Warm Front Reaches Glasgow

Members may be aware already that the VC at Warwick has “broken cover” in an
interesting blog.

We hear that this uncharacteristic warmth of support has also reached Glasgow,
where the University has expressed in clear terms its commitment to its staff and the
importance of a good pension.

Glasgow University goes even further, insisting that if the protection of a defined
benefits scheme necessitates increased contributions it is happy to do so. You can read their statement.

The VC at Glasgow is on the Board of Trustees of the USS Pension.

Whilst Warwick and Glasgow bask in the balmy glow of supportive principals,
Bradford UCU’s request for a position statement on pensions and contributions has
yet to yield a response – less warm front, more frosty silence.

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Not All VC’s Are the Same

It is gratifying to learn that at least one VC recognises the value of a worthwhile pension to the ability of HE to recruit high quality staff, and also that there is a distinct disparity between the TPS and USS schemes, with USS being a poor (and if UUK were to have their way, still poorer) relation.

The VC at Warwick has “broken cover” in an interesting blog that members may like to read.

Get the Vote Out campaign

Members will no doubt already be aware that UCU have instigated a ballot of members for strike action in response to our employers’ latest assault on pension benefits and contributions.   You should shortly receive ballot papers through the mail.

Changes to legislation require that such a ballot can only be deemed valid if the level of participation exceeds a 50% threshold, which makes it most important that each member takes part in the ballot.

Whilst it is true that UCU are seeking a mandate to take industrial action, that can only happen if the threshold is reached, so we urge you to participate regardless of your voting preference.

Your vote influences UCU and validates the ballot – please use it.

Proposed Controls on Web Access

UCU LA hears of a “new project to introduce web-filtering arrangements. Web filtering is a control which automatically prevents staff and students from accessing websites which are known to disseminate information which is offensive, discriminatory, offensive (sic), illegal or which breaches University guidelines.”

Management have to date not approached UCU regarding this matter, and whilst we recognise that there is an absolute case for ensuring that illegal materials are not being deliberately accessed, we remain concerned that there is the clear potential for curtailing access to controversial material for a range of legitimate reasons (e.g. research purposes).

Moreover, at this stage it is not clear whether safeguards will be put in place to ensure that any filter is not used by management to contain uncomfortable news or unwanted media attention regardless of its legitimacy.

On a more general note it seems that the University continues with an apparent reluctance to consult on a range of matters to which staff may be able to make a positive contribution.

USS Pension – Your Benefits in Real Jeopardy

The UCU General Secretary has confirmed fears that UUK are proposing to end the current defined benefits scheme in favour of a defined contribution scheme.

Such a move will make your benefits entirely subject to the vagaries of the fund’s performance on the stock market, and of course the skills of the fund manager. You will have no way of knowing what your pension is worth; planning your future will be significantly more difficult as a consequence.

Colleagues will be aware that a recent poll of members indicated that there was significant support for industrial action in the face of suggestions that benefits might be cut if neither employers nor employees were prepared to increase contributions. Even this was based on what we contend is a flawed “stress test” required by the pension regulator.

This proposal from UUK is far worse than even that scenario however.

Read Sally Hunt’s email in full.

The “Gig” Economy and UoB

Some staff who were previously employed on a Part Time Hourly Paid contract are reporting that they are being asked to migrate to a new arrangement known as “the Casual Worker Agreement”.

The usual strategy of requiring an unreasonably swift response is being employed, which of course means that there is precious little opportunity to properly read the agreement and compare it to the PTHP agreement previously used.

Members should note that the new form of agreement has NOT been agreed and signed off by the campus union, and that UCU strongly advises members to consider VERY carefully the consequences of agreeing to a form of employment contract that specifically excludes the Employment Rights Act 1996, and in doing so removes key employment rights such as the right to permanency.

The PTHP agreement retains the very rights that protect employees from exploitation by preventing the employer from disaggregating your employment to avoid conferring the statutory rights enjoyed by a permanent member of staff.

What’s Important to You v What’s Important to the VC

Many will have been excited to read the latest news on developments in the University’s Strategy & Development Plan 2015-2025.

Headlining the latest communique were plans to develop “The Bradford Medical School”, although it was not clear in the article what new developments there were following on from the previous news release.

Taking second spot was The Learning Hub. Again it was difficult to identify any “new” news.

Bringing up the rear in this “informative” briefing was the first mention in bulletins of The Faculty of Management, Law & Social Sciences”.

It appears that “two will shortly become one” and that this is a fundamental and essential plank of the proposed Medical School AND the Learning Hub, but that the new Faculty will be “very similar to the present structure”.

A quick browse of the FAQ’s reveals very little about the vision for the new Faculty other than that there will be one Dean (unsurprisingly). It is clear however that yet another restructuring of an area of the University has the potential to greatly impact upon the staff affected by such organisational change.

Experience shows us that such a reorganisation has the potential to lead to job losses and/or salary erosion through downgrading. These risks are almost certainly at the forefront of the minds of colleagues in scope of this plan.

It is disappointing then to learn that something with such a potentially huge impact appears to run a poor third in scale of importance, and that those impacts do not even merit a mention either in the briefing or associated FAQ’s.