In her message to all staff on 4 February 2022, Director of People and Culture, Alix Langley, writes ‘[i]t is disappointing that Essex is facing significantly more disruption than many other Universities given the limited impact that we can have on the national issues that the strike is about’.
While we understand that the University of Essex cannot speak for UUK, this message suggests that there is a little that University of Essex management can do in the current circumstances; resigned to their fate within UUK and in the public eye, University of Essex managers would have us believe that they are unable to do more.
However, we believe that there are many steps which senior leaders at the University of Essex could actively take to radically improve industrial relations between UCU members and management, which we set out below:
- The Vice Chancellor could publicly announce his support for the UCU proposals which were sent to him by the Essex UCU committee on 2 February in this letter.
- University of Essex management could agree to a joint statement on an improved USS pension scheme in the vein of other statements agreed between UCU branches and senior managers at Loughborough, Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial. Essex UCU has been keeping channels open to such an agreement in recent weeks but has yet to have had any confirmation of a meeting to further such talks.
- On additional USS contributions: University of Essex managers could make a public statement saying that they would be willing to make the modest additional USS contributions that align with new UCU proposals for the next 12 months.
- On revaluation: University of Essex management could call for a revaluation of USS, noting that the scheme is now fully funded, and would only fail to be fully funded if it generated returns that are more than 0.23% below CPI. https://twitter.com/Sam_Marsh101/status/1489256537109393415
- On USS contributions and consultation: University of Essex management could criticise UUK for failing to consult members initially on the question of increasing contributions when, after the fact, USS’s January 2022 consultation has proved that members overwhelming welcomed increased contributions to maintain their defined benefit. https://mikeotsuka.medium.com/uuk-appears-to-be-acting-in-breach-of-their-duty-of-good-faith-acca0b4595f4
- On the current UUK consultation: University of Essex management could note that the current UUK consultation presents an improved UUK proposal that is far too minimal to be likely to achieve any movement on UCU’s industrial action and call on UUK to consult its members on UCU’s full proposal. https://mikeotsuka.medium.com/uuks-mouse-of-an- improvement-is-a-wholly-inadequate-repair-to-the-damage-of-their-inflation-cap-f2310e40918f
- On workload: a significant number of University of Essex staff have reported that they can ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ complete the work that is expected of them and that their workload exceeds their capacity. University of Essex management could commit to working with departments and schools to fill the many empty posts and hire extra staff commensurate with the ever-rising workload; senior managers at the University could also commit to taking serious steps to reducing workload.
- On the gender pay gap: we do not believe that the University’s recent actions to address the gender pay gap have been sufficient, with the median hourly pay gap at 18.6% (3.2% higher than the national median pay gap and an increase of 2.4% on last year’s pay gap at Essex) and the mean hourly pay gap at 16.1% (1.2% higher than the national mean pay gap). University of Essex management could take steps towards addressing the gender pay gap at all levels, not just at the most senior levels.
- On pay: our pay has dropped significantly relative to inflation over the last decade, while the cost of living has risen. Since 2009, the cumulative loss to pay (compared to rises in RPI) is 17.6%. Hence this year’s pay uplift of 1.5% – rising to 3% for some lower paid staff – is inadequate, especially as families are facing steeply rising food and energy prices. University of Essex management could request that UCEA implement a pay uplift of £2,500 on all pay points and institute pay increases on all spinal points at the local level.
- On the four fights: University of Essex management could call on UCEA to establish new JNCHES with working groups to examine career progression and set parameters for workload, equality and casualisation across higher education.
Essex UCU Committee