Essex UCU offers kind regards and condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Andrew Nightingale who retired as Director of Estate Management at the University of Essex in 2012. He is fondly remembered by our members. Read the University’s tribute here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Every day during the strikes: Pickets until 10.30am
Locations: EBS entrance, Sports Centre entrance and entrance to Wivenhoe House hotel.
Monday 21st March: Casualisation
8.15am – 10.30am: Pickets
Please join us on the pickets for a strong showing on the first day.
‘Profs against Precarity Picket’ at EBS Picket
We are asking senior staff to join us on the pickets in a show of solidarity with insecure and casualised staff.
10.30am (EBS picket) – Picket Rally: Ending Casualisation in Higher Education
Tuesday 22nd March: Equalities
8.30am – 10.30am: Pickets
11.30am Teach Out: Decolonising the Classroom (Theory & Cake) at the Headgate Theatre, 14 Chapel St North, Colchester, CO2 7AT; Tel: 01206 366000.
Join Nora, Natasha, and Lizzie for a special ‘teach out’ version of Theory and Cake. It is important to note that we are not experts, and this will be exploratory. Doing the reading is helpful, but not necessary. What we want is enthusiasm, ideas, and people who like cake.
Wednesday 23rd March: Why has a sub-group of Council elected to slash my pension?
8.15am – 10.30am: Pickets, followed by a march to Park Road
From 10.30am: Applicant Day Picket/Rally at Park Road Picket
USS Dispute: What comes next?
3pm Teach Out: ‘The Neoliberal University’ Reading Group Session
Matt Bennett will lead this reading group teach out, open to students and staff. Reading the text in advance is encouraged.
We’ll discuss Stefan Collini’s ‘Browne’s Gamble’, London Review of Books 2010, available online here: https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v32/n21/stefan-collini/browne-s-gamble
If you have questions about this event, please email Matthew Bennett at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday 24th March: Pay and the Cost of Living Crisis
Rest Day – No morning Picket
12 noon: The Stopping Picnic, Castle Park (near the bandstand)
A picnic on the picket where staff and students share stories about stopping, withholding, refusing, avoiding, shirking… work
Friday 25th March: Workload
8.15am – 10.30am: Pickets
10.30am (EBS picket): Picket Rally and Open Mic tbc
Followed by a Social at The Greyhound, 62 High St, Wivenhoe, Colchester CO7 9AZ.
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
On 2 February 2022, the Essex UCU committee sent the following letter (below) to University of Essex’s Vice Chancellor, Anthony Forster, calling for him to support UCU’s revised USS proposals and to reply to us before 11 February, when the JNC has the first of two February meetings on the USS pension.
2 February 2022
Dear Anthony Forster,
You will have seen that the University and College Union (UCU) issued a set of new proposals for the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) on 26 January 2022 which are aimed at averting widespread industrial action across UK campuses in February and beyond. Link: https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/11997/UCU-submits-new-pension-proposals-to-avert-UK-wide-strike-action
These new proposals would see retirement benefits protected in return for a small increase in contributions for both members and employers ahead of a new evidence-based valuation of the scheme. A USS consultation of scheme members concluded on 17 January 2022, and UCU understands that a significant majority preferred increasing contributions of members and employers in order to protect benefits over the alternatives, including benefit cuts. Moreover, USS confirmed on Thursday 20 January that its assets have jumped to over £92bn, more than £25bn higher than the previous valuation.
Last year UCU tabled proposals that would have protected benefits and averted December’s strike action, but Universities UK (UUK) refused to provide the same level of covenant support to underwrite UCU’s proposals as they provided for their own.
UCU’s proposals are as follows:
- that UUK call on USS to issue a moderately prudent, evidence-based valuation of the financial health of the scheme as at 31 March 2022, to be issued for consultation in June (at the latest)
- that employers agree to provide the same level of covenant support as for their own proposals to facilitate a cost-sharing of current benefits throughout the 2022/23 scheme year, starting 1 April 2022 at 11% member/23.7% employer until 1 October 2022, and 11.8%/25.2% thereafter
- that employers agree to pay a maximum of 25.2% and members a maximum of 9.8% from 1 April 2023 so as to secure current benefits or, if not possible, the best achievable as a result of the call on USS to issue a moderately prudent, evidence-based valuation.
We are writing to ask whether you would support UCU’s proposals instead of UUK’s plan. Under UUK’s plan university staff would see an approximate 35% cut to their guaranteed retirement income based on a flawed USS valuation conducted in March 2020.
We would appreciate a response from you before Friday 11 February. This is your chance to avoid further disruptive strikes by staff determined to defend their pensions.
Essex UCU branch committee
Why are you on strike? How can I help?
Click here for our guide to the strikes!
The following motion of support for Goldsmiths UCU was passed at a General Meeting on 17/11/2021.
ESSEX UCU SUPPORT MOTION FOR GUCU
Essex UCU branch notes:
- That Goldsmiths UCU (GUCU) is in dispute with its Senior Management Team (SMT) at Goldsmiths, University of London, over 20 FTE planned redundancies as part of Goldsmiths SMT’s Academic Portfolio Review.
- That a further 32 redundancies are planned in professional services, directly affecting the working conditions of academic staff and students.
- That this restructuring undermines the autonomy of departments and staff at Goldsmiths, increasingly centralising power with Goldsmiths SMT.
- That moves towards restructuring at Goldsmiths are already having a seriously detrimental effect on the functioning of the university, such that basic services for staff and students are deteriorating.
- That Goldsmiths SMT has spent over £2.5m in consultants and additional costs on change managers related to the university’s restructuring.
- That Goldsmiths SMT has employed union-busting tactics in the past and is currently delaying payment to key GUCU branch officials for carrying out trade union activities.
- The determination of Essex UCU members to support GUCU’s fight for decent working conditions at Goldsmiths.
- That Essex UCU committee recommends this motion is passed by the branch.
Essex UCU branch believes:
- That Goldsmith SMT has not explored alternatives to cuts, including stopping the use of expensive consultants and managers; fundraising; applying for government funds in Arts and Humanities; developing a vision for responsible and sustainable resource allocation, etc.
- That the planned cuts at Goldsmiths follow a pattern of financialisation increasingly seen across UK Higher Education Institutions, whereby financial pressures from banking partners are used to justify restructures that prioritise the cutting of frontline staff while increasing managerial costs.
- That the battle against redundancies and the financialisation of Goldsmiths make GUCU’s dispute one of national significance.
Essex UCU branch resolves:
- To issue a public statement of solidarity with GUCU’s dispute.
- To make a significant contribution to GUCU’s strike fund.
- To actively support and publicise GUCU’s dispute, strike days and campaign events through social media, trade union contacts and beyond.
I write with an update on the impending ballot and a response to the ‘UCU Disputes’ blog entry written by our new Director of People & Cultures, Alix Langley, on 8th October, 2021.
I know that many of you hate the thought of taking industrial action this year. I know I do. But I also hate the thought of allowing Higher Education in the UK to continue to function off the back of underpaid, exhausted, insecure staff who are always expected to do more with less. It is with this in mind that I think it is important to respond to some of the claims made in Alix’s blog post.
The Four Fights and the USS ballots are disaggregated. This means that each institution has its own voter turnout threshold to meet, and its own ballot decision to make, with the result that some institutions may go on strike while others do not. But it is important to recognise that these are nevertheless national disputes, not local disputes. This means that whether there are slightly better conditions on some issues at particular institutions does not decide the question of whether members should vote ‘Yes’ in the upcoming ballots, particularly insofar as the University of Essex has chosen to participate in the national pay bargaining arrangements and is therefore bound by the outcome of the collective bargaining process. The University of Essex has also aligned itself with UUK in its response to the proposed cuts to USS benefits, despite the branch asking the Vice Chancellor to again take a leadership position in challenging UUK’s willingness to accept a significant erosion of staff pension benefits to keep prices down. The willingness to accept substantially reduced benefits – average members stand to lose 35% of their guaranteed retirement benefits – represents a failure on the part of UUK and the University of Essex to fight to protect those key staff benefits. This amounts to a significant pay cut for staff, as pension benefits are essentially deferred pay.
Not only are staff facing a substantial loss of USS pension benefits, but we are also faced with further erosion of pay value: since 2009, the cumulative loss to pay (compared to rises in RPI) is 17.6%. The most recent figures released by HESA show that total income for all UK universities rose by over 38% in the last 10 years, taking the total increase in university income since 2009/10 to over £11 billion. Hence this year’s pay uplift of 1.5% – rising to 3% for some lower paid staff – is totally inadequate, especially as families are facing steeply rising food and energy prices. With the increased expectation of home working for many staff – especially in professional services – these increased prices will continue to take a major financial toll. To date, the University of Essex has not agreed to our calls for a home-working stipend to be provided to offset those costs.
Another aspect of the ‘Four Fights’ campaign is the fight for more equality in Higher Education – a fight that has many targets. For example, the UCU view is that the pay of the highest and lowest in the sector should be based on a ratio of 10:1. We are similarly calling on all universities to ensure that Living Wage Foundation (LWF) rates are paid to all workers on campus, to both directly employed staff and to those employed by contractors and arms-length bodies. While we welcome and celebrate the University of Essex’s work on closing the gender pay gap, recent work by the Tackling Racism Working Group demonstrates that the University of Essex has a long way to go with regard to addressing racism. So while we welcome the University’s commitment to working on these issues, it is clear that there are many ways in which inequality continues to be a problem at Essex and nationally.
Workload is another aspect of the Four Fights campaign and one that is particularly problematic for staff at the University of Essex. The recent joint Unions-HR workload survey results show that pre-Covid, almost 25% of respondents – both professional services and academic staff – say they could ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ complete the work that is expected of them; now more than 45% say that it is not possible to do the work that is required of them. Similarly, 45% of respondents say they can rarely or never take breaks during the workday. Job satisfaction scores have a mean of 5.68 out of 10. Staff are increasingly called on to ‘volunteer’ for work that falls outside of the standard work week and they are often expected to simply cover for unfilled posts or for staff who are absent due to (often workload-induced) stress or ill-health. Graduate teaching assistants (now: assistant lecturers) and graduate laboratory assistants continue to report being expected to work more hours than they are paid to provide. Student-staff ratios are not an accurate measure of workload when the expectations on staff members continue to rise and, in many departments, the level of student preparedness for university continues to fall. And in many departments, there are concerns about both the fairness and transparency of the workload allocations, along with the accuracy of the workload allocation model itself. There are often significant disparities between individual staff members and between departments. Further, workload allocation models are largely non-existent for professional services staff. Professional Services job descriptions – which provide a benchmark against which to assess workload – are often out of date or incomplete. As part of the Four Fights campaign, UCU is calling on HEIs to develop workload models with their local trade unions that are based on the actual hours required to do the job, which, as many of us know, is not always the case with WAMs at the University of Essex. Attempts by the branch to have this issue addressed have met with limited success. And despite the rhetoric of ‘clearing the decks’ that was popular during the past year and a half, all of the staff with whom the branch has spoken about this initiative reported finding this slogan to have little to no effect on the level of work that was actually expected of them. For most staff, no decks were cleared.
Though the Director of People and Cultures notes that she has triggered our local dispute resolution procedures – at least in part in an attempt to avoid industrial action – it bears repeating that these disputes are not local disputes. They are national disputes that manifest in particular ways locally. Hence, they are not disputes that can be fully resolved locally, though your local branch has been working extremely hard to address local issues of workload, inequality, and casualisation and will continue to do so. It is obvious that pay and pensions are not local, but rather national, disputes. But workload, inequality, and casualisation are not purely local disputes either. They are shaped by the state of higher education nationally.
As I said at the outset: many of us hate the thought of taking industrial action this year. But the only way to change a flawed system is to fight it.
Please join us for a discussion of these issues on Thursday, 14th October 2-3pm. Zoom link: https://essex-university.zoom.us/j/92674957028.
UCU Branch President, Essex
Branch Administrator/Organiser for Essex University branch (part time, 12 hours per week)
Salary: £11,693 p.a. (£34,107 p.a. pro rata)
Our Branch is seeking to appoint someone to assist with managing our office (normally based at Essex University), with minimal supervision.
The successful candidate will work 12 hours per week.
You will develop and implement a recruitment strategy, undertake organising activities, keep the Branch website up to date, and take minutes.
With sound organisational, communication and interpersonal skills, you will have knowledge of the implications of working for a trade union or other not-for-profit organisation, be the first point of contact for members and be expected to support the branch officers in all aspects of your work for UCU.
To apply, please download an application pack below or email email@example.com quoting job reference BAO4.
Closing date for applications: 5 October at 10 am
Interview date: 8 November
Essex UCU branch has launched a petition, to be found here, demanding that future decisions about staff workspace allocations be governed by the ten principles and objectives that UCU Essex has developed through extensive consultation with members on this issue
Please sign our petition aimed at protecting staff rights relating to these issues. The petition is open to all staff at Essex University- not just UCU members – so please share it with colleagues.
Dr Irene McMullin
President Essex UCU