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RUCU General Meeting on USS dispute

Please put the RUCU General Meeting next Wednesday (21st March) in your diary! We hope to see you all there.

Location: Van Emden, Edith Morley
Time: 13:00 – 14:00
Date 21.03.18

Please do everything you can to attend! Events and developments are moving very fast and it is vital that we address these issues together. This will be an opportunity to discuss where we are and where we are going in terms of the USS dispute.

Thank you

180301 Latest update for Reading UCU Members

Dear all,
 
Sorry I didn’t email yesterday afternoon – I was utterly exhausted!  But what a day. 
 
Before I tell you about everything else, please do now email John Brady to confirm that you took strike action this week, ie Monday to Wednesday.  You should already have emailed him about last week (Thursday and Friday).  Same instructions as in my Friday email: and if you are not declaring strike action to HR because you were off sick, on annual leave, or retired (etc) then please do consider making a donation to the Fighting Fund as your way of adding support on those days.    
 
If you have not set up forwarding of emails from me, please do so now that you are back at your desk – anything sent to rucu@lists.reading.ac.uk and it would also be useful to add in anything sent by me directly, too (s.j.pellow@reading.ac.uk).  If you haven’t already done this, you may well be working through a string of long emails from me!
 
Yesterday we picketed, as before, at all five entry points to the two campuses, then, together with the banner, the pickets at four of the entry points marched round to the main entrance at Shinfield Road, where we were joined by students too.  We linked together and formed a longchain across the fencing outside campus and it looked amazing – and that’s us, in the photo on the email yesterday from Sally Hunt, sent round the country to all members!  We counted over 150 people. You can see more photos on both our Facebook page and on the Twitter account (links are on the Branch website in my signature below).  Once the photos had been taken, we then had an impromptu march to Whiteknights House where we circled the building, singing and chanting.  Lots of people in the building waved and gave us supportive thumbs up, and beamed at us.  Lastly, a proportion of the mass march went upstairs to the VC’s office to see if he was in and would come out to speak to us: but he was elsewhere at a meeting.  He did email me later to apologise that he had missed us and to say that he would come out and see us on the picket lines next week.
 
After that, a large group of us went up to London for the Rally for Education which was a massive rally starting from Malet Street (near the British Museum) and walking steadily to Parliament Square.  The snow was heavy at the start of the march and the roads were icy and slushy.  More colleagues joined us at stages on the journey up and even at the march and we were proud to keep our University of Reading UCU banner high, with a great turnout – I think there may have been 30 of us from Reading.  We had a particular shout out at the start of the march and a huge cheer from everyone else.  Again, we’ve posted some photos on Twitter and Facebook.  We didn’t all manage to get into Westminster Hall to hear the speakers – the crowd was just too big! 
 
Today and tomorrow, we are back at work, but taking action short of a strike (ASOS) which is the same as working to contract, with one exception: that you also refuse to reschedule classes or meetings that have been missed because of strike action.  There is detail on the UCU FAQs athttps://www.ucu.org.uk/uss-action-faqs#4 onwards – please do read them all carefully.  Our recommendation is that you do not actively inform HR or management that you are taking action short of a strike, because in the overwhelming majority of cases you will simply be working to contract: but if taking action short of a strike, HR have said they reserve the right to make a deduction from your pay.  Working to contract is not liable to deductions. In our view, it is incumbent upon management to prove that you are taking action short of a strike. It would be incredibly difficult to reschedule many classes, because of clashes with student timetables and room bookings.  If you need to have more detailed advice on your particular circumstances, we will be running a drop in session today as usual at 1.00 in the Union office. All of you lovely new members – this is on the first floor of JJ Thomson, in room 105, where our branch administrator, Colette Maxfield, can be found on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We supply coffee and tea.  I may have eaten all the Jaffa cakes, mind you…
 
You will have seen that we are able to report progress on the dispute and that ACAS will commence negotiations with both sides from Monday.  Sally Hunt has emailed you with details of the proposal put forward by UCU which maintains our defined benefits pension.  At the moment, though, we simply have a promise from the employers that they will come to talks: that’s not enough yet to suspend or cancel strike action, so we are still on strike next week from Monday to Thursday.  But you are all amazing: we wouldn’t have got to this stage if you hadn’t all been willing to make this sacrifice and demonstrate to our employers how strongly you all feel.  This is real solidarity and it is wonderful to stand together with you all, making sure that we can ensure the future of the sector and that we can continue to attract superb and committed staff to teaching and research in universities.
 
Teach outs!  These will take place next week: and for a starting timetable, please go tohttps://www.facebook.com/rdgucu.teachout and please tell all your students, today and tomorrow, about them.  We’re also putting the timetable onto the branch website below.  There is also a gmail account for this – ru4educationunlimited@gmail.com.  If you’ve got suggestions, offers of assistance or queries, please contact the team on that email address, which is being run by Richard, Natalie and Mary. The teach outs sound wonderful – creative, energetic and entertaining. Teaching at its purest!
 
I am due to go to London today for a branch meeting but it’s looking iffy as the trains are not running from where I live: I will report back though if I can make it.  Keep safe, all of you, in the snow.  And enjoy a calmer day!
 
Sally Pellow
 
Secretary
Reading UCU

180223 Update for Reading UCU Members

The first block of strike action has completed; the second block starts on Monday for three days. In line with the request from John Brady, please now email him on j.j.brady@reading.ac.uk to confirm that you have taken strike action. But remember – we are complying with his request but can still be a little disruptive!
If you have been unable to take strike action because you are off sick, or on prebooked annual leave, or are abroad, or even retired, please still email him. We would much rather that he receives an avalanche of emails, which demonstrate the level of support for the strike. Make sure you say here that you would have been on strike if it had not been for being on leave or off sick or retired etc.  If you have colleagues who are not union members, it would still be useful if they also emailed him and confirmed that they have not taken strike action. Do use the opportunity to add any further detail, such as your thoughts on how the pension changes would affect you.
If you are part time, or are on hourly paid contracts, please give him as much detail as possible: for example say that you would normally work for 3 hours on a Thursday and none on a Friday, so you took strike action on Thursday but none on Friday: and then add that you normally work eg 11 hours each week. Don’t worry if this is complex or makes your email quite long – this is relevant detail.
Let him know your name and department. His team will need to look you up to get your staff number – don’t provide that.
If you can use an email address which is not your normal work address, please also do this.
And if you would prefer to send two emails, one for each day, please do so!

Teachouts organised by UCU’s Reading branch

Please click to enlarge!

180220 Latest update for Reading UCU members

Dear all,
 
This one is LONG.  Sorry.  Highlighted text should steer you through if you need to skim read.  Another email will follow about a general meeting on Monday, about the documents you might need, about a buddy system, and about the picketing.
 
You will all have had John Brady’s email about industrial action late yesterday afternoon: some of you will have arrived in to see it.  If you remember, I’d said yesterday that “at this stage the University will resort to using language that might come over as intimidating” and this email is a lovely example.  Combined with David Bell’s open letter, this is now time for us to stand up to this bullying, and stand together, hand in hand, to make it clear to senior management that we are not taking any of this lightly.
 
The email John Brady sent is also athttp://www.reading.ac.uk/internal/staffportal/news/articles/spsn-757408.aspx, and, indeed, if you go tohttp://www.reading.ac.uk/internal/staffportal/news/articles/spsn-757258.aspxyou will find an article which links to the open letter, to John Brady’s two messages, and to a page which holds a pdf of the advice issued to students. I note that the advice to students has now been put behind a username controlled firewall. 
 
John says in his email that “if you wish to maintain your pension contributions during any period of industrial action in which you are participating please confirm your agreement by e-mail to j.j.brady@reading.ac.uk no later than 12 noon on Wednesday 21 February 2018 to ensure that your pension cover remains in place during this period. Please note that this requirement is distinct from notification of participation in strike action and action short of strike outlined below.”  I have spoken to UCU Head office and they confirm that this is a USS arrangement, not a Reading policy.  You will all see the potential trap here: if you email John Brady to say you want your pension cover to remain in place, then you are declaring in advance that you are a member of the union, and that you are planning to take strike action.  John does say that the requirement is ‘distinct from’ notification of participation in strike action, which simply means that he’s asking you to email again to confirm that you have taken strike action – but there is no guarantee here that this information will not be used by the University to mitigate the action.  To quote the immortal Monty Python here, “our chief weapon is surprise” – well, we have far more weapons than that, but we will only achieve maximum disruption if nobody knows in advance that we will not be here.  UCU Head office advise that the amount of potential loss to your final pension by not declaring in advance is “tiny”.  Our advice is not to email John Brady in advance to say that you want to maintain your pension contributions. If, however, you do email him, please use the wording “Please note in the event I take part in industrial action either in the forthcoming dispute or in the future, I wish the University to maintain my pension contributions during that period.  Please note that this not a declaration of membership of UCU or any other trade union, nor is it a declaration of an intent to take industrial action.” This wording can be used by anyone – members or non-members.
 
In terms of confirming your participation in strike action, our advice is to email John Brady as requested as soon as possible after each period of strike action ends, to confirm that you have taken part.  I will send out a reminder after each period of strike action has completed: please then send your email to him as soon as possible after that.
 
John Brady says “that on resumption of full duties the University reserves the right to require relevant colleagues to prioritise missed work over other work”.  This is an empty statement.  In some cases it will not be possible to prioritise missed work over other work; in other cases it will be too late.  And in many cases, that’s exactly what you’ll be doing anyway – our staff have integrity and professionalism and a clear sense of the priorities of their roles. Bear in mind, too, that there may be no way of monitoring this in some cases. It’s just a sentence that is being used to bully us.
 
His approach to the definition of action short of a strike (ASOS) has actually softened slightly as he’s accepted that it’s a case of working to contract.  This does mean working to contract – it means that you’re working the hours you should work, you’re doing the job you’re paid to do, and you’re not taking on other things.  It’s a nebulous thing, a University contract: I know, for example, that if I was asked, for example, to clean the staff loos, I would know that it’s not what I’m paid to do, but on the other hand there might be some aspects of my role which I don’t generally do on a daily or even annual basis, but which I would not be surprised to be asked to take on.
 
Then he waves his fist a little about ‘partial performance’ and threatens to dock salaries by 10%.  Partial performance would be extremely difficult to prove and would rely on a line manager making a statement to HR about someone not carrying out their duties.  This would probably indicate further issues between you and your line manager, and would be something that we would be getting very involved in and would be defending on your behalf. So you can ignore that paragraph. 
 
In terms of confirming your participation in action short of a strike (ASOS), our advice is that there is no need to confirm this to John Brady as you are simply working to contract.  You are doing what you are paid to do and just not doing all the extra stuff that you do out of the goodness of your heart.  This is not a disciplinary matter: if you are doing the job you are paid to do, then the University hasn’t a snowball’s chance of taking disciplinary action.

Then, much to our amusement, he threatens to join us 
“as a party to any claim for breach of contract brought against the University as a result of this action”.  Good luck with that!  There has never been a successful case of doing this (and it’s only been tried once, in a colliery dispute in the early 20th century).
 
The big question is whether the University values us.  It doesn’t seem that way when threats are issued about joining us in legal action, or when threats are issued about docking pay and reserving the right to dock even more for people who have given their time and energy, above and beyond the expectations of their role, who have worked long and hard hours, and who are being told that the University cannot afford to pay them what was promised – but can pay 46 people over £100,000, and can spend £2.5m on a botched redundancy process, £36m on PAS and £53m on Malaysia.
 
Sally
 
Sally Pellow
 
Secretary
Reading UCU

180216 Open letter to the VC Sir David Bell

Dear Sir David,

Many thanks for making public your position over the current pensions dispute. Although this is welcome, we are very concerned over apparent grave errors and omissions in your stated position. This is based on the following considerations to which we call on you to respond.

Firstly, and most importantly, neither yourself nor UUK have explained why they endorse the extreme degree of risk aversion applied in USS’s actuarial evaluation. The supposed deficit is an artefact of this, as in fact the scheme reaps more revenue in a given year than it pays out in pensions, and also has over £60bn in reserves. In the wake of the 2007-8 financial crisis, UK institutions have generally been asked to adopt a very conservative approach to meeting their pensions liabilities, which in effect asks, “If the organisation goes bankrupt, how will it meet its obligations?” Whilst this might be an appropriate scenario for an individual private company, like Rolls Royce or British Aerospace, it is wholly inappropriate for the University system which pools risk across 68 institutions. In the unlikely event that Reading were to go bankrupt, that is, under the current arrangements the other 67 institutions underwrite its staff’s pensions. This is a key reason why independent actuarial evaluation of USS conducted by First Actuarial gave USS a clean bill of health, concluding “The current employers’ contribution rate of 18% of pensionable pay, of which 15.1% goes towards defined benefits, is prudent. The asset income which is required, in addition to contributions, to pay the benefits in full is low. Indeed, in a scenario of “best estimate” pay rises, the benefits of the USS can very nearly be paid from contributions, without reliance on the assets.”

Please could you therefore explain why UUK have not pointed this out to USS or the pensions regulator, instead of endorsing a “one size fits all” approach which is wholly inappropriate for the HE sector? We also call on you to explain to staff why very different assumptions were adopted in UUK’s commissioned evaluation of its proposed alternative, when as had been pointed out here, applying a consistent approach would more than eliminate the supposed deficit. If the same assumptions were applied to USS, the situation could be resolved simply by agreeing to use this approach. On the face of it, this inconsistency, and the inclusion of the state pension into the estimated benefits from its own scheme, amounts to transparent duplicity on the part of UUK and a crude insult to the intelligence of University staff.

You estimate that UCU’s counter proposal, which was not intended as a fixed position but to get UUK to engage in meaningful negotiation, would cost £500m per year, but neglect to mention that any increased costs would be shared across the 68 institutions, or that Reading is a relatively small University. Please could you therefore estimate a realistic figure for Reading and give full details of how you arrive at it? Staff exposed to the extravagant “Limitless” campaign may find it hard to believe that funds could not be found to secure the future of academic staff into retirement, especially when the University has recently written off over £50m for the Malaysia campus and has wasted £36m on management consultants for the chaotic and dysfunctional PAS restructuring. This would be even more affordable if the University system also stopped squandering precious resources on competitive building projects, which, like the internal advertising, amount to a colossal negative sum game for the system as a whole.

We are aware that getting defined benefit pensions obligations off University books will probably enable more money to be borrowed for such purposes, which is widely understood to be part of the motive for UUK’s uncompromising and non-negotiating stance. Regarding that stance, your letter goes to great lengths to depict UCU as intransigent, whilst anyone following the negotiations will know that UUK have consistently refused to engage with any proposal but their own. We think you owe staff an explanation, for example, of why despite repeated requests, UUK refused to specify which combination of changes they would be prepared to accept in order to preserve the guaranteed pension.

Your letter also does not address the likelihood that the UK will not be able to continue recruiting and retaining high quality academic staff with a third rate pension scheme, given the time out of pensions contributions that academics spend getting their higher degrees, conjoined with the now transparent injustice of very high levels of remuneration accruing to senior management. This comes alongside wider erosions of conditions of work and the political uncertainty surrounding Brexit. Instead of using such a crisis climate to dispense with defined pensions obligations, a responsible approach would be to temper any decline in attractiveness of UK HE by committing to maintain defined benefits pensions.

Finally, we urge you to reconsider UUK’s uncritical acceptance of the one size fits all approach to pensions fund evaluation, and also to endorse a consistent approach to evaluation, across UCU, USS and UUK proposals. If so, we believe you could make an enormous difference to the outcome of this dispute, thanks to your influential position as Vice President of UUK and contacts in Whitehall. Such influence should be used to the benefit of academic staff and students, and the UK University system as a whole, not to further an agenda of privatisation and associated offloading of responsibilities.

Yours sincerely

RUCU committee.

USS Meeting with Sally Hunt 8th February 14:00

USS Factsheet

Letter from Reading UCU to Sir David Bell 26 Jan 18

Reading UCU in the Top 10!