff take action against Unitemps’ strikebreaking practices

Unitemps  – catering to your every strike-breaking requirement

Hiring agency workers during strike action to replace striking staff is illegal – and for good reason. It undermines the legally enshrined rights of a recognised trade union to withdraw its labour force during a dispute to fend off unilaterally imposed decisions by employers. This is clearly regulated in the Conduct of Employment Agencies regulation. Unitemps LTD is such an employment agency, yet it seems to have been unaware of both the moral and the legal case against providing employers with agency workers when they are involved in an industrial dispute. The following excerpt is from a leaked email from Unitemps Salford sent on February 20th:

“Here at Unitemps, we have been made aware of the upcoming strike action and wanted to make sure that all of our key stakeholders within the University are aware that we are able to support with any extra staffing requirements during this time.

We have a large pool of reliable students/graduates who have experience working within various different parts of the University who would be happy to cover any work necessary.”

Let us be clear: this constitutes a criminal offence. According to Regulation 7 of the 2003 Conduct of Employment Agencies regulation it is a criminal offence for an employment agency to supply workers to an employer to perform duties normally performed by workers on strike. Unitemps is encouraging the commission of an offence under Section 44 of the 2007 Serious Crime Act by offering Universities their services to replace striking workers at their institutions.

As the word has begun to spread about Unitemps’ disreputable behaviour, they have decided to release a statement, on Friday 23rd, which claims that this email was a ‘human error’ on the part of just one Unitemps franchise. This is too little too late.
We are calling upon Unitemps:

  1. To immediately provide full transparency regarding whether other branches have undertaken similar strike-breaking measures.
  2. To clarify publicly what measures it is taking to make sure that staff already hired through Unitemps at HE institutions participating in the strike are not used to substitute striking workers;
  3. To recognise unions in all institutions where it operates and grant equal collective bargaining and strike participation rights to all workers engaged through Unitemps.

However, Unitemps’ questionable behaviour does not end with this one incident. Instead, this active undermining of the strike is just one aspect of this agency’s deeply political character. Rather than simply constituting an efficient solution to flexible staffing needs, Unitemps’ very business model is predicated upon eroding workers’ rights – even where the agency remains within its legal boundaries. Despite the fact that Unitemps is fully owned by Universities, it is not formally a legal party to the USS dispute, and therefore workers engaged through Unitemps are unable to take strike action. Unitemps franchises in the Universities of Leicester, Nottingham, and countless others hire hourly paid tutors and lecturers to provide a vital part of Universities’ teaching activities, yet these workers find themselves unable to join in the strike in solidarity with staff in more permanent positions.

This legal engineering allows Universities to undercut their own commitments to the workforce, as well as excluding agency workers from union recognition agreements, union support during disputes and grievances, and the many other benefits and entitlements that come with regular employment. By exploiting vulnerable workers, Universities drive a wedge between an extremely precarised workforce engaged through subsidiaries, on the one hand, and staff on more secure contracts, on the other – with the effect of reducing the collective power of higher education workers as a whole.

Employment agencies such as Unitemps often present themselves as providing win-win solutions to the flexibility needs of both employers and employees. In reality, it is only the Universities as employers that supposedly ‘benefits’ from creating a flexible and cheap workforce, stripped of many of its labour rights, and from utilising legal engineering to undermine the effectiveness of strike action; while casualised agency workers, the unionised core workforce of Universities and the quality of education as a whole lose out through these practices.

Even before the strike, workers’ rights have been eaten away, bite by bite, in a long process of casualisation that increasingly undermines the mobilising and leverage capabilities of the old unions. However, as appalling as these attacks on casualised and permanent workers are, they have one benefit. By galvanising all University workers to come join arms, organise, and defend our hard-won rights, we can mount a stronger attack on the marketisation of higher education.

As casualised staff at Warwick and beyond, we will continue to organise against casualisation in Higher Education in whatever form it manifests itself: whether through outsourcing and hiring through subsidiaries, zero-hours or hourly paid worker contracts, or through fractional fixed-term posts that force staff to juggle three jobs at once without proper holiday pay, maternity pay or sick pay. We will not stop our campaigning and organising activities until we win proper employment contracts and job security for all that work in our universities, in whatever role, and until we achieve an end to all outsourcing and insourcing practices – in higher education and beyond.

Please join us in our fight!

Warwick Anti-Casualisation

https://warwickanticasualisation.wordpress.com

http://facebook.com/WarwickAntiCasualisation

 

ARE YOU HIRED ON STP, VAM, A FRACTIONAL OR FIXED-TERM CONTRACT? JOIN THE UCU STRIKE!

STRIKING FOR PENSIONS TODAY MEANS FIGHTING AGAINST INSECURITY TOMORROW

1. What’s the strike all about?

The employers association Universities UK (UUK) have unilaterally decided to end the USS “defined benefits” pension scheme that covers staff in most UK universities, including Warwick. They plan to  replace it with a much worse “defined contributions” scheme:

  • Retirement risks will be individualised instead of pooled, and pensions income dependent on returns from financial markets.
  • Up to 20-40% income loss in retirement: UCU estimates average losses of 10k per year, 200k per person. This would make Universities pensions the worst pensions in the UK education sector.

UCU (University and College Union) have therefore called for unprecedented strike action: 14 days of strike over four weeks, starting on 22/02, in 61 out of 68 UK Universities.

2. Why should hourly paid tutors strike for pensions?

  • Early career staff will be most affected by the change, as they won’t have accrued entitlements under the current scheme. You will incur a massive loss of future financial security!
  • Once the pension scheme is closed there won’t be a chance for renegotiation.
  • Wherever your career takes you, you will sooner or later be in a pension scheme. Don’t let UUK sabotage USS: if they are successful, this will encourage other employers to do the same to other pension schemes.  
  • This is part of a broader attack on working conditionsstaff in UK Higher Education: we already face low pay and insecure employment – now they’re attacking our future pensions, too. We can’t let this happen!

The effectiveness of the strike relies on mass participation of all staff. It’s an act of solidarity!

3. The Union has your back!

Striking is a legal right. You need to be a member of UCU to be able to join in strike action. You can join online, up to the day of the strike: it’s easy, free for postgrads who teach, and cheap if your income is low: https://www.ucu.org.uk/join. Union members are protected from victimisation from their employer if they take strike action.

UCU has a national strike fund to compensate for (some) lost income, & at Warwick we’re setting up a local hardship fund, too, that will prioritise low paid, casualised staff.

We got answers to all your strike questions: http://warwickucu.org.uk/pensions (Warwick) & https://www.ucu.org.uk/uss-action-faqs (national).

If you wanna find out more and get involved:

  • Come along to the UCU information event for casualised staff! Wednesday 14th February, Wednesday 14 February; 5:30-6:30; S0.19. Members of the branch committee will be on hand to answer your particular concerns and outline details of the Hardship Fund.
  • Come to Warwick Anti-Casualisation information event on the strike! Thursday 15th February, 5.30pm, S0.11. https://www.facebook.com/events/818763578303367/ 
  • Download the flyers below, print them out and distribute them in your department and to all your casualised colleagues. Let’s spread the word!

WAC Flyer strike – A4

WAC Flyer strike – A5 to print

See you at the picket lines! We will organise a day of picketing for casualised members of staff, to bring our issues at the centre of the dispute. Watch out for updates on www.facebook.com/WarwickAntiCasualisation

Open letter from Wac in response to Stuart Croft

Before Christmas, as Warwick Anti-Casualisation we sent an open letter to the Vice-Chancellor, Stuart Croft, to raise a number of concerns we had around STP and the contracts of hourly paid tutors. We were glad to see an official letter from the man himself appear in our inbox in January 2018. That’s until we read it. Without context, it might seem like the University are doing a stellar job at looking after hourly paid tutors – that the occasional issue that arises is dealt with easily, and that everyone will soon feel the security of an employment contract for their teaching. This could not be further away from the truth. That’s why we thought it’d be a good idea to set the record straight.

RECAP: In January 2017, Warwick Anti-Casualisation met with the Vice Chancellor, Stuart Croft, to discuss the demands made in our petition, Six Demands for Fair Teaching Conditions at Warwick, following Warwick for Free Education’s occupation of the Slate building. The VC made a number of commitments during this meeting, including the extension of the recognition agreement allowing UCU to negotiate collectively on behalf of casualised tutors between the UCU and University. However, by December 2017, progress hadn’t been made on these. WAC returned to the VC’s door , like the Ghost of Christmas Past, to remind Croft of the promises made which were still outstanding. (see our Last Christmas video). Our December 2017 open letter can be found here. Here, we raise two primary concerns: that there has been no progress on the promised move away from casualised contracts; and that STP has not addressed the issue of fair and equal pay and treatment for tutors across all departments. The VC’s response evades these concerns and simply reiterates the same, old rhetoric that we have heard from HR time and time again in these months.

The VC’s letter also does not mention the enormous administrative effort performed by casualised tutors and administrative staff to make the system work a little more to our convenience (i.e. really getting paid), nor does it mention that this is due to our status as contractors who supposedly issue a bill for every hour we work.

It is simply not true that STP has addressed issues around pay equity. Discrepancies continue to exist between departments; many hours of work performed by STP tutors continue to go unpaid. The absurdity of the worker status is not acceptable to us. Not only does it deprive us of rights that employees have, it is a completely asymmetric and unjustified relationship. While we have to bear all the costs of being fully “flexible” according to the University’s needs, with a result of zero job security, we don’t have any benefits of a supposed “flexibility” – our whole “engagement” is scheduled by the department. Our quasi self-employment status is a pure myth and a cheap accounting trick – and the only reason why we have to endure the bureaucratic hour submissions each week, even though they are the same every time, just to maintain the fiction of our supposed freedom to work independently.

We want a recognition agreement before term 3, and we want it to be a recognition agreement according to the best practice standards of UCU rather than the bare legal minimum.

We thought we should publish the letter with some of our annotations, so that you can see how the situation really is: LETTER

Paragraphs highlighted in yellow are more-or-less lifted directly from the STP informational pages. We’ve broken down the letter into sections to offer a response.

In Section 1 you’ll notice that the VC stresses “consultation” numerous times, particularly during Section 1. “The STP concept has been subject to considerable consultation”…”All draft role profiles were subject to University wide consultation”… “These frameworks were subject to a University wide and in-depth level of consultation”. The fallacy here is in assuming that consultation equates consensus, that acceptable working and pay conditions were achieved as part of this consultation. WAC’s Six Demands show that there are many issues which the University has failed to address. While consultation may have taken place, fair conditions have not been the result. Consultation is not negotiation. The one-directional gesture gives hourly-paid tutors no say in the execution of what we have supposedly been consulted on. Too often, for the University, ‘consultation’ just meant continuing to do what they would have done any way, even when STP tutors and, in many cases, departments as well had expressed their disagreement.

Section 2 asserts that a robust resolution route is in place for disputes that arise under STP, and that no disputes have been raised beyond STP Coordinators. We at WAC are constantly collecting feedback from hourly-paid tutors. As we said in our December letter, there have been many instances of late contracts and contracts issued without marking allocations, just to name a couple of major concerns. And time and time again emails from our union representatives raising issues have gone ignored and unanswered. That management is not aware of these huge failings in the system is indicative of the poor quality of the dispute resolution route. As for contacting departmental STP Coordinators, the names of these were only uploaded to the STP webpage at the end of term one – prior to this, there has been confusion with communication even with basic departmental issues.The last sentence in this section also asserts that UCU has not shared any unresolved cases, but where UCU has tried to raise issues beyond individual cases, this went unheard.

Section 3 suggests that pay parity is being met by STP. We disagree – in our December letter, we stated:

“You also promised us that STP would address our concerns about fair and equal pay across departments … In the Sciences, most tutors continue being paid at the unacceptably low rate of FA4. Across the university, tutors who hold PhDs are hired on FA5 roles that do not take into account their professional experience, skills and qualifications; and the absence of pay progression means that year on year, whilst our teaching experience grows, our paychecks remain just as low.”

Evidentially, our concerns have not been heard.

Where our call for change was heard was during October 2017, when it was found that owing to early cut-off dates, tutors would not receive remuneration for their teaching for seven weeks. Widespread lobbying from tutors resulted in “advance” payments being made available. However, the advance payment deadline was early, the terms changed seemingly by the minute (from offering 60% of the expected payment, to just £100) and needless bureaucracy led to these advances being inaccessible for many people. The original name of “advance hardship payments” showed no understanding of the issue, treating it in the same way in which regular staff, under exceptional circumstances, would claim payments before they deliver work, whereas in this case it was simply a matter of not having to wait two months for payment – clearly quite a different scenario. In addition. Section 4 of the VC’s letter recognises the issue with payroll cut off dates, but makes no reference to the extensive lobbying that went into the University taking action on this.

Section 5 asserts that UCU were invited to attend the weekly operational meeting group at this term’s JCC (Joint Consultative Committee). As far as we know, this invitation was not formally extended to the UCU’s anti-casualisation representatives, but was only mentioned in passing. STP forums may have (finally) begun in some departments, but these are not the opportunities for accountability we hoped they would be; instead, we’ve heard reports of a lack of tutor awareness and staff interest in them.

Moving on to Section 6, the VC references “other potential models of engagement for sessional teachers” outside of STP. He doesn’t make it clear what “models of engagement” he means here. We don’t want Unitemps, or TeachHigher…we want employment contracts. In our December letter, we said:

“You promised us that the University was committed to putting in place a process through which hourly-paid teaching could move away from its current model of widespread casualisation, towards a system where all tutors are entitled to secure employment rights.”

Outside of Stuart’s brief reference to “other potential models of engagement for sessional teachers”, there isn’t any indication that progress has been made on this.

While there’s a reference to “recognition of hourly paid staff” in the final paragraph, we’re confused as to why the recognition agreement with UCU, which is currently under revision to include workers,hasn’t been explicitly mentioned. Progress on the recognition agreement is moving very slowly, and we fear that the delays are used partly to play off against each other hourly paid tutors and regular employees, who are currently on a dispute with University to combat planned reduction in employment protection and academic freedom in Statute 24.

The VC’s assertion that consultations took place while STP was in development fails to understand that, during its pilot and now rolled out across the institution, STP itself, and the mechanisms surrounding it, are the problem. We reiterate the points made in our December letter – tutors are still lacking fair working conditions, and promised progress to amend this is not being made.

Join Warwick Anti-Casualisation at warwickanticasualisation@gmail.com, and on Facebook.

WAC Response to UCU’s Statement on Statue 24

WAC declares its full support of the UCU’s statement on the latest developments in the dispute around Statute 24.

We join the UCU in rejecting the University’s dichotomy between casualised labour and academic freedom. “Permanent” contracts without the security of being able to engage in research, and without fair redundancy procedures in place, are meaningless. A reduction in insecure, precarious contracts cannot come at the expense of academic freedom, nor can it come at the expense of – and this is the ironic implication of the VC’s proposal – fair, secure employment. We thus wholeheartedly agree with UCU that management’s proposal is an explicit attempt at creating divisions amongst Warwick staff. As casualised workers, we refuse to be used as bargaining chips by the University and reiterate our – as yet unheard – demand for fair employment contracts for all.

We republish the UCU’s statement below for your information.

 

UCU position on latest statute 24 developments: 

Job security for permanent staff does not cause casualisation;

  1. Academic freedom without job security is meaningless

Last year, the University announced plans to gut its employment statute, Statute 24, thus putting at risk Warwick staff’s job security and academic freedom. Thanks to the mass-mobilization of UCU members, we have won important victories – Senate chose not to approve the reforms at its meeting last June, meaning that they did not go forward to Council. However, the fight is far from over.

In the most recent volley, the Provost published an update on 18 December 2017 on the University’s intranet.  UCU sets out below its response to the points made by the University.

 

Casualization

The University says:

It is hoped that as a consequence of more streamlined employment processes, the University will be able to review its contractual offering for academic staff with a view to reducing dependency on fixed term and casual contracts.

 

What the University means is:

If we make it easier to dismiss people on permanent contracts, we might be willing able to offer permanent contracts more often.

Once again, the University’s interpretation of fairness is about levelling down rather than levelling up.  By implying that our current statutes are the cause of an increased reliance on casualized contracts, the university presents these developments as inevitable. It therefore fails to acknowledge that the increase in these forms of working is a direct result of choices which have been made by university management, and in the broader context of attacks on publicly-funded higher education teaching and research.

UCU wishes to make clear that the University has made no offer of any concessions on casualization. We therefore view the University’s statement as a lazy and cynical attempt to create divisions within our membership and within the university more widely.

 

Disciplinary and Redundancy

The University says it wants:

More streamlined employment processes

What the University means is:

We’ll offer our employees no more than the minimum protections enshrined in employment law.  We want to make it easier and quicker to dismiss members of staff either by redundancy or through disciplinary processes.

The University’s latest statement made no mention of its proposals on disciplinary and redundancy, preferring to concentrate on the issue of academic freedom.  UCU welcomes the fact that the University is at least acknowledging the threats its proposed changes pose to academic freedom seriously, though this should not obscure the fact that UCU has repeatedly advised the University that we cannot agree to the proposed documents for redundancy and disciplinary.

 

Academic Freedom and Job Security

The University says it:

believes that the proposals will serve to strengthen the protection of academic freedom afforded to academic members of staff

 

UCU says:

Without proper protection in place against redundancy and disciplinary procedures, assurances about academic freedom are meaningless. Casualization undermines academic freedom as precariously-employed academics feel pressures to avoid controversial areas of research and publish in particular journals and with particular publishers. Without job security, there cannot be academic freedom.

 

The University says:

a Committee could be established, to determine whether academic freedom had been infringed prior to the instigation of any disciplinary/grievance proceedings. In the case of redundancy proceedings affecting academic members of staff, the Committee would determine at an early stage whether the proposed redundancy pool and criteria represented an infringement of academic freedom.

 

UCU says:

All cases of academic redundancy involve questions of academic freedom.  We should be free as academics to pursue research into topics which are not currently fashionable.  There are many cases of research generating significant outputs only after many years. Such work would be wiped out at a stroke with the imposition of a short-term audit culture. The consequences of this are all too evident elsewhere in the sector as the situation at Essex demonstrates (sign the petition here: http://speakout.web.ucu.org.uk/university-of-essex/).

 

Issues of performance inevitably involve questions of academic freedom.  Telling academics that they must publish in certain outlets itself transgresses academic freedom.
The UCU calls on the University to ensure academic freedom by providing job security, lessening its reliance on insecure and badly-paid contracts, and treating its casualised workers with respect.

 

Why the UCU pensions ballot matters for casualised tutors

Those hourly paid tutors and other casualised academic workers who are members of UCU will probably be aware by now that our union, UCU, is currently in a huge dispute with the organisation of university employers, Universities UK (UUK), about the future of the USS pension scheme. USS is the pension scheme which applies to academic and academic-related staff of pre-92 universities in the UK. The employers are proposing hugely damaging changes to the USS pension scheme, that would see future retirees be 40% worse off than now and face insecure income in retirement.

To fight against these proposals, UCU is currently balloting its members for industrial action via a postal ballot.  THIS WEEK IS OUR LAST CHANCE TO MAKE OUR VOICES HEARD IN THE BALLOT!  The ballot closes this Friday, 19th of January.
If you are a UCU member, you should have received a ballot paper in the post some time before Christmas, with a free post envelope to return it, asking if you would be willing to take strike action and action short of a strike in defence of your pension.

If you haven’t sent off your letter with your vote yet, DO IT ASAP! Under new legislation, every vote counts, as for a ballot to be valid at least 50% of union members in each institution need to take part. So your vote really could make a massive difference. Please post your ballot this week.

Why should I care?

As a casualised worker on an insecure contract, you may be thinking: well, what’s this whole pensions issue got to do with me? I don’t even get paid enough to make ends meet now, so I’ll worry about my pensions once I have a proper employment contract.
Indeed, as many of us on hourly paid contracts are not even members of USS yet, it’s easy to assume that this dispute has nothing to do with us. However, as someone who has, potentially, their whole academic career in front of them, this ballot has actually a lot more consequences to us than it has to senior staff members. This is because senior academics will still receive the pensions they have paid into the USS until now according to the old rules; whilst if the proposed changes go through, it us early career researchers who would have to be subject to the new, much worse system. Thus, the less pension entitlements you have accrued thus far under the old scheme, the bigger the impact of this dispute on your future pensions will be.

The impact of the UUK’s aim to discontinue the current defined benefits scheme and move to a defined contributions scheme will be massive. Much of it is a bit technical, and you can find some more details here in this FAQ: http://warwickucu.org.uk/pensions/. But the bottom line is that while under the old scheme pensioners would receive a guaranteed secure ‘wage’ in retirement, under the new proposed scheme the amount of pension you would get would depend on the earnings of the fund on the stock market.  According to an analysis of independent experts First Actuarial, someone entering a lecturer position now could be almost £10,000 worse off – annually; or £ 200,000 in total (more details here: https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/9093/Overhaul-of-university-pensions-could-leave-staff-200000-worse-off-in-retirement)

There are therefore plenty of reasons to VOTE YES in the current ballot. And even if you aren’t planning for an academic career (or are not planning to stay in the UK in the long run), we would ask for you to VOTE YES in solidarity with your colleagues present and future; as any significant loss on the pensions scheme will only strengthen the hand of UUK and other employers in making future pensioners worse off.

Last but not least, the new Trade Union bill has set the threshold for employment disputes very high – as any ballot with less than 50% turnout will not be accepted as a valid call for strike. Under these circumstances, you would actually do less harm to the cause with a no vote than with an abstention. But we do sincerely hope that you will VOTE YES!