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Let’s Discuss: Professional Services Work Conditions, 19 May 2021

 

Continuing recent discussions, Essex UCU will hold another all-staff meeting on Wed 19th May: 12-1:30pm: ‘Let’s Discuss: Professional Services Work Conditions’.

https://essex-university.zoom.us/j/92704863698

Jo Grady, UCU General Secretary, joins our all-staff USS pension discussion 14 May 2021

Essex UCU are delighted that Dr Jo Grady, UCU General Secretary, will join our branch USS pension discussion on Friday 14th May 1-2:30pm. This will be an all-staff meeting – not just for  UCU members, so any USS pension member may join. Jo is able to join us and speak for the for the first 30 mins,  then other UCU reps will answer questions.

https://essex-university.zoom.us/j/92411340533 (waiting room enabled, outlook invitation attached).

GM today, AGM is on 23 June, and nominations are open! (24.3.2021)

A reminder that our branch GM is today, 24 March 2021 1pm. Zoom link has been emailed to members.

Please note that our branch Annual General Meeting will be on Wed 23 June 2021 at 1pm.
A zoom link will be emailed to members closer to this date with the calling notice.

Please note that nominations are opening 24 March 2021 (Branch online nomination form 2021)

Issues facing Professional Services staff and open meeting on 17 March 2021

Open letter on the issues facing the Professional Services section (published Wed 10 March 2021)

Please read the above open letter to all staff in which we note with concern the difficult circumstances that many staff in professional services at Essex are facing.

We also note that on Friday in Essex Weekly, People & Cultures shared a link to an all-staff survey on workload that was developed in conjunction with the three trades unions: UCU, Unison, and Unite. We urge all members to complete this survey so that we can better address the serious problem of untenable workloads that many staff are facing.

UCU will be holding an informal discussion session, Wednesday, 17th March, to talk about the issues mentioned in the above open letter further. It will run from 1-2pm and is open to all staff, not just UCU members, and not just professional services staff. Please come! We need to come together as a community to try to find solutions to the many problems that we’re facing, so all our welcome to help in that endeavour. The zoom link can be found here: https://essex-university.zoom.us/j/91287105242

UCU Essex branch committee

Essex UCU Statement in Support of the University of Leicester Staff, Jan 28 2021

Essex UCU Statement in Support of the University of Leicester Staff

 

Essex UCU condemns the current attempt to make 145 University of Leicester staff members redundant across 5 academic departments and 3 professional service units. Not only is this an attack on colleagues’ livelihoods and working conditions, it is an attack on students, further undermining their education. To undertake such a restructuring in the midst of a global pandemic where staff are already facing a workload crisis, one where precarious staff have already lost their employment, is irresponsible and abhorrent.

 

We further condemn both the attack on union representatives and committee members who have been targeted for redundancy, and the attempts to undermine concerted efforts at the University of Leicester to decolonise their curriculum. This clearly political campaign must be opposed and we stand in solidarity with the recent decision by the Leicester UCU branch to ballot for immediate industrial action.

 

We urge senior management at the University of Leicester to reverse their decision and to engage immediately in good faith negotiations with Leicester UCU. We urge all members to support their campaign and to sign the letters of support below.

 

Essex UCU

 

On the abolishment of Medieval and Early Modern English Literature:

 

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ZksZuLqKYu0tETr8T61rEJ3WbtG8R7HVadOBjUQnDqw/edit

 

 

On the abolishment of political economy and critical management studies:

 

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSd6LKASpFkpwidMcqFrNl_dKzI07as4ZbtOQAiuJWpSlWwNIA/viewform

 

Further information can be found here:

 

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/b/leicester-uni-staff-support-vote-no-confidence-leadership-over-threat-redundancies

 

Indicative ballot closed: over legal threshold turnout 8 Jan 2021

Fri 8 Jan 2021

The Essex UCU indicative ballot has now closed. We are pleased to confirm that 52% of members participated in the ballot (which is above the legal threshold for an industrial action ballot). Members overwhelmingly voted to say that they would be willing to participate in strike action (71.5%) and action short of strike (83.5%) if the University proceeds with their plan for blended learning including face to face teaching once the national lockdown ends.

 

We want to thank you all for taking part in this ballot. The fact that so many of you voted despite the ballot falling over the Christmas closure shows the strength of feeling of members at the University. We will be meeting with management next week to discuss our dispute over the plans for blended learning once the lockdown is lifted. We will inform management of the outcome of the ballot during those discussions. We hope that they will acknowledge the widespread and valid concerns of staff and agree to amend their proposals to make it clear that where possible all student facing work should continue to be undertaken online but with exceptions for work that cannot be carried out online and for staff who freely choose to opt in to work on campus once that is permitted by the government. We will keep you updated on the progress of these discussions and on the next steps.

 

Best wishes,

Irene McMullin

UCU Branch President, Essex

 

Indicative e-ballot is open: look for email from yoursay@ucu.org.uk

Indicative e-ballot is open

In response to the University’s Spring Term 2021 approved plan, which requires face-to-face and blended learning in all degree programmes, a motion was passed at our Essex UCU branch EGM on 16 December calling for:

 

  • UCU to declare an official dispute with the University and seek urgent meetings with management with the aim of resolution;
  • an indicative ballot on industrial action;
  • consideration of the outcome of the indicative ballot and the viability of running a formal ballot for industrial action.

All eligible Essex UCU members (ie not retired nor student members) will have received an email at approximately 5pm on Thurs 17 Dec with the indicative ballot (there is a unique voting link at the bottom of this email) This email is entitled ‘University of Essex UCU indicative ballot’ and was sent from: Research Survey ‘yoursay@ucu.org.uk’.

This email went to the email address that you have registered with UCU. To check your membership file to know which email address this is go to www.ucu.org.uk/myucu

To contact the branch if you cannot find this email or have any ballot related enquiries e: ballot@ucumail.essex.ac.uk however please note that due to staff leave over the holiday, you may not get a response until Tues 5 Jan. If you have another urgent branch enquiry either email our caseteam on casework@ucumail.essex.ac.uk or the branch officers on ucu@essex.ac.uk

The branch committee urge you to vote today. Closing date is 8 Jan, however we are doing lots of work to contact members to ensure that everyone votes, so you will be helping us by voting early. We need to ensure that the turnout in this indicatove ballot is high. If we proceed to a formal vote, we will need a 50%+ turnout under the TU Act 2016

Branch indicative ballot opens today Thurs 17 Dec 2020

On 10 December 2020 the University Council endorsed a management proposal that blended learning including face-to-face teaching be offered to students in all degree programmes effective from the week commencing 1 February 2021. This action was taken without consultation with the recognised trade unions and management have not confirmed whether staff who refuse to work on campus will face disciplinary procedures.

At an extraordinary UCU branch meeting on Wednesday 16 December 2020 a motion was passed instructing the branch committee to enter into a formal dispute with the University regarding these plans and calling on the University to move to online learning (except for practical work) for the Spring and Summer Term 2021, allowing staff to opt-in to work on campus (where and when it is safe to do so). A copy of this motion is below.

Indicative ballot
The motion also calls on the branch committee to hold an indicative ballot of members on the willingness to vote for and take industrial action if this proves necessary. This ballo opened today and emails have gone to all eligible members.

The branch committee strongly encourages you to VOTE YES to both of the ballot questions. This will allow the committee to consider all options to protect the health and safety of staff and students.
Although we are running this indicative ballot via email, any formal ballot for industrial action will need to be a postal ballot. It is therefore vital that you check and update your membership details via www.ucu.org.uk/myucu in readiness.

Any ballot queries should be sent to ballot@ucumail.essex.ac.uk

Motion

On Blended Learning and Face-to-Face Provision at UoE in 2021

Proposed by: Jak Peake.

Seconded by: David Rush.

This Branch notes that:

  1. University of Essex (UoE) management has not agreed to online student-facing work and teaching as a default option despite calls for this from SAGE, Independent SAGE and UCU nationally and locally;

 

  1. UoE management has proposed that blended learning – including face-to-face teaching – be offered to students in all degree programmes effective from the week commencing 1 February 2021;

 

  1. UoE management has not confirmed whether increased risk, clinically non-vulnerable and non-shielding staff who refuse to work on campus will face disciplinary procedures;

 

  1. UoE have taken this action without consulting the trades unions.

This Branch believes that:

  1. UoE management’s current plans for the Spring Term pose a risk to the health of staff and are likely to pose uneven pressures in different departments, schools and sections; as a consequence, real equality and fairness at UoE is under threat;

 

  1. Staff ought not to be pressured into modes of work that risk their health or the health of their families or their local communities;

 

  1. January through to March will be, in the words of England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, “the highest risk period” and that, despite the arrival of a vaccine, for “the next three months we will not have sufficient protection”;

 

  1. By abandoning the cautious approach adopted in the Autumn Term, management’s current plans will be running the risk of increasing Covid-19 infection rates significantly;

 

  1. Consequently, decisive action is needed at UoE to stem the spread of Covid-19 and to safeguard staff, students, their families and the wider community;

 

  1. UoE should move to online learning (except for practical work) for the Spring and Summer Term 2021, allowing staff to opt-in to work on campus (where and when it is safe to do so).

This Branch therefore resolves:

  1. For the University of Essex branch committee to write to management informing them of the branch’s concerns regarding its proposals and to enter into a formal dispute with the University on this issue and to call for urgent meetings to resolve this matter.

 

  1. To hold an indicative ballot of members calling for industrial action in some form over UoE management’s plans for the Spring Term 2021.

 

  1. That the University of Essex branch committee will consider the outcome of this indicative ballot and consider the viability of running a formal ballot for industrial action.

Essex UCU seek assurance that all work that can be will be done remotely by default in 2021 (3/12/2020)

The following statement was sent to UoE USG from Essex UCU

On 30 October 2020, Essex UCU was mandated by members to declare an official dispute following an inadequate response to our requests (outlined in our open letter of 19 October) to move all student-facing work online by default, publicly correct inaccurate messaging surrounding the University’s Covid-19 antibody tests, and allow students in University accommodation to return home in a safe and managed way, providing rent fee rebates for those who chose to do so. Shortly after we obtained this mandate, the UK government announced a further ‘lockdown’, and the University of Essex moved teaching and some other student-facing work online by default for the remainder of the autumn term.

Essex UCU welcomes the University’s initiative in acting to protect the wellbeing of staff and students despite the lack of a clear steer from the UK government. In addition, we are heartened by the recent introduction of antigen tests, having previously raised our grave concerns about the University’s earlier reliance on antibody tests for Covid screening purposes. In light of these changes of circumstances, Essex UCU branch has not declared a dispute.

However, we are conscious that the next term is less than two months away, and that the University may revert in the spring term to requiring staff to engage in face-to-face work where such work can be done remotely. We are therefore seeking an assurance that this will not happen and hope that the decision made by USG on 8 December will be in line with our call at Essex UCU. Specifically:

We seek assurance that the current status quo will be carried over at least to the whole of the spring term, and preferably for the rest of the academic year. This means that all work that can be done remotely will be done remotely by default. ‘By default’ means that this will be automatically assumed to be the arrangement for all staff whose jobs can be done from home, with deviations only where a staff member requests to work face-to face and where their safety can be adequately protected.

In support of this:

  • SAGE has stated in a 19 November 2020 paper on the ‘Festive Period’ that the ‘prevalence [of Sars-Cov-19] could easily double during a few days of festive season, with further multiplicative increases as new infections go back to their “routine” networks’. A SAGE report on ‘Celebrations and Observances’ (5/11/20) asserts that major celebrations are ‘highly likely to precipitate nationwide increases in transmission particularly when celebrations are also public holidays’. In further documentation (18/11/20), SAGE states: ‘If pre-Christmas prevalence is high and a lot of indoor mixing takes place, the increase in prevalence could be very large indeed. A parallel can be drawn, albeit on a different scale, between the return of students in Autumn and people from different households mixing intensively over Christmas.’
  • We note the UK government’s advice that all who can work from home should continue to do so until April 2020. Our request that working from home apply for the rest of this academic year is roughly in line with this. The position of UCU as a whole is that all members working in HE (including academic-related/professional services staff for example in libraries), FE, ACE and in prisons should be allowed to work from home in line with government public health guidance and with no financial detriment. This also applies to those employed on casualised contracts of any form.
  • Feedback about online teaching has been broadly positive so far, as has been acknowledged by People and Culture, and student-facing staff, academics and students throughout the University of Essex.

We hope to use the time gained through the current suspension of non-essential face-to-face work at Essex to arrive at an agreement that would allay our members’ concerns and prevent a possible re-escalation on this issue of online working by default, which our members overwhelmingly called for in our EGM of 28 October. We note that Northumbria University UCU recently won a ballot for strike action over health and safety relating to Covid-19, with 66.5% of members voting to strike on a turnout of 67.3%. Similarly, Birmingham City University UCU members are demanding a move to online teaching and are prepared to take industrial action as shown by an impressive 60% turnout in their consultative ballot, while the UCU branches at the University of Birmingham and University of Warwick are also about to open ballots for action to move all non-essential working online. Nationally, there is strength of feeling on this issue which we believe has been reflected by Essex UCU members in surveys and meetings conducted by the branch in 2020. Since the pandemic began, the unions and the University have managed to work together successfully in many instances. While we may have differences of opinion on various matters, Essex UCU branch very much hopes to continue to have a good working relationship with the University now and in the future.

Essex UCU

UoE announce online working and antigen testing (Nov 9 2020)