University Response to UCU Formal Claim

8 June 2022

Please find the University’s response to Essex UCU’s formal claim (below), which was sent to the branch and publicised on 8 June:

We are pleased that there are a number of areas of agreement about how the University of Essex might take forward work to address important shared issues that have been raised through the current national pay and pensions disputes.   The University is prepared to offer the following items as part of a dispute resolution covering both disputes.  We would also want to work closely with UNITE and Unison on these matters, where appropriate.

Joint Statement on USS Pensions

As part of a dispute resolution, the University will prepare a statement on USS pensions based on detailed discussions between the USS Pensions Officer and the Registrar and Secretary.  The Council sub-group on pensions need to approve publication on the University website, but we are confident that sufficient points of agreement can be identified.

Equalities

We would be pleased to set up a joint Working Group for 2022/23 to consider actions to address our equality pay gaps (gender, ethnicity and disability) including considering pay gaps in the context of intersectional identities.  This Working Group would make recommendations to USG, monitor progress against actions, and agree to seek input from an independent expert if needed.

Decasualisation

The University cannot offer permanent contracts for work that it does not reasonably believe to exist on an ongoing basis, or contract individuals for a higher number of hours than the work available.  Staffing budgets are set annually through the established Planning Round and, in some cases, we actively work to create additional permanent posts and reduce fixed term teaching budgets.

We can nevertheless agree to review the contracts of all fixed-term staff with four or more years’ service on 31 July 2022.  The aims of this review will be to identify where additional permanent posts can be created and/ or provide individual post holders with additional career development support to enable them to apply for permanent roles at Essex or elsewhere, should they choose to.  The University is genuinely committed to decasualisation and we would conduct this review in that spirit.

Workload

We have already identified a number of areas for joint work with the three campus trade unions around workload, including the creation of a number of focus groups during the Summer Term.  These will include a focus group about WAMs, and in addition we are willing to agree a joint Working Group to oversee this work and make recommendations to USG. Recommendations from this group could include, for example, mechanisms to increase consistency between departmental WAMs; a review of annual review processes; and additional development for managers responsible for work allocation and workload monitoring. 

Pay

This offer does not include a financial payment, either on a one-off or ongoing basis, which was the final element of UCU’s formal claim. This needed to be considered by Council in its role as the employer of University staff and a special meeting was held on 7 June 2022.  Council was not able to agree to offer a financial payment; the one-off payment of £2500 or ongoing allowance of £1000 in UCU’s claim is unaffordable and Council has decided that the University should not make separate local payments in addition to the annual pay uplift set through national collective bargaining.   

However, Council has asked the Vice-Chancellor to establish a task and finish group to recommend actions to Council that might go some way to address the challenges of the cost of living crisis.  UCU are invited to participate in this group, whose membership, scope and Terms of Reference will be agreed by Council at their next meeting on 14 July 2022.  Recommendations will be made to Council at its meeting in the Autumn term. 

To be clear, this task and finish group is not part of our formal offer in response to UCU’s formal claim.  Council is concerned about the impact of significant cost of living increases on colleagues and has already committed to this work.  Nevertheless, we hope that it is a helpful context for when colleagues are considering the University’s response to UCU’s formal claim and that the University’s offer will enable the disputes to be resolved. 

If the offer is accepted, appropriate terms would be agreed between the University and Essex UCU.  This would include calling off the action short of strike including the boycott of marking and assessment processes with effect from Monday 13 June 2022 to allow students to progress and graduate as normal, and agreeing not to instigate further industrial action under the current mandates for the two national disputes.

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